When Reading smashed their transfer record by signing George Puscas for a reported £8 million fee from Italian giants Inter Milan, I think the optimism and excitement among the Reading fans was the highest it has been for a very, very long time.
That excitement only grew after Puscas made a red-hot start to his time in Berkshire - scoring against Wycombe Wanderers in the Carabao Cup and then bagging a wonderful brace against Cardiff City. Since then however, it has been a frustrating time for the highly rated youngster, who hasn’t found the net since his second against the Bluebirds.
This recent downturn in form has left a section of the Loyal Royals asking if the £8 million fee was worth it. Is Puscas all he’s hyped up to be? Is he the man to fire Reading towards the top end of the table? My answer to those questions is still a very firm yes. He’s just going through a rough patch in front of goal - something that happens to all strikers.
So, just how to Reading get Puscas back firing like he was in his first few games? Because it’s obvious that Gomes needs his main man to start producing in front of goal again. I believe the answer to this question is fairly simple: just keep playing him.
Gomes has been guilty of chopping and changing his team in recent weeks - some of it justified, some not. But, in my opinion, if you have an in-form striker firing on all cylinders then you play him no matter what. After two goals against Cardiff - including a truly wonderful solo goal - and a good performance against West Brom, Puscas was dropped to the bench for Reading’s trip to Huddersfield Town.
Puscas must’ve been asking what he’d done wrong. Yes, the Championship is a hectic schedule and you need a big squad in order to rest players every now and then, but I still believe Gomes should’ve kept playing him.
The Romanian international is not technically that great at football. Funnily enough, even after his opener against Cardiff back in August, he’s not a player who will dribble past three or four players and put one in the top corner from 25 yards. He’s a proper old-fashioned bastard of a centre-forward.
He plays off instinct, and is probably a better finisher when he has less time to think about what he’s doing - watch back his first-half one-on-one against Charlton for proof. He’s not particularly quick either, but he is incredibly strong and aggressive, and you can just tell that once he finds his feet he’s an absolutely ice-cold finisher.
Although his record in previous seasons may not suggest or show it, this guy is a natural goalscorer. All you have to do is watch the way he prowls along the defensive line just waiting for that one pass or one mistake that he can pounce on.
I don’t believe we’ve had a striker like this guy for a while. His first thought whenever he gets the ball is: where’s the goal? Can I get a shot away? Some may call that arrogant or greedy, but I think it’s a trait that all proper number nines have. It also says something about his character and his attitude that, even when he’s not in a rich vein of form, he still backs himself in front of goal.
Gomes should be telling him just to stay on the shoulder of the last man. Don’t move from the width of the penalty area, and when he gets his chance, take it. Puscas will be the first to admit that he hasn’t been taking those chances recently, but I feel that once the next one goes in they will just keep coming. All strikers are confidence players, and Puscas is no different.
So, ultimately, my answer to the question of how does Gomes get the Romanian firing is simple: play him. In time, Puscas will do the rest because he is a very good striker and will score more than enough goals at this level. We are very, very lucky to have him at the Mad Stad.