Next summer is already setting itself up to be a big one for squad turnover, with a pretty large number of players on Reading’s books with contracts due to expire at the end of the season. Most of them are experienced players on presumably fairly hefty wages, so the club would need to think carefully before renewing their deals - if of course the players want to stick around at all.
In total, there are nine squad members with expiring contracts that have played a competitive game for the first team at some point, with a few more experienced academy players too. The players in question are:
- Vito Mannone
- Chris Gunter
- Tyler Blackett
- Gabriel Osho
- Jordan Obita
- Charlie Adam
- Garath McCleary
- Adrian Popa
- Danny Loader
- Others: Luke Southwood, Liam Driscoll, Ben House
At the moment, it looks like few of them will be on the club’s books when the 2020/21 season starts, and of course there’s the possibility of some of them being let go before their deals run out. Nonetheless, I’ve gone through each of their situations below to see how likely it is that their contracts will be renewed.
The Italian’s just finished a loan spell at MLS side Minnesota United that lasted for the duration of their 2019 season. By all accounts he did fantastically well there - Loons fans rated him very highly indeed and he even won the MLS goalkeeper of the season award.
Reading however will definitely want to get his wages off the books. A leftover from the high-spending Ron Gourlay days, Mannone is an expensive goalkeeper to have even as first choice, let alone as backup for Rafael Cabral who’s impressed since joining in the summer.
It’s unlikely that Mannone would want to stay anyway, having been abruptly and somewhat harshly excluded from the first team soon after Jose Gomes’ arrival as manager in late 2018. It’s best for all parties that he finds a new club in the summer.
Will his contract be renewed? No
Another player excluded by Gomes, Gunter was shut out of first-team action this season after the club failed to move him on during the summer. As with Mannone, his wages are probably fairly high and Reading would surely prefer to get them off the balance sheet.
Going by that, you’d expect to see him leave next summer. Although that’s my own prediction, Gunter’s still a useful squad option for the manager to call on, and Mark Bowen’s already showed with Garath McCleary and Sam Baldock that he’s willing to rehabilitate those who were previously shut out.
Should Gunter get that same opportunity, he may well make a good contribution this season and show why he deserves a new contract. Then again, given the impressive form of Andy Yiadom at right wing-back, and the development of Teddy Howe, Gunter could prefer to be first choice elsewhere.
Will his contract be renewed? Probably not, but don’t rule it out
The young centre half has played for Reading a few times so far, but overall found it hard to break into consideration for the first team. He’s also not made an impact at either of his last two loan clubs - Aldershot Town (eight appearances) and Bristol Rovers (no appearances) and was recently given a trial match for Ipswich Town.
It therefore seems very likely that Osho will move on either in the summer or perhaps sooner. If he stays, he’d be competing with fellow youngsters Tom McIntyre, Akin Odimayo and Roberto Nditi, so may well find game time hard to come by even for the under-23s.
Will his contract be renewed? Probably not
On the whole, Blackett’s certainly improved a lot in the last year or so since a pretty horrible 2017/18 campaign, but I can’t help but that think that’s being crowded out in all the positions he’s capable of playing.
In his enforced absence through a pre-season injury, Omar Richards impressed both as a fullback and a wingback, while Obita’s return has only made the department more crowded. Blackett’s played a bit at centre back this season, including replacing Liam Moore off the bench against Millwall, but game time has very much been restricted, even when Reading have played three at the back.
Over the course of a full season he’ll surely get more opportunities to impress the manager, but he really needs a proper run in the first team to do that. He may well have to wait for one of the central defenders to be sidelined through injury or suspension for that to happen.
Will his contract be renewed? It’s 50-50
Of all the players on this list, Obita is probably the most likely to agree a new deal. He’s arguably Reading’s best left back/left wing-back, is the club’s current longest-serving player, and is still a good age at just 25 years old.
The only question mark is of course his fitness, as Obita’s only recently recovered from a gruelling two-year injury. At the moment he’s essentially being swapped in and out of the first team each game with youngster Omar Richards as he gradually gets back to his old level.
On the evidence of the last few weeks, it’s only a matter of time before he gets there and stays there consistently. Should he do so, a new contract is a matter of when, not if, and I’m sure Obita would jump at the opportunity to commit his future here.
Will his contract be renewed? If he can keep up his fitness
Although he surely brings plenty of experience to the squad, Charlie Adam’s made a minimal impact on the first team this season, with his only real contribution being an assist for Josh Barrett away to Plymouth Argyle in the League Cup. Even when fit, which hasn’t been a constant so far, he’s looked well off the pace and some way below the level of Reading’s other central midfielders.
I don’t see any real likelihood of his contract being renewed, with Adam likely moving to the lower leagues next summer (perhaps to former club Blackpool) or retiring completely.
Will his contract be renewed? No
The winger’s odds of a contract renewal looked bleak only a few weeks ago, but Bowen’s decision to bring him back into the fold has caused those odds to shoot up. Although fellow former exile Gunter is yet to play, McCleary has done, causing a nuisance off the bench at QPR before scoring against Luton Town.
You still wouldn’t expect to see him play regularly this season, with plenty of younger, fitter options in midfield and up front, although a potential return to a system with wingers would change that completely. McCleary’s one of the few in the squad capable of playing as an orthodox wideman.
If that proves to pay off, and McCleary stays fit (a valid concern given past injury problems) Reading may well offer him an extension of a year or so. Whether or not he’d want that, given how his relationship with the fans seems to have deteriorated (at least going by social media), is another question.
Will his contract be renewed? As with Gunter, probably not but don’t rule it out
I’ll forgive you if you’d forgotten that the Romanian was still on Reading’s books. He’s only played around five minutes of league football for the Royals in the last two seasons (a cameo at the end of the 1-0 defeat at home to Bolton Wanderers in August 2018), instead largely spending his time out on loan.
The club will want the entirety of his wages permanently off the books as soon as possible as they’ve presumably been at least subsidising them for the last few years. No way will he be sticking around after the summer.
Will his contract be renewed? No
The youngster very nearly left Reading on deadline day in the summer, but the plug was pulled on his move to Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers at the last minute. Why that was the case wasn’t clear, but the club may well be regretting that decision. He’s barely played for the first team since, although he did net the winning penalty in the shootout victory over Wycombe Wanderers.
When asked about this recently, Bowen said the ball was in Loader’s court when it comes to a new contract. That situation probably suits the club well enough. If Loader’s willing to commit his future and try to force his way into the first team, great, but if he’s not keen then the club shouldn’t go out of their way to keep him. After all, his performances thus far show he’s got a long way to go if he’s to make the step up.
However, if reported interest from bigger clubs continues - included some overseas teams - Loader may well let his contract run down. I’d caution him against that though - there’s a real risk of him trying to run at first-team level before he can walk.
Will his contract be renewed? Unlikely, but it depends on where Loader’s head is at
There are three other fairly senior academy graduates yet to play for the first team whose deals run out next summer: Luke Southwood, Ben House and Liam Driscoll. Southwood and House are currently out on loan - at Hamilton Academical and Dagenham and Redbridge respectively, so will need to impress there this season if they’re to earn new deals.
Unfortunately for Southwood, game time this season has been extremely limited. Driscoll was on loan at Yeovil Town a few months ago, but that appears to no longer be the case, and I’m unsure what his current situation is. For both of them though, other young ‘keepers are progressing well in the academy - most notably Coniah Boyce-Clarke but also Jokull Andresson and Myles Roberts - so there’s plenty of competition in the goalkeeping department.
Of the 12 or so senior players out of contract next summer, I can’t see more than three of them staying put beyond the end of the season. Jordan Obita will probably renew his deal, but in all likelihood you could very well see all the others being moved on.
That isn’t that bad a thing - most of these players we’re talking about are coming towards the end of their careers, on pretty hefty wages, or both. Therefore, getting them off the books will give Reading a big opportunity to further shape the squad - one that shouldn’t be passed up.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, Reading should be planning ahead for that opportunity right now - ideally with a new director of football in place.