On Monday afternoon, Reading got a big boost to their pre-season. No, not a new signing, but a new contract; Michael Olise agreeing a deal that will keep him at the Madejski Stadium until the summer of 2022.
It’s great news for the club, manager Jose Gomes and of course the player himself. Still only 17, his transition last season from under-18 football to featuring in the under-23s, making his first-team debut and finally appearing for France at the Toulon Tournament was remarkable.
Although his impact in the first team itself has been limited so far - Olise has played just four times (two starts, two sub appearances) - his potential was obvious in the season finale against Birmingham City. The fleet-footed forward was confident, proactive and keen to make things happen in the final third. Reading will need all of those qualities next season.
Tying down such a talent to a new deal is no mean feat. Bigger clubs will have noticed his development thus far, so it would have taken some doing to convince Olise that his future should be in Berkshire. Fortunately for Reading, they’ve got some top cards to play, not least Jose Gomes’ belief in youth, a squad becoming evermore dependent on academy players with every senior departure, and the long-awaited new training ground at Bearwood.
However, all that leaves me pondering this: would Olise have signed this contract, say, last autumn? I ask this because of the comparison with the ongoing contract status of Danny Loader - the next man on Reading’s shortlist of ‘young talent whose future must be sorted out’.
To be fair, their situations are different. Loader’s potential has been more obvious for a longer period of time - due in large part to him winning the World Cup with England’s under-17s a few years ago. He also made his debut a while ago - August 2017 in the League Cup - and was given a proper chance in the first team by Paul Clement towards the end of 2018.
It all led to questions of why Loader wasn’t given a new contract much earlier. But, if you were in Loader’s shoes in the autumn of 2018, would you have signed? At the time, the prospects for emerging talent like him were very different to how they are now: the manager and CEO were significantly more cautious about bringing academy players through, and the squad was bloated.
Despite the return of Nigel Howe and appointment of Jose Gomes - both of which are big steps in the right direction for youth development - we’re left in the situation where Loader’s contract is set to expire next year. The previous lack of a pathway had lasting ramifications. However, after months of hard work, it’s coming back. It may well have come back too late for Loader to commit his future this summer - or at all - but its reemergence will have played a big part in Olise’s decision.
That’s also true of two other players to have made the same choice this year: Coniah Boyce-Clarke and Andy Rinomhota. Although they’re at different stages in their development - Boyce-Clarke is still only 16 while Rinomhota is one of the first names on the teamsheet - both had the faith to commit the next few seasons of their careers to Reading Football Club. The fact that we have multiple youngsters all feeling the same way - Olise, Boyce-Clarke and Rinomhota - is a huge win for the club.
It’s progress that must be allowed to continue. The upside of our spending restrictions is of course that the academy has to play a greater role - but, when the purse strings eventually loosen, there’s no reason to go back to business as usual.