Reading have their first signing of the January transfer window: Ovie Ejaria. The 21 year-old has joined on loan until the end of the season, with Jose Gomes gaining another option in midfield.
To learn more about Ejaria - his strengths, weaknesses and of course chance of success in Berkshire - we’ve talked to two guys with the all-important inside knowledge. First up is James Lowson from the excellent Sunderland blog Roker Report - Ejaria played 11 times for them last season. ater, we’ll get the views of Liverpool writer Scott Taylor.
How would you sum up Ejaria’s time at Sunderland?
It’s hard to describe Ejaria’s time at Sunderland as anything other than a total disaster. We got relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in 30 years and the relationship between the club and fans has probably never been more toxic. Our problems obviously ran way deeper than Ovie Ejaria’s ability or inability to play Championship football, but Ejaria was one of five players brought in for no money that failed to improve our team or squad in January.
In terms of his individual performance, Ejaria showed flashes of his talent: his excellent technique and his ability to progress the ball, but on the whole he struggled. He often played as one of two deeper-lying midfielders in a 3-4-3 formation alongside Lee Cattermole and I doubt either of them will look back on that period fondly.
Quite often, Ejaria seemed to let games pass him by. As a team we were caught between trying to play out through defence and being pragmatic and direct, Ejaria never made a huge contribution to either strategy. Also, on the odd occasion he did get into the box he missed a few brilliant chances in close games when we desperately needed the points to avoid relegation. His only goal for us was against Wolves when we were already relegated.
What style of player is he?
In terms of style I see Ejaria as one of these modern central midfielders that combines an ability to see a pass with the skill to carry the ball and beat players in midfield. He’s way, way short of the level of a Naby Keita or a Moussa Dembele, but in an ideal world I think that’s the type of midfielder Ejaria is trying to develop into: a midfielder with the dribbling skills of an old-school winger.
Ejaria has great feet, decent passing and good technique. His main problem at Sunderland is that he never really excelled or expressed himself playing for a football club infected with a toxic losing culture. Some Sunderland fans would also argue he’s too lightweight and not aggressive enough for a division like the Championship.
What are his main strengths and weaknesses?
His best asset is either his close control and quick feet, or his passing vision in the final third. When under pressure he can use his ability to shift the ball quickly to get out of trouble and when given time on the ball he can play that killer pass in the final third. As I mentioned before most of his issues with Sunderland were mental; there are question marks as to whether he can regularly perform and stamp his authority on Championship matches, playing for a team fighting for their life. Too often Ejaria was a passenger in games on Wearside.
What’s his character like?
I wouldn’t want to comment too much on an individual’s character based solely off watching them from a far. But Ejaria and the other loanee we brought in from a massive English club, Jake Clarke-Salter, both felt very unprepared and unable to cope with playing for a club where losing had become habitual. Rather than trying to raise the level and confidence of the players around him Ejaria seemed to regress and lose belief in his own abilities.
On the whole, is he a good signing for Reading?
It’s hard for me to comment too much on whether he’s an improvement on your current crop of midfielders, as I haven’t watched a Reading since our 2-2 draw at the Madejski Stadium last April (a game I still think we should have won). But I can reiterate that last season, when enlisted by a team struggling in the Championship, he didn’t show the aggression or fight you’d want out of a player in a relegation dog-fight.
I think the pace Reading have in their forward positions might help Ejaria as he did play well for the England under-21s linking up with Ademola Lookman and Demarai Gray. I’d hope for your sake the culture around Reading is less toxic than the losing culture that engulfed the Stadium of Light last year, because that could be crucial in getting the best out of the youngster.