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Summer 2019 Squad Review: The Midfielders

Reading had no shortage of options in the middle of the park last season.

Norwich City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Who counts as a midfielder is sometimes a little controversial so, for avoidance of doubt, we’ve not included wingers in this piece. They’ll get their own separate article later on.

How the midfielders did last season

The 2018/19 campaign was an erratic one for Reading’s midfielders, who came out everywhere between fantastic and dreadful. Andy Rinomhota was a huge success, graduating from the academy before making a spot in the first team his own, eventually winning the club’s player of the season award. No simple anchorman, ‘Rino’ showed his class as a box-to-box player with his dribbling ability, also filling in at right back on occasion.

John Swift’s season was uneven - promising in parts, frustrating in others (standard Swift then). He seemed to take well to the arrival of Jose Gomes and return of a more possession-based style of play but, despite ending the campaign with four goals and three assists, never fully found consistency.

Lewis Baker and Ovie Ejaria were breaths of fresh air after arriving in January, adding a level of class and technical that the squad had lacked before they came in. Neither hit the ground running immediately, but eventually settled into the side. For Ejaria that meant playing all over: out wide, as a number ten and further back, while Baker took over the ‘deep-lying playmaker’ spot in front of the back four late on in the season.

Bristol City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Despite starting the season in the first team, Irishmen Liam Kelly and David Meyler went on to have nightmare seasons. The former played a fair amount under Paul Clement but barely at all under Gomes, while Meyler was unceremoniously dumped half a dozen matches into the campaign and hasn’t been seen in a Reading shirt since.

Compatriot Josh Barrett was given some game time at the tail end of the campaign, putting in bright showings against Middlesbrough and Birmingham City. Saeid Ezatolahi looked promising in his handful of games in the Autumn, as did Ryan East a few months later, but both saw their seasons ended by injury. Pelle Clement also played once in the League Cup before his exit in January. You’d forgotten him, hadn’t you?

Anyone else?

Incredibly, we’re still not finished. Forgotten duo Joey van den Berg and Danzell Gravenberch were loaned out to the Netherlands and Belgium respectively, and neither will have their contracts renewed this summer when they expire. Dave Edwards’ deal was also due to run out, but he was allowed to rejoin Shrewsbury Town in January, having not played since the final day of 2017/18.

Finally, technical midfielder Jordan Holsgrove may well have made the step up from the under-23s last season, but struggled with injury for much of it. Conor Lawless accompanied the matchday squad on occasion under Paul Clement, but is yet to make the 18 outright.

Who might leave?

Most of them. First of all, the ones who are set to depart as things stand: Lewis Baker, Ovie Ejaria, Saeid Ezatolahi (loans expire), Joey van den Berg and Danzell Gravenberch (contracts expire). They’ll likely be joined by David Meyler and Liam Kelly - assuming Reading can find buyers - while any of the youngsters could be sent out on loan. That said, because of the exodus, now is a great time to be a young midfielder at the Mad Stad in search of first-team football.

Reading v Crystal Palace - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Additionally, in Andy Rinomhota and John Swift, Reading have two very sellable assets. Both players are young, talented and tied down to long-term contracts, so could command big fees if rich clubs come calling. However, despite FFP, the ball is still in our court, so neither would go on the cheap.

Who might come in?

For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that Jose Gomes will be working with Andy Rinomhota, John Swift and a bunch of youngsters ahead of next season, which naturally means we’ll need to bring a fair few in to make up the numbers - but only when others have departed.

When those exits have been confirmed, there are three free transfers that the Royals should look at: talented goalscoring midfielder Reece Brown from Forest Green Rovers, former Sheffield United veteran Paul Coutts, and Saeid Ezatolahi.

Brown is in high demand this summer and has already been linked with a festival of clubs - Reading and Leeds United among them - after registering 11 goals and 15 assists for Rovers last term. Coutts, 30, is at the other end of his career to the 23 year-old, but was a fans’ favourite at Bramall Lane after playing a key part in their promotion from League One. He’d bring experience and a top range of passing.

Ezatolahi may be a left-field suggestion, especially after barely playing season, but showed a great reading of the game, defensive strength and composure on the ball in his brief spell. Being young (22) and available on a free transfer make his signature a sensible, realistic move. Plus, he’s already settled in England and gets on well with the squad - some of whom have nicknamed him ‘Busquets’. High praise indeed.