Reading’s transfer priority in the next few weeks is clear: getting rid of the squad’s deadwood. A few days ago, it was reported that more than half a dozen players have been told their futures lie away from the club and are therefore unable to train with the main squad.
They are: Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Sam Baldock, Chris Gunter, Garath McCleary, Luke Southwood, Adrian Popa, David Meyler and Marc McNulty. Although the last three are fairly obvious inclusions after being loaned out in the middle of last season, the presence of the other five is less expected - and shows a ruthless attitude from Nigel Howe towards trimming the wage bill.
To do that though, Reading need to find buyers for their players; clubs to take on some fairly significant wages that are currently burning a hole in the Royals’ wallet. It’s a tough task for sure, so we’ve decided to lend Howe and Jose Gomes a hand. Writer and Birmingham City fan Gabriel Sutton, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the English Football League, has kindly given us a hand in identifying some new homes for Gunter, McCleary et al.
Although all these players could certainly attract attention from overseas, we’ve focussed here on potential destinations in England. Note also that this was written at the end of last week - before Garath McCleary and Sam Baldock were linked with moves to the MLS and Charlton Athletic respectively.
Although the Welshman’s form has been on the wane for several years now, you can’t doubt his experience, attitude and work-rate - all things that should stand him in good stead in finding a new club. Here, we’re looking for a club that could use an experienced full-back, but one that’s playing at least in the top half of League One.
Gabriel suggests: Fleetwood Town
“They seem to like players with pedigree and haven’t got any ‘experienced’ full-backs on their books. Chris Gunter’s ability to play right-back or as an inverted left-back might appeal to them as they’d certainly have the budget - it’s whether or not he could be lured up north.”
Next up is Gunter’s best mate at Reading, Garath McCleary. Again, we’re after a side in need of an experienced player - in this case a winger who can play on either side. However, although McCleary’s career has largely come at least at Championship level, his serious lack of speed nowadays holds him back.
We are therefore still looking in the third tier, but not necessarily quite as highly ranked as Fleetwood. Fortunately, this choice below gives McCleary the opportunity to turn out in League One without moving as far as Gunter.
Gabriel suggests: MK Dons
“They’re a possession-based side under Paul Tisdale which would probably suit McCleary, given that he doesn’t have the pace to sprint over long distances as he used to. He’d be able to come off the left and combine with players in tight areas.”
Although Baldock isn’t a frequent goalscorer, he still has a decent pedigree at Championship level thanks to the key part he played in Brighton and Hove Albion’s 2017 automatic promotion. That perhaps makes shifting him to a second-tier rival a little easier.
Again, this next pick doesn’t require Baldock to move that far, which was true of his last move (Sussex to Berkshire). It also addresses the pressing needs of another team.
Gabriel suggests: QPR
“They’ve not got an out-and-out senior striker at the moment. Although Sam Baldock clearly hasn’t had the easiest time of things with you lot, the work he did up top to help Brighton and Hove Albion to promotion a couple of years ago might tempt Championship clubs to give him another chance.”
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson…
The Icelander is arguably Reading’s most attractive option on this list. He’s played at a World Cup, is at a good age in 27, gave a decent account of himself in our dire 2017/18 campaign, and looked in red-hot goalscoring form at the start of last season before injury.
That all suggests another Championship team should take a punt on him. And in this case...
Gabriel suggests: Hull City
“The Tigers don’t seem to have any strikers and, with Frazier Campbell going, they probably need somebody who will graft selflessly and be that focal point.”
The Irishman came in from Hull City a year ago, and played just half a dozen times before being frozen out of the first team. Another few appearances came on loan at Coventry City before injury struck, leaving Meyler in limbo this summer.
Technically, he’s not up to Championship football, whether it’s Jose Gomes’ style or that of anyone else. So how far does he drop down the divisions to get first-team football? It may have to be League Two.
Gabriel suggests: Grimsby Town
“It’s possible that David Meyler will drop down to League Two; he’d be a strong ball-winner there and his passing might look a bit better at that level as well. Championship clubs won’t take him due to injuries and I suspect a lot of League One clubs wouldn’t fancy him either. He lived in Hull for five years before leaving in 2018 so maybe Grimsby would work for him geographically?”
McNulty quit Reading on loan at the same time as Meyler, in this case heading north of the border to Hibernian. Although the SPFL side have been very keen to buy him outright, they’ve not coughed up the presumed seven-figure fee.
So what if the Royals desperately need to get McNulty off the books and need to find a Football League side that’ll take a punt on him? Gabriel thinks a return to the Midlands could be in order for the Scottish striker.
Gabriel suggests: Coventry City
“He was their highest top scorer in a single season since Bobby Gould in 1966/67 so is clearly well-regarded there and his return would make him a hit with fans once more. He’s smashed League Two, hasn’t done it in the Championship, so League One would seem the next natural step. Coventry need a striker too.”
A surprise inclusion on Reading’s exclusion list, Southwood has apparently been told that his future lies away from the Madejski Stadium. For a talented young ‘keeper - at a time when we’re lacking goalies of any kind - it’s odd news. For whatever reason though, he needs a new club.
As his experience has largely come in non-league football, Southwood probably shouldn’t be aiming for the Championship, but could try to establish himself lower down and work his way up.
Gabriel suggests: Plymouth Argyle
“They’ve only got one senior goalkeeper by the looks of things and he’s not an established number one. After what was by all accounts a positive loan spell at Eastleigh, you’d think that going to a League Two club with promotion ambitions would be the right move – League One might be a bit of a stretch.”
A wildcard due to his lack of experience in English football, Popa is harder to find a Football League club for. In truth, leaving the country entirely is the most likely outcome, repeating his loan spells with Ludogorets and Al Taawoun.
However, if the Romanian winger is keen on sticking in England, Gabriel suggests Oxford United as a potential destination. Karl Robinson’s League One side could use another winger, even they already boast former Royals James Henry and Tariqe Fosu in their ranks.
Style wise, Popa would get to use the ball a fair amount and dribble with it, in contrast to other teams that ask their wingers to cross from deep - such as Rotherham United.