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Welcome Back, Jordan Obita

The academy graduate has gone through a tough time on and off the pitch, but is coming out stronger.

Reading v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

There are certain goals that I don’t think I’ll ever forget in football: Mikele Leigertwood’s finish against Nottingham Forest, Yann Kermorgant’s penalty against Fulham, Kieran Trippier’s free-kick against Croatia.

In terms of wider significance, Jordan Obita’s goal against Millwall last weekend pales in comparison to those three moments. But as the ball hit the back of the net at ten past three on Saturday afternoon, a shiver ran down my spine. I felt goosebumps on my arm. There was something in my eye.

When Obita lashed the ball home from the edge of the box, he wasn’t just answering the supporters’ plea to ‘shooooot’. He was experiencing a feeling he feared he may never feel again. When you consider it was also the first time he had scored at the Madejski Stadium having been at Reading since the age of seven, it was arguably a goal 18 years in the making. The relief, joy and passion was evident in his emotional celebration.

What the 25 year-old has gone through in the last two years - not just in his football career with three separate knee surgeries, but also in his personal life as his wife Scarlet tragically suffered a miscarriage - you would not wish upon anybody. In showing such incredible courage and determination to come out the other side stronger, Obita epitomises Reading Football Club like few other players do.

It was August 2010 when he made his Royals debut at the age of 16 years, eight months and three days - only Peter Castle has appeared for the club at a younger age. In the nine years since, we have seen him transform from a teenage winger to a reliable full-back who is the club’s longest-serving player. In theory, we are only nine months away from a Jordan Obita testimonial.

Only Alex Pearce, Hal Robson-Kanu, Shane Long and Jem Karacan have graduated from Reading’s academy and played more first team games than Obita, whose current appearance tally stands at 169. He needs just seven more to overtake Karacan, and had he not missed the last two years with injury may well have overtaken Pearce’s record of 240.

Fulham v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Play Off: First Leg
Obita celebrates with Yann Kermorgant after his most famous Royals goal to date against Fulham in the play-offs
Photo by Harry Hubbard/Getty Images

Obita was named as the player of the season for the 2013-14 campaign at the age of just 20, younger than both Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andy Rinomhota were when they won the award. It was his first season playing the left-back role, claiming the spot in the team as his own ahead of experienced options Wayne Bridge and Stephen Kelly. Since then, only injury and rare competition from Andrew Taylor and Tyler Blackett have prevented Obita from taking to the pitch, and it’s hard to remember a time when he has faced any significant criticism from supporters. A rarity in Reading's recent history.

It’s incredibly unfortunate that his two-year-long lay-off came after a period in which Obita was really hitting his stride. Goals in the second half of the 2016-17 season against Ipswich Town and Burton Albion foreshadowed his most famous Royals goal to date - a sumptuous low strike that went in off the post to give Reading the lead in the play-off semi-final first leg at Fulham and spark wild scenes in the away end. It showed how on his day, Obita was easily one of the best left-backs in the league, and you have to wonder if the last two seasons would have panned out any differently had Obita had a presence in the team.

Now of course he faces a battle with Blackett and Omar Richards for the spot in Mark Bowen’s first XI. It may well take Obita a few more months to get fully back up to speed, but if he can replicate his performance last Saturday on a regular basis, then the starting berth will surely be his. It’s a big statement, but Obita has the potential to become a Reading legend.