“There is nothing in this world constant but inconsistency”.
The above is a quotation from a 1707 essay from the great author and poet Jonathan Swift, which is apt really, because it quite nicely sums up his modern day namesake John Swift, of Reading midfield fame.
Having come through the Chelsea academy and endured loan spells at Rotherham, Swindon and Brentford, Swift moved permanently to Reading in the summer of 2016 - becoming Jaap Stam’s fourth signing as manager in the process. Since then, he has played 105 times for the Royals - but have we seen the last of Swift in the blue and white hoops?
On Wednesday it was confirmed that the 23-year-old will be unavailable for the final four games of this season (having also missed the previous three matches), whilst there are rumours that he could be Leeds United-bound this summer, with Marcelo Bielsa reportedly interested in making a £7 million bid for his services.
All of this begs the question of how much Reading would miss him. Firstly, it’s worth looking at the team’s record with and without Swift. In total, he has played 94 league games for the club, in which we’ve picked up an average of 1.34 points per game. In comparison, he has not featured in 40 league games since signing, with the points per game tally in those fixtures being slightly lower at 1.17. Looking at this season specifically, and Swift once again appears to be missed. We’ve won 1.12 points per game in the 34 matches with him in the side, and only 0.75 points per game in the eight matches without him.
Given those statistics, it’s perhaps a surprise that we don’t seem to have coped too badly without Swift in the last two games against Norwich and Brentford, picking up four points. A midfield three of Andy Rinomhota, Lewis Baker and Ovie Ejaria has looked comfortable and assured. Then again, Baker and Ejaria are far better replacements than David Meyler and Liam Kelly, who took Swift’s place in the side at the start of the campaign. Of course we don’t know whether the two loanees will be in Berkshire next season, but you would imagine that if Swift exited for £7 million, then at least one would be brought back in on a permanent deal.
One thing that would need to be replaced if Swift left, and something that Baker and Ejaria perhaps don’t offer quite enough of, is creativity. With four goals and three assists this season, Swift’s goal involvement is only bettered by the lovable duo of Mo Barrow (four goals and six assists) and Yakou Meite (12 goals and one assist). In addition, he comfortably ranks first for key passes per game in the Royals team with 1.6, and is a threat from dead ball situations. There’s also very few players in who can produce moments of pure brilliance like this through ball in the lead up to Reading’s first goal against Preston last month:
The problem is, for the last two years those moments have been few and far between. Swift struggles with consistency, going three months - 13 games - earlier this season without registering a goal or an assist. This is reflected in individual matches too. The midfielder can pop up at key moments, especially under Jose Gomes he’s proven to be a difference maker, but for the rest of the 90 minutes he’ll have been anonymous.
Part of this inconsistency links to a relatively patchy injury record. Last season, Swift had five separate hamstring injuries, causing him to miss 20 league games. He also missed a month of his debut campaign with an ankle injury, and you can never be too sure how well a player will recover from hip surgery which Swift has just undergone. Granted it’s not Jem Karacan levels of injury nightmare, but it’s hardly comforting for a player who you would ideally want to build a team around.
Nonetheless, Swift remains one of Reading’s biggest assets. He’s still only 23, is a former Chelsea academy player and England youth international, and still has three years left on his contract at the Madejski Stadium. That probably gives him more value than what he’s actually worth, which could well work in the Royals’ favour if offers come in for him this summer.
Having been part of a team that’s been battling Championship relegation for the last two years, it would be kind to say that Swift could play in the Premier League with Leeds if they got promoted. However, he’s also been part of a side fighting for promotion before, and with a bit more consistency, there’s a chance he can be again. Ideally in Berkshire, and not at Elland Road.