It is easily overlooked that amongst Reading’s ranks there is a striker who has scored over 20 goals a season; an international for a country of almost 330 million people and has experience in one of Europe’s big six leagues. Yet it is even more unusual to think that this individual has been left largely on the fringes during his time in Berkshire.
However, as he enters the final year of his contract, Andrija Novakovich will feel more than anyone that he has a point to prove to Jose Gomes and is deserving of his chance at first team football after two successful loan spells in the Netherlands.
The 22-year-old American was first sent on loan to Telstar for the duration of the 2017/18 season. The Velsen-based side ply their trade in the Eerste Divisie, the second tier of Dutch football, and Novakovich showed his worth there, finding the net 22 times in 38 games. His goals helped fire Telstar to a sixth-placed finish ensuring play-off qualification.
Novakovich proved himself to be a big-game player when he scored a goal in both legs in the play off second round ties against De Graafschap. Although Telstar would go on to lose 6-5 on aggregate, Novakovich showed he was capable of playing far beyond this level. He was Telstar’s talisman, scoring seven goals more than any other player and his departure at the end of the season was part of the cause for their slip to 15th place in the Eerste Divisie in the 2018/19 season.
Comparatively, Novakovich’s parent club finished the 2017/18 season in 20th place under Paul Clement with the fewest calendar home wins in the club’s 148-year history, leaving many fans calling for his return in the hope he could be the answer to Reading’s chronic lack of goals. However, Novakovich was loaned out to the Netherlands again, with newly promoted side Fortuna Sittard giving him the number nine shirt for their first season in the Eredivisie since 2002.
On paper this seemed a significant step up for Novakovich, yet he still managed an impressive tally of 11 goals in 31 games; all this in Europe’s sixth biggest league playing for a side who only avoided relegated by a mere point. He ended the season as Fortuna Sittard’s top scorer, repeating the same feat he achieved at Telstar.
Yet numbers alone do not do Novakovich justice; the quality of opposition that he scored goals against only bolsters his claim to be given a starting place for the Royals. During his time at Fortuna he scored goals against PSV, Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar, including beating eleven-time Dutch international Jeroen Zoet to open his Eredivisie account.
Novakovich is mature beyond his years in the box, often creating seemingly impossible time and space to cut inside onto his right foot before unleashing a low driven shot into the bottom corner. In fact, this seems to be his signature finish and although he is certainly not a one-trick pony it seems Eredivisie defenders knew what to expect from Novakovich but still could not stop him.
The American can expect to face fierce competition on his return to Berkshire from fellow strikers Danny Loader and Yakou Meite, but he will look to hold his own and set his sights on being his club’s top goalscorer for the third year running. It is yet to be seen whether his style will suit the Championship, however his credentials so far make his footballing CV a rather impressive one. With talismanic strikers becoming increasingly hard to come by, fans will hope Reading have had one hiding in plain sight since 2014.