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The ‘Fresh Start’ Approach Should Not Be Understated

Could this initiative become an integral part of our long-term success?

Reading v Luton Town - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Amid all the wonderful chaos during the past few months with a new manager and CEO, new players coming in, a bus-full being released and four wins out of four, it seems as if a strategic change at Bearwood has been taking place behind the scenes.

According to the ever-reliable Eddie, a ‘fresh start’ approach has been adopted at the club ever since Veljko Paunovic arrived, where the vast majority of players (right up from the under-18s) have been included in first-team training.

I knew this would hit the spot with Reading fans, with most of us keen to see as many academy players become a key part of the first team squad as possible. Perhaps it’s a slight obsession – but making full use of our academy is something I have always believed in quite strongly. Financially, it makes sense to invest in our youth system for the long-term benefits.

Michael Olise is a prime example of why we should continue to place emphasis on the academy – and personally – I hope we never lose sight of that.

Let’s just take a look at who was released in the summer from the under-23s: Andre Burley, Ramarni Medford-Smith, Ben House, Liam Driscoll, Werick Caetano, Tyler Frost (all 21), Akin Odimayo, Lexus Beeden, Ethan Coleman, Roberto Nditi, Adam Liddle (all 20) and Marcel Elva-Fountaine (19).

Add Gabriel Osho (22), Jordan Holsgrove (21) and Danny Loader (20) to that list, who all left in the summer, and we are now left with a very young under-23s squad. Tennai Watson, Sam Smith (who is also likely to leave) and Ryan East are the only real senior survivors from the previous squad.

You could also make the argument the likes of Southwood, McIntyre and Holmes are still here – but I can’t help but class them as fully-integrated first team players now.

I digress.

It’s safe to say a lot of people were concerned by the number of players who were released and questioned the future of the academy. How were we going to fill those gaps? Are some of the under-18s good enough to make the step up?

Well, maybe this exodus was needed for the emergence of players like Nelson Abbey and Jeriel Dorsett, both of whom are England youth internationals. In that sense, Burley and Odimayo’s departures make sense – but it remains to be seen whether we can do well this season in Premier League 2.

One thing that could make the under-23s’ task even harder is the inclusion of young players in the first-team squad. Dejan Tetek made his Championship debut last Saturday against Watford – and we could see many more academy players making their league debuts this season when injuries/suspensions hit.

However, when the first-team squad do have a clean bill of health or something near that, this new strategy to include less experienced players in training could enable them to raise their game, meet the physical demands of moving from the under-18s to the under-23s as they continue their development – and help to raise their confidence.

Reading v Luton Town - Carabao Cup Second Round
Dejan Tetek has been firmly involved with the first team so far this season
Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Along with this, there seems to be a universal acceptance that we need to be a much smaller, tight-knit group both this season and in the future. This means asking many of the younger players to step up when needed. A major gamble – but one worth taking for me and it can only help in reducing that previously crippling wage bill.

This is not me saying we do not need strength in depth, because we do, but we need to balance that with being financially responsible and giving players a chance to shine when they have earned that opportunity.

Going back to the U23s squad, it will be interesting to see whether we decide to recruit some young players to make us more competitive in Premier League 2. Omri Luzon and Joseph Nkwonta have been linked with moves to the Madejski Stadium recently – and they could become part of the ‘fresh start’ approach that has given many teenage players a great opportunity to play alongside seasoned professionals.

To be fair, the further recruitment of youngsters could make things a little trickier. Having about 50 players to train would be a nightmare for Paunovic, but all jokes aside, I hope we can stick with this new strategy if it proves to be beneficial for the club as a whole.

Building bonds between age groups can help the younger players not only make that transition from the under-18s to the under-23s as I was saying – but help with the transition from the under-23s to the first team.

This is so important with a much smaller squad.

Many players have struggled to make this step up in the past – so I hope we can fix this, include more academy-based players in the first team who are up to the task of competing in the Championship and look after our finances a bit better as a result of this. Focussing on a long-term goal has always been what I’ve wanted for this club – and although it’s early days – this new initiative sounds promising.

It may also be vital to the future of this club, so this approach cannot be understated.

We have already done well to include several first team players from our academy. Luke Southwood, Omar Richards, Tom McIntyre, Tom Holmes, Michael Olise are all examples of this - but I hope this this move can help us to go further. Quality is needed as well as quantity, so we’ll soon see who is capable of making the grade.

To finish off, our very own Simeon made the link between this strategy with our new state-of-the-art training facility at Bearwood – and you have to wonder whether this move from Hogwood has helped to refocus minds in the boardroom in building towards the future.