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Which Youngsters Will Step Up Next Season?

Adam picks out the young talent that Jose Gomes could call on in 2019/20.

Reading U23 v Aston Villa U23 - Premier League 2 Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Reading’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) position is no secret. We desperately need to move on players before we make any new signings, and it’s looking increasingly likely that we’ll have to rely more on youth players going in to next season.

However, is this really a bad thing? The academy is as prosperous as ever, with several graduates making their Reading debuts last season. There’s now a number of young home-grown players that could make a large impact on the first team squad next season. Here are just five of many players who could have an increased role in the senior side during 2019/20.

Luke Southwood

The young goalkeeper is yet to make an appearance for the first team after several spells out on loan in non-league football. At 21 years old, Southwood will now be hoping for a role within the first-team setup. Despite only playing in non-league at Bath City and Eastleigh, he’s also been capped at England youth international level, having been part of the side that won the under-20 World Cup two years ago.

He signed a new two-year deal with the Royals last summer to keep him at the club until 2020. With Southwood now in the last year of his contract, this could be a make-or-break season in his career, with potential suitors reportedly circling for his signature. After being the subject of Premier League interest in the past few years, the Daily Mail reported in February that Hull City are amongst a number of clubs that are interested in Southwood.

However, his chances of getting into the first team have been boosted with Emiliano Martinez going back to Arsenal after his loan deal expired. Anssi Jaakkola’s release and Vito Mannone’s year-long loan spell in the MLS have left Sam Walker as the only senior goalkeeper at the Madejski Stadium at this moment in time.

With Walker’s future also uncertain, young players like Luke Southwood, Lewis Ward and Coniah Boyce-Clarke will all be pushing for a place on the bench. One of those names is likely to be understudy to a new goalkeeper next season.

Tom McIntyre

The impact of Matt Miazga was clear for all Reading fans to see in the second half of last season, and after the expiry of his loan he would have been an ideal permanent signing to make this summer. However, with Reading’s FFP situation, the club are unable to make such expensive signings at this moment in time, so bringing Miazga in is essentially impossible - even if Chelsea are willing to sell the American defender for a cut price.

Arsenal U23 v Reading U23 - Premier League International Cup Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

With Liam Moore currently being the only senior centre back at the club, Scottish under-21 international centre back Tom McIntyre is in contention to be a key figure in the first team squad for 2019/20. After featuring on the bench numerous times last season, the defender made just two league appearances in that campaign. A series of injuries hadn’t helped McIntyre’s cause, with the 20 year-old sustaining a facial injury in his maiden start away to Rotherham United.

If Reading’s FFP restrictions remain this severe, Gomes may have to start McIntyre alongside Moore next season. Other young players who are just behind the Scottish centre back include Gabriel Osho and Tom Holmes, who have both featured in the Reading first team already.

Josh Barrett

Barrett made his debut against Preston North End in 2016 under Brian McDermott when he was just 17. In the following game, he made his first Championship start in the final game of the 2015/16 season against Blackburn Rovers. Now, at 20 years old, the midfielder has only just managed to force his way back into the side at the end of the 2018/19 season after barely featuring for the first team in the past three years.

During the time in between his Championship debut in 2016 and his re-emergence in 2019, Barrett spent time out on loan at Coventry City and, most recently, non-league side Aldershot Town. Both of these spells were in 2018, and he performed much better for the Hampshire side, failing to do well for the Sky Blues.

His involvement with the Republic of Ireland under-21 team at the Toulon Tournament in France can only help to boost his chances of retaining a spot in the first-team squad next season. Barrett’s versatility of being able to play both on the wing and in central midfield will also help his case to remain in Jose Gomes’ plans.

The departures of Ovie Ejaria and Callum Harriott could pave the way for Barrett to be an impact player from the bench next season - if he’s not a regular starter. With two loan spells and a handful of Reading appearances under his belt, the Irishman will look to prove a point to the manager.

Michael Olise

Olise’s emergence in the first team was one of the highlights of last season - alongside the performances of another academy graduate in Andy Rinomhota. Despite the hype surrounding Danny Loader seemingly getting more attention, Olise still impressed many Reading fans. His performance against Birmingham City in the final game of the campaign, alongside Loader and Barrett in a front three, was probably the standout.

Stoke City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

It’s clear that Olise has impressed Gomes, with not a lot of Reading fans even knowing about the potential of the Frenchman before his debut against Leeds United in March. In fact, most supporters hadn’t even heard about Olise before 2019, but promising performances have put him right in contention for a place in the matchday 18 going forwards.

Like Barrett, the midfielder has played in 2019’s Toulon Tournament - in case for the France under-19 team. Also like Barrett, he will be looking to capitalise on the departures of both Ovie Ejaria and Callum Harriott to force his way into the first team next year.

Supporters will be urging the club to get Olise tied down to a long-term professional contract to prevent any uncertainty around his future. Danny Loader is also in this situation at the moment, with only one year left on his contract, and is reportedly the subject of interest from top European clubs. Let’s hope both players get tied down to new deals!

Andrija Novakovich

Novakovich has spent the last two seasons out on loan in the Netherlands, where his form has impressed Royals supporters back in England. In the 2017/18 season, his goalscoring record for SC Telstar in the Dutch second division of 22 goals in 38 appearances gave Reading fans hope that he would be included in the squad in the 2018/19 campaign.

However, he went back out on loan last season, this time to Eredivisie side Fortuna Sittard. The American striker was the Dutch side’s main striker though, scoring 10 times in 31 appearances as he featured against the likes of Ajax and PSV.

Reading’s frontline squad depth currently looks like this: Yakou Meite, Andrija Novakovich, Danny Loader, Sam Baldock, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Marc McNulty, Sam Smith and Ben House.

The future of most of these players is in the balance. McNulty is likely to go back to Hibernian, with the striker himself saying that he’s willing to push through the move if he needs to. Sam Baldock is another player that supporters would be happy to see the back of, having made little impact at the Madejski Stadium last season.

As mentioned earlier on, Danny Loader is the subject of interest from several top European leagues as well as Premier League sides including Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton. However, he’s not the only Reading striker who’s attracting interest from elsewhere - Yakou Meite is reportedly a target for French side Lille - the country where Meite came from in summer 2016 when he made the move to the Madejski Stadium from PSG.

These potential departures could give Novakovich a chance in the Reading first team next season. He’s already proven his case to Jose Gomes after two successful seasons in the Netherlands, and has even appeared for the USA national team during this time.