Every year in addition to our Player of the Season vote, we also hold the ‘Rookie of the Year’ poll, which recognises the young players in Reading’s squad that have broken into the team in the past 12 months and made an impact on the first team. Last year’s winner was Omar Richards, while Liam Kelly, Aaron Tshibola and Jake Cooper have also collected the accolade in the past.
To avoid any PFA Young Player of the Year scenarios where the eligibility of the award gets called into question, the criteria for Rookie of the Year is fairly strict. Candidates must:
- Have been 22 years old or younger on August 1 2018.
- Have made fewer than five Reading starts before the start of the season.
- Have made five Reading starts this season or a combined 10 sub appearances + starts.
- Not be on loan at the club.
While in previous years the shortlist has included up to six players, this season it’s just a straight shoot-out between two contenders...
Appearances: 22 / Goals: 1 / TTE Average Rating: 5.3
Danny Loader has long been the academy player tipped to be the next big thing at Reading, and 2018/19 saw the forward break into the senior team after consistently hitting the back of the net for the under-23s and England’s youth teams. Loader made his league debut against Wigan Athletic in November, and would go on to become the youngest Royal in the modern era to clock up 20 appearances for the club at 18 years and 225 days old.
It’s fair to say it took him a while to adapt to the Championship, but Loader improved throughout the campaign as his confidence grew, and by the final few games he was a real threat in attack. This included his first senior goal against Middlesbrough - a magnificent curling effort from outside the box after cutting inside from the left wing. Some may argue that a loan spell next season would prove beneficial for the teenager, but we certainly have a very talented player on our hands.
Appearances: 28 / Goals: 1 / TTE Average Rating: 6.4
Watching Andy Rinomhota’s performances throughout the season, it has often been hard to believe that he is still a ‘rookie’, considering the level of confidence and composure hes’ shown in midfield. After being handed his first start by Paul Clement against Bristol City in November, Rinomhota became a mainstay in the side for the rest of the campaign, only missing seven further games through injury.
It’s testament to his quality that a man who only turned 22 last month was such a key cog for the Royals, and his presence was certainly missed when he was sidelined. If his vital tackles and driving runs from midfield weren’t enough, Rinomhota netted his first senior goal in crucial fashion with a 97th-minute equaliser at Norwich City in April, and his breakthrough year was capped off by winning the club’s official Player of the Season award.
You might be sitting there thinking What?! Loads of academy players have made their debuts for Reading this year! You would be right, with Tom McIntyre, Gabriel Osho, Ryan East, Michael Olise and Teddy Howe all making their senior bows this season, while Josh Barrett has also come back into the fray. Sadly though, none have clocked up enough appearances to qualify. Don’t be surprised to see them on the shortlist at the end of 2019/20, which is exactly what we said about Loader and Rinomhota this time last year.
In addition, Ovie Ejaria, Saeid Ezatolahi and Josh Sims would be in contention had they not only been at the club on loan (and in Ezatolahi’s case made more appearances), while Yakou Meite, Liam Kelly and Omar Richards are all still young enough but had made too many appearances prior to this season to qualify.
So, which one of the two candidates do you think is most deserving of the award? Vote for your chosen player just below, or use this link if the poll doesn’t show up.
2018 - Omar Richards
2017 - Liam Kelly
2016 - Aaron Tshibola
2015 - Jake Cooper