It’s well-documented how Reading’s transfer window last summer was an abysmal one for incomings, with Andy Yiadom the only true success of the new arrivals. But what should perhaps also be considered is just how bad the club were at clearing out a squad that desperately needed revamping following our lowest second-tier league finish in 20 years.
A clear-out was required, but out of all the teams in the Championship only Blackburn Rovers and Millwall had a lower squad churn than the Royals (according to Experimental361). The only players that left who had made over 10 league appearances the previous season were Joey van den Berg (loan), George Evans (sold) and Yann Kermorgant (released).
Considering that statistic - along with those underwhelming new signings - it’s little surprise that the club once again flirted with relegation and slumped to a second consecutive 20th-place finish in 2018/19. Now though, it looks like the squad may finally be getting that long-overdue shake-up.
According to GetReading, Chris Gunter, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Sam Baldock have become the latest players to be told that they are no longer needed, along with Marc McNulty and David Meyler who have been surplus to requirements since January, while Garath McCleary’s Instagram suggests that he is also as far away from Berkshire as possible.
If all of them are moved on (perhaps a big if), following in the footsteps of Anssi Jaakkola, John O’Shea, Paul McShane and Callum Harriott (all released), then Reading will have moved on a total of 10 senior players with 164 appearances last season between them. Now that is what you call a clear out.
That’s not to mention Adrian Popa who came off the bench once in August 2018, but has been well out of the first-team picture for some time now, and academy goalkeeper Lewis Ward who recently joined Exeter City on a permanent deal.
On a human level, telling all these players to not turn up for training and find a new club might seem particularly harsh - especially on Gunter and McCleary who have both been in Berkshire for seven years and made 539 appearances between them. If and when they do leave, you would hope that they receive recognition for the loyal service they have given the club.
But thinking ruthlessly, it’s hard to argue against any of those players being transfer-listed. They’ve all been part of Reading squads who have been largely characterised by failure. In the Championship, Gunter and McCleary have finished in the top half of the table just twice and been part of sides that have finished 17th, 19th and 20th (twice). Bodvarsson, despite his healthy contribution of goals, has only been part of those 20th-placed sides. Baldock, McNulty and Meyler showed last season that they just weren’t good enough.
One thing that most are likely to have in common is high wages - thanks Ron Gourlay - wages that none of them justified last season. Not only does letting these players go make sense in terms of (lack of) quality on the pitch, it makes huge sense financially. With concerns over FFP regulations increasing, along with knowing that it’s unlikely we’ll sign any players without letting some go, departures are needed sooner rather than later to free up space on the wage bill.
It’s certainly a sign that the club is taking steps in the right direction. They aren’t easy or nice decisions to make, but they’re choices that are in the interest of the club’s long-term future. It’s a process that began in January when Leandro Bacuna, Tiago Ilori and Dave Edwards were moved on permanently, and McNulty and Meyler - along with Vito Mannone and Sone Aluko - left on loan. Reading haven’t missed those players since and are unlikely to do so any time soon, while getting their wages off the books and receiving transfer fees (for Bacuna and Ilori) will have provided a bit of financial breathing room.
Of course there’s one slight spanner in the works of this fiendishly good plan to transform Reading into promotion contenders: finding clubs to buy these players. Perhaps more significantly, finding clubs to buy these players at prices that Reading are willing to sell for. Hibernian boss Paul Heckingbottom has admitted his side won’t pay the £1 million asking price for McNulty, and it also seems unlikely we’ll receive anywhere near the £3 million that was reportedly paid for Baldock.
Meanwhile, McCleary (32), Meyler (30) and Gunter (30 this month) aren’t exactly exciting propositions for any would-be buyers. Bodvarsson struggled with injuries last season but is still the most sell-able asset, but equally he’s the one that you wouldn’t mind keeping.
It’s difficult to know whether to be nervous or excited at the moment. Come August 3, the squad might look exactly the same, totally different or it might not look like much at all.
In José we trust. I mean how can you hate this man?!