Reading are set for a turbulent couple of months. A bloated squad will be chopped, changed and added to as Jose Gomes and Nigel Howe try to reduce the wage bill, adjust the mentality of an under-performing group and add quality where needed.
All this week, we’ll be assessing the state of the squad as it stands. What options does Jose Gomes have, who he’ll be losing over the summer, and what signings he might try to bring in. Up first is, naturally, the goalkeepers.
How the goalies did last season
On the face of it, there’s no shortage of goalkeepers in Reading’s squad. The Royals cycled through four senior ‘keepers across the full course of the campaign: Vito Mannone, Sam Walker, Anssi Jaakkola and Emiliano Martinez.
The first two were both given decent chances in the first team but, after losing form and failing to achieve the kind of reliability and consistency you want from a goalkeeper, were ultimately dropped. That opened the door to an unlikely return for Jaakkola; the Finn impressing in late 2018 - including a stand-out performance against Millwall - and deservedly winning our player of the month awards for October and November.
However, the arrival of a possession-oriented manager in Jose Gomes let Jaakkola in a tricky spot, with his distribution not up to the standard that the new gaffer needed. He was eventually replaced by loan signing Emiliano Martinez, who made the number one shirt his own with consistently eye-catching performances - not to mention impressively accurate, composed passing - and we never looked back.
Elsewhere in the squad, Jaakkola was largely ruled out through injury with Walker on the bench, while Mannone had been loaned out to MLS side Minnesota United after reportedly being frozen out from the first-team squad in January.
Luke Southwood caught the eye for Eastleigh in their unsuccessful attempt at being promoted out of the National League, while Lewis Ward struggled for game time at Northampton Town and Forest Green Rovers. Jokull Andresson, Adam Desbois, Liam Driscoll, Myles Roberts and especially Coniah Boyce-Clarke are talented ‘keepers to watch over the next few seasons.
Who’s on their way out this summer?
First and foremost, Emiliano Martinez. The Argentine ‘keeper is heading back to Arsenal after the expiration of his loan deal in Berkshire - and, short of Gomes working a miracle, won’t be returning. Martinez is after guaranteed first-team football at this stage in his career - he won’t get that at Arsenal, so a permanent exit beckons. Even if Reading did have the funds to make that happen, he’ll get much better offers to further his career elsewhere.
Anssi Jaakkola is also leaving, with his contract due to run out at the end of June. He’d likely not have been any more than a squad option next season, so taking his wages out of the equation will have been a straightforward financial decision for Nigel Howe.
We could also see Sam Walker shipped out in the summer. Like Jaakkola, he wouldn’t be a first choice contender for 2019/20, so a permanent move to a lower-league side would bring in a bit of cash without being too much of a blow for the squad. Plus, the former Colchester United ‘keeper isn’t the best with the ball at his feet, so he wouldn’t fit into Jose Gomes’ style of football.
Further down the pecking order, academy players George Legg and James Hillson have already announced that they’re departing Reading this summer. Neither have made a first-team appearance for the Royals yet, although Legg has been on the fringes for a few seasons without breaking through. Hillson has been on loan at Arsenal recently, so could be set for the Gunners’ academy.
It’s been a good 4 years at @ReadingFC, there’s been plenty of ups and down but overall I really enjoyed my time here. I would like to say thankyou to all the staff that helped me throughout my years here and I wish all of them and all the players the best of luck for the future.— James Hillson (@JamesHillson_1) May 18, 2019
Otherwise it’s a case of which goalies are sent out on loan and which are released. Reading have a big set of academy ‘keepers at the moment and will need to let some go in search of first-team football - either permanently or temporarily.
Who might come in?
Reading’s goalkeeping department will be very, very different when the start of the 2019/20 season comes along. That depends primarily on who leaves the club in the first place, with Martinez potentially being joined by Jaakkola and Walker in swapping the Madejski Stadium for pastures new.
There’ll also be a reshuffle further down the pecking order. At least one of Southwood and Ward could well be promoted to Jose Gomes’ top three, although Driscoll, Andresson and others will of course want to be in contention.
Because of all that uncertainty - and us not knowing Gomes’ exact plans for the goalkeepers he already has on the books - it’s tough to work out who he might want to bring in. Certainly a new first-choice ‘keeper will be on his wishlist; someone who can nail down that starting spot with fine shot-stopping and accurate distribution.
Getting a player like that on a low budget won’t be straightforward, even if we made it look easy in January. We could very well have to rely on a free transfer - Derby play-off finalist Kelle Roos is a free agent this summer for example. Alternatively, another loan deal would be financially savvy, with plenty of young Premier League goalies on the market, including Manchester United’s Joel Pereira who was linked with a move to Reading in January.
Keep an eye out for our review of the rest of Reading’s squad throughout this week.