Michael Olise, Danny Loader and Josh Barrett should be feeling an enormous amount of pride in themselves right now. They’ve all now completed their involvement in the highly regarded Toulon Tournament and, despite none of them getting further than the semi-finals, all should be proud of getting there in the first place.
It was Josh Barrett who came closest to winning the tournament, with his Ireland side edged out 2-0 by Brazil at the semi-final stage. However, there is of course no shame in being knocked out by a country that has lifted the trophy more times than any other (8) - except host nation France (12).
Les Bleus, who surprisingly included Michael Olise in their squad, finished in a respectable sixth place after losing 3-0 to Portugal in a play-off. Although England came a lowly ninth, that’s no slight on Danny Loader - especially with the Three Lions only winning the game that Loader started.
Ignore the results though. Forgive the cliche but, in this case, it really is the taking part that counts. Although they’re effectively at different stages into their international career - Loader, Barrett and Olise had played 39, nine and zero times for their countries respectively before Toulon - the fact that all took part was an equally impressive achievement.
Being handpicked by an international coach and called up to represent your country is no mean feat, and Reading’s young trio should all be proud of themselves. It’s certainly a big endorsement of the progress that Danny Loader, Michael Olise and Josh Barrett have made in recent months and years.
The inclusion of 17 year-old Olise is perhaps the most eyecatching. His development across the course of 2018/19 has been remarkably quick, going from the under-18s into the under-23s and then the first team before being presented the Scholar of the Year award after the season finale at home to Birmingham City. Doing all of that in just one campaign doesn’t happen often.
It’s also clear that he’s turning heads outside Berkshire, with only two other players based outside France being picked for the French squad - Koba Koindredi of Spanish side Valencia and Ulrick Brad Eneme Ella of Austrian team Liefering. Olise is clearly starting to build up something of a reputation. It’ll only get harder for Reading to keep hold of him long-term, so we better get started on that new contract.
Reading’s involvement in this competition is also a great endorsement for the academy as a whole. As far as I can tell, the Royals have never sent more than two players to a single Toulon Tournament - that total coming in 2017 when Jordan Holsgrove and Zak Jules both represented Scotland.
Beating that tally - not to mention at the end of an already-fantastic season for youth development at the Madejski Stadium - shows how much progress is being made by Ged Roddy, Scott Marshall and others behind the scenes. What better reward for their hard work than to see academy graduates make their mark on the international stage?
This should also be an inspiration to what’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting crops of talent we’ve seen in quite a while. The current batch of 16 to 18 year-olds - those who’ll be breaking into the first team over the next few seasons - include a string of players to have represented England at youth level, including but not limited to Jack Nolan, Oliver Pendlebury, Jeriel Dorsett and Claudio Osario. That’s not to mention Coniah Boyce-Clarke and Diamond Edwards who have both been linked with moves to Europe’s elite - although thankfully the former has agreed a professional contract.
Whether or not they’ll ultimately make the grade is yet to be seen, but Danny Loader, Michael Olise and Josh Barrett have made a crucial contribution by showing them the pathway: hard work pays off. If the hours are put in on the training ground, they’ll get their chance to impress Reading - and perhaps even the opportunity to represent their country.