Somewhat belatedly, we’re now done with the summer transfer window. Although Reading’s ability to buy and loan in players ended at the start of August, the window still being open in Europe and in the lowers leagues until Monday had meant that the Royals had been able to trim the squad a little in the last few weeks.
It’s a summer that’s drastically changed the makeup of the Royals’ squad, with a huge number of those on the books at the end of last season now gone, and 10 senior additions brought in to replace them. Jose Gomes, Nigel Howe, Mark Bowen and others have certainly been busy behind the scenes over the last few months.
To jog your memory of what’s happened, you can find our summary of Reading’s transfers after the August deadline here, and roundup of the later departures here.
So who are the big winners and losers from Reading’s summer 2019 transfer activity? I’ve tried to work out exactly that below but, as I’ve demonstrated before, my takes in this feature can be hilariously bad. Yakou Meite apparently did badly out of the January 2019 window, Brian Tevreden’s influence stayed strong last summer (he left a few weeks after publication), and there were multiple winners from Reading signing David Meyler.
Hopefully the stuff below ages a bit better...
This summer was the best in quite some time in terms of adding first-team quality. Rafael looks like a top new number one, Michael Morrison and Matt Miazga add steel at the back, there’s quality in the midfield from Pele and Ovie Ejaria, creativity from Lucas Boye, and hopefully goals from George Puscas and Lucas Joao.
Could the gaffer have asked for much more? At least on paper, he’s now got a strong group to work with - certainly much better than the one he was using in the tour of Spain during the summer, and probably better than the squad at the end of 2018/19 too. Gomes has been backed in the transfer window where his predecessor Paul Clement arguably wasn’t, and it’s given Reading a huge lift.
Bravo to whoever was responsible for budgeting Reading’s transfers in the summer. Despite going through a lot of the window under a soft embargo (those days feel a long time ago, don’t they?) we finished it having made some pretty high-profile loan additions and bought two strikers outright - including breaking the transfer record once.
Upgrading the squad to the extent we have - while only going in for free agents, loan signings and permanent deals where the transfer fee can be split up over a few years as has been reported for Lucas Joao and George Puscas - is impressive work. After all, there’s no point bringing in new players to help fire us up the table if we’ll only end up being deducted points and shoved straight back down the table.
The timing of Reading’s transfer activity - a sudden splurge in early August - suggests that something big changed behind the scenes around that time. Whether Dai Yongge found some extra pennies down the back of the sofa, Nigel Howe brushed up on his negotiation skills or we had the help of a super agent is anyone’s guess...
If I’d written this piece in July, I’d definitely have had to put the fans down as a big loser from the transfer window. Reading didn’t make their first summer signing until July 11, loaning in Joao Virginia, and things didn’t really start getting exciting until the loan addition of Matt Miazga on July 24. It wasn’t until August though that our recruitment went into full swing, with Reading bringing in Lucas Boye, George Puscas, Lucas Joao, Pele, Ovie Ejaria and Rafael at the eleventh hour.
However, that mad rush at the end was quite an experience. The months without news or much in the way of excitement eventually paid off with a thrilling shopping spree for those six players - three arriving on one mad Tuesday (Rafael, Pele, Joao), Reading beating Birmingham City to Puscas the following day, then Ejaria sneaking in just before the window shut on the Thursday.
It all played out particularly enjoyably on Twitter, with Reading fans gripped with tension and excitement any time a big update came through.
Imagine trying to explain this experience to someone who doesn't use Twitter.— Simeon Pickup (@SimFromBucks) August 7, 2019
My biggest takeaway from the last few months is just how much of an overhaul Reading’s squad has gone through. As I mentioned at the top, a huge number of players have been cleared out (whether sold, loaned or released), which has made the squad feel incredibly refreshed. So much of the under-performing deadwood that we’ve been desperate to get off the books has been moved on.
The thing is though - all this should have happened a year ago. Reading had been accumulating squad players for far too long, and the club’s failure to get rid of them (in fact we added to them last summer) was a big reason for our dire start to the 2018/19 season. I’m sure that, if you asked him, Paul Clement would agree with that statement.
How much responsibility for transfers should be put onto him specifically - as opposed to Ron Gourlay - isn’t something I can discuss accurately without inside knowledge. But, given just how much of a clear-out we’ve managed in recent months, I can’t help but think that he’ll be looking at Reading’s squad overhaul with a large amount of jealousy.
Speaking of last summer, I made this exact same point a year ago. Reading have again finished a transfer window having bulked out the squad to a degree where chances will be hard to come by for young players.
That hasn’t happened in the same way in 2019 as it did in 2018 - almost all of the 10 signings have added quality to the first team, or temporary cover at the very least in the shape of Charlie Adam and Joao Virginia. However, a frantic finish to our transfer activity in early August has still meant there’ll be fewer opportunities for the youngsters than we were expecting earlier on in the summer.
For example, Josh Barrett, Michael Olise, Tom McIntyre, Danny Loader and Luke Southwood are some players who could realistically have been higher up the pecking order were it not for the signings of Lucas Boye, Matt Miazga, George Puscas and Rafael. They all look like good additions, but their arrivals have come at the cost of game time for the academy graduates.
Fans of Andrija Novakovich
One of this summer’s subplots was the return of one Andrija Novakovich. The American’s goal-scoring exploits in the Netherlands over the last two seasons seemed to have earned him a chance in Reading’s first team going forward. However, after a brief cameo in the 3-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on opening day and a hat-trick for the under-23s against Newcastle United, he was sold to Frosinone Calcio in the Italian second tier.
As with the last point, the arrival of new first-team players has reduced opportunities for an academy graduate. This denial of a chance seems particularly galling though, with Novakovich patiently biding his time and seeming to do well for SC Telstar and Fortuna Sittard, only to see George Puscas and Lucas Joao brought in.
There’ll certainly be a good reason for him not being given a chance, I’m sure. The lack of signings earlier on in the summer meant that Gomes got a good look at Novakovich during the pre-season trip to Spain - where he scored against Sevilla. The manager evidently didn’t see enough in the youngster.