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Midweek Musings: Free Transfer Bargains, American Royals

Ross points out that Reading have done well from free agents in the last couple of years, and highlights some favourite American Royals from years gone by.

FIFA 2006 World Cup - Group E - USA vs Czech Republic

A shorter midweek musings this week I’m afraid. The election in the country of my residence has stolen some of my attention, but I’m also writing prior to the Preston North End game. In my opinion, Reading’s performance in that match will dictate the narrative about the Coventry City defeat on Friday, so let’s hold off on panicking too much until the end of the evening. So in lieu of that, let’s take a look at some of our best business since 2019, and the impact of Americans on Reading FC.

The best three signings of the past two years have been on frees

Ok, that’s certainly a debatable topic. We all know how Lucas João has been performing this year, and long may his scoring streak continue. Thanks to George Puscas’ arrival the next day for a club record £8 million though, It’s easy to forget that João wasn’t cheap either. His fee, in the region of £5 million, would make him the third most expensive Reading signing ever behind only the aforementioned Puscas, and the recently resurfaced Sone Aluko.

Over the last two years however, Reading have built a solid spine with only free transfers, and I wanted to celebrate that here.

Starting with a man who arrived in RG2 on the same day as João, Rafael has made a huge impact on Reading’s goalkeeping. It took me a while to warm up to Rafael. I worried about a player who, at the time and age he was, really hadn’t played that much first-team football.

Rafael proved me wholly wrong though. His acrobatic and exciting play has left my heart in my chest at times (looking at you Fulham (A) last year), but it’s tough to deny that he gets results! His player of the season award last year speaks for itself, and speaks to a man who’s put together one consistent Championship season of quality play and given us no reason to think he can’t do it again so far this year (despite his mistake against Coventry).

While deciphering player representation can be murky, research suggests Rafael’s transfer had links to Reading’s mystery man in the backroom: Kia Joorabchian. We’ve seen some nightmare transfers linked to Kia in the last few years, but Rafael is certainly not one of them.

Blackburn Rovers v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Visionhaus

Michael Morrison is a mystery to me. How on earth did Birmingham City let a player this useful go? Birmingham’s loss has been Reading’s gain since Morrison joined. Starting the 2019/2020 season, I fully expected the returning Matt Miazga to be the natural choice alongside Liam Moore. Morrison slowly pushed his way into the team with steady performances however and as Miazga’s injury problems began to mount, he became an invaluable source of experience in the side.

With a young team this year, this experience would seem even more vital in providing a calm head when Reading need to grind out a victory, such as the Cardiff game this year. I’m unsure how Morrison ended up coming to Reading, but I’m delighted he’s here.

Laurent may be my favorite of the three free signings right now, though that may be some recency bias slipping in. From his play alongside Rinomhota, to his seamless covering of the defense, and to his measured passes out from the back, Laurent has been exactly what our midfield needed this year: a player who could thread together the defence and attack, and help us to be lethal on the transition.

Laurent and Bowen had a connection before Laurent joined Reading, so when Bowen was bounced from Berkshire with just a week to go before the season, I worried that we would’ve just shaken the happiness of an important new signing before he even pulled his boots on. Clearly, there was nothing to worry about: Laurent’s attitude has been fantastic, and he’s clearly a popular player in the dressing room, frequently seen featuring on Yakou Meite’s enjoyable Instagram feed, or sharing his bromance with Rinomhota on social media for the world to see.

I can’t develop a convincing argument for dropping any of these three players right now, and that’s great news. When transfer windows roll around, we’re all looking for the next exciting big-money signing and I hope João continues to make a mockery of his transfer fee deep into the season. Don’t sleep on Reading doing business with free agents however: they could prove to be crucial members of our team!

America’s Royal representation

With the US election dominating the headlines this week, I figured there was no time like the present to discuss Reading’s American players! I’ve picked out three of my favorites here. Reading have had five American players over their history (although Andrija Novakovich may debate that he was a Reading player), putting us up there with Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur as English clubs which have dabbled fairly frequently into the American transfer market.

Marcus Hahnemann

Hahnemann was the goalkeeper when I first pledged myself to the Royals in the early 2000s, and so he holds a special place in my heart. I’d expect this is the same for many of you (especially those in my age group), as Hahnemann holds the record for appearances by a goalkeeper since the millennium, beating out Adam Federici.

Hahnemann kept 22 clean sheets in the 106 season, almost a 50% record, and was a solid presence in our first run in the Premier League, starting every game. His quality was enough to get him transferred back into the Premier League with Wolves in 2009, but he soon drifted back towards his home state of Washington, to finish his career with the Seattle Sounders.

Possibly Reading’s best goalkeeper this millennium, Hahnemann certainly has a shout to be Reading’s greatest-ever American player, though his success could be compared to another member of the 106 team...

Bobby Convey

Convey may be the most successful of Reading’s American players so far, with a significant 46 caps for the USA including appearances at the 2006 World Cup. His free kick against Italy resulted in an own goal from Italy in a 1-1 draw in the group stage at that tournament.

It’s a shame that, once he hit the Premier League, Convey’s knee began to buckle. Indeed, he played only 29 of the 76 Premier League games Reading played in their first spell in the division. He’ll always be remembered as a crucial part of the 106 team however, and with Reading’s current woes out wide, I’m sure we’d all trade Aluko for a prime Convey in a heartbeat!

Sheffield United v Reading Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

I’ll take the time to note that, in 2017, it became public knowledge that Convey was suffering from a life-threatening condition linked to his asthma. The details are available through a quick Google search if you’re interested, but I wanted to ensure I wished Convey the best of health.

Matt Miazga

Maybe a controversial choice here over Danny Williams! Matt Miazga, the most recent of Reading’s American imports, showed both defensive nous and passion for the club in droves in both of his spells with Reading.

His goal against Preston in Mark Bowen’s first game in charge was crucial to pulling the club out of the tailspin it appeared to be in after Jose Gomes’ shaky start to the season. The passion he exhibited when he scored that injury-time winner showed he clearly cared about the plight of the club. Indeed, passion was never a problem for Miazga, as his fiery temper was often present: leading him to be sent off for his part in a scrap against Derby County during Project Restart last year.

Still, Miazga’s passion, combined with his generally solid performances, endeared Miazga to me, and his importance to our survival in 2019 puts him into my top three American Royals.