When a professional footballer tells you that he “just wants to play football” it can often be passed off as a cliché. When Jordan Obita says it, he really means it.
Two years since his horror knee injury that was only solved on the third trip to the operating table and the Reading academy product is finally back in the first-team mix. He still can’t play two games in a week, but any chance to kick a ball without his leg completely swelling up is something to be savoured.
In his tenth season as a first-team Reading player, albeit with two of those spent out on loan and two more in the treatment room, it feels slightly odd to say Obita is now the Royals’ longest-serving player.
“It feels like it!” he tells The Tilehurst End in the Eamonn Dolan room at the club’s Hogwood training ground - named after Reading’s legendary academy chief and Obita’s former mentor who sadly passed away in 2016.
The Oxford-born full-back joined the Royals aged seven and tells of the huge change he has seen take place over the years, and yet he doesn’t feel particularly senior in the squad that has made a positive start under new boss Mark Bowen. It’s easy to understand why, given his injury.
“That’s pretty much been my life,” he notes. “Rehab, surgeon. Rehab, surgeon.”
Over the two years he was out, Obita faced a number of dark days. Not least when he bit the bullet and asked his physio if, after two surgeries and with no end to his nightmare in sight, he asked if there was any point carrying on.
“At first it was going okay then there were times when it wasn’t and you never knew if you were going to play again,” he continues. “You’re hoping that something is going to work and you’re trying to find a solution somewhere, it never really happened and unfortunately it took about two years to find it and unfortunately it meant another surgery.
“It’s made me a lot stronger, mentally and physically, and hopefully now I can build on and get sharper, my fitness get better and kick on from there.
“Christmas last year, no one really knew what was the reason my knee was reacting how it was. In the physio room, I said to the doctor: ‘Is there any point? Nothing’s working’.
“They said one more surgery might be able to work, but they can’t guarantee anything. I had a two-week break where I could think about things and I thought: ‘Let’s do one more’. And thank God it worked.”
Part of Obita’s comeback involved flying out to Philadelphia for sessions with a physio who has treated several NFL players and Andy Murray in the past. Finally, in August 2019, he stepped back onto the pitch by leading Reading out in a League Cup match with Plymouth Argyle.
“I was shocked myself,” he admits. “I wasn’t expecting to be in the squad - hoping to, but not expecting to be in the starting XI.”
Since then, opportunities have gradually grown and culminated in a stunning maiden Madejski Stadium goal against Millwall in early November. His celebration was a vivid display of pure emotion, a release of frustration and worry with the realisation that, finally, everything had been worth it.
Jordan was a youth prodigy when he first came through at Reading. Now 25, there is a palpable sense that he can once again become a major player for the club - and no one will argue that he hasn’t earned that chance.