At the end of last week, Reading fitness coach Rui Santos put a video on his Instagram account showing that he was working with Nelson Oliveira. A fairly innocuous post perhaps, but still enough to spark speculation that the Portuguese forward would be returning to Reading this summer. Whether there’s anything in that video or not, Reading - in its current state - shouldn’t sign Oliveira up on a permanent deal.
On the face of it, he’d be a great addition to this squad. A talented forward who can score goals, drop deep to knit together attacking play, and even play through the pain barrier of having his face stamped on. That last point in particular has created a strong emotional bond between the fans and Oliveira. What better way to show your commitment to the cause than be desperate to get back onto the pitch after a nasty injury? His hunger to play football and score goals last season was never in doubt, certainly not from me.
So why am I so uncomfortable about him returning? In short, he’s far too big a risk - and we simply can’t afford those at the moment.
It’s been well documented just how precarious Reading’s financial situation is. Our finances aren’t in crisis mode - there’s no panic to cash in on first-team talent - but every penny counts. We’ve known that for some time now, but news that the club was under a “soft transfer embargo” put our troubles into perspective.
Whatever the specifics of that arrangement with the EFL, Jose Gomes’ ability to bring players in is severely restricted by the number of additions, their cost, and the departures needed first. To react to that by forking out potentially huge wages on Oliveira - or going out of our way to make our finances fit around signing him - would be erratic at a time when Reading’s bank balance needs stability.
Oliveira’s future success in a Reading shirt is also by no means certain. We all know just how quickly his stock fell at Norwich City - most famously in a spat with Daniel Farke at Craven Cottage. Canaries writer Connor Southwell told us about it when Oliveira signed on loan:
“Trouble began to manifest itself at Craven Cottage in Daniel Farke’s curtain-raiser against Fulham - everybody will be aware of his exploits that followed his last minute equaliser. From there, he’s held a publicly fragmented relationship with his German boss, blatantly defying coaching instructions and shooting from obscene positions rather than complying with Farke’s preferred methods.”
That problem hasn’t fully reared its head at Reading yet, with Oliveira enjoying a healthy, positive relationship with compatriot Jose Gomes. However, he often struck me as easily frustrated at times last season, letting his head drop quickly if he wasn’t involved in the play or chances weren’t forthcoming.
A talented player absolutely, but Oliveira needs the right circumstances to thrive. Should Reading make a weak start to next season or Gomes be snapped up by another club - both of which are very realistic possibilities - Oliveira wouldn’t have the right conditions to thrive. As his time at Norwich has already showed, he could well end up being a hindrance rather than a help.
This would be a different debate if Reading had the money to make such a gamble. Take Financial Fair Play out of the equation and the Royals could bring in Oliveira, build a team around him and ensure that Gomes stays around - but in reality not much of that is likely to happen. We have to work with the finances we have - not how we want them to be.
But other players offer better value for money and safer bets for the future. Yakou Meite found the net 13 times in 2018/19, while Danny Loader looks increasingly confident playing first-team football. He should be a regular starter if he’s still on the books next season and, with more Championship experience, he’ll show more and more of his undoubted potential.
Returning loan star Andrija Novakovich has already demonstrated just how well a gifted forward can develop if given a chance. In his last two seasons he’s scored 32 times in 69 first- and second-tier appearances in the Netherlands; no mean feat for someone who’d previously only played twice for Reading and four times for Cheltenham Town. The knowledge and confidence he’s acquired from SC Telstar and Fortuna Sittard show that he’s now ready to lead the line for his parent club.
If any of them fail to make the grade - a possibility we have to take seriously despite how promising they are - we’re left with young, hungry players that aren’t on huge wages. They’re the kind of investments we need to be making at the moment - low cost, high reward.
I wish the same could be said of Nelson Oliveira, but it can’t. I’d love to see him showing what he can do in a Reading shirt as much as the next man, but bringing back is a risk that we just shouldn’t take.