If you look back at some of the great teams to play the game, most of those teams are built around a strong central midfield partnership. For example, Keane & Scholes in the treble-winning Man United team and Vieira & Gilberto in the Arsenal Invincibles are two that instantly come to mind.
Even looking closer to home, the two most successful teams in recent Reading history, the two Premier League promotion-winning sides, are no different. We had the luxury of watching Steve Sidwell and James Harper in the 106 team and then Jem Karacan and Mikele Leigertwood in the 2011/2012 season.
Now, I’m not putting the two names I’m about to say in the same bracket as the aforementioned midfield partnerships just yet as, ultimately, they haven’t won anything. But, as a testament to just how good they have been, I don’t think it’ll be too long before Josh Laurent and Andy Rinomhota become another one of those notorious Reading FC midfield partnerships.
I think, in a way, they already have. They have both started every single Championship game so far this season, and the partnership they have formed in such a short amount of time is very impressive.
When Andy Rinomhota first broke into the team during the gloomy reign of Paul Clement, he was a breath of fresh air, and seriously good. He added something to our midfield that we’d been missing since Danny Williams left in the summer of 2017 - the ability to take the ball and drive forward with it.
That might sound like something very small and very simple, but it became a vital component to the way we played. Rino was able to pick up the ball when we were under the cosh, and within seconds turn that into a Reading attack with his ability of running past players and winning free kicks.
When Clement left and Jose Gomes came in, Rino remained a key part of the team and quickly cemented himself as not only the first name on the Reading team sheet, but also one of the best up-and-coming central midfielders in the league. He was extremely good in that first season.
Unfortunately, going into Gomes’ second season in charge, the former AFC Porchester man fell out favour as Jose opted for a more passing style of play, one that Andy’s traits just aren’t suited to. Even when Gomes was sacked, Rinomhota failed to really find his feet under successor Mark Bowen as he consistently battled with Pele for that starting spot in midfield.
However, Veljko Paunovic has placed his trust in Rinomhota since he came in, and boy has Rino repaid that faith. He’s well and truly back to his best. In the opening stages of the season we saw his tenacity and aggression in a more defensive role alongside Laurent, but more recently we’ve been able to see his energy and runs forward that dazzled us so much in his debut season, as Pauno has tweaked our attacking play slightly.
As for Laurent, what is there to say about this bloke that hasn't already been said? He’s just been so, so good. He has everything you could possibly want from your central midfielder; he’s athletic, strong, quick, good on the ball and his game awareness is second to none.
It’s been said by a number of fans already, and for very good reason, but signing Josh Laurent on a free is one of, if not the, best pieces of business the club has done since I can remember, For that, we have to thank Mark Bowen.
It was Bowen who started the hunt to sign Laurent back in January, and he finally got his man when Laurent’s contract ended at Shrewsbury in the summer. Considering Bowen was such a big factor in Laurent signing for the club, I would have loved to have a penny for his thoughts when the Welshman was replaced by Paunovic in bizzare fashion (even by our own high standards).
Credit to Laurent though, he didn’t let it affect him and he’s looked more than at home in a team battling at the top end of the division. He seems to have taken the club to his heart just as much as we love him, too, which is something us fans always love to see, and just makes that relationship that little bit more special.
They are two fantastic players in their own right who, when put together, become a real force to be reckoned with. The classy nature of Laurent, paired with the energy and tenacity of Rinomhota, creates a seriously good Championship midfield partnership.
They provide the perfect base for the likes of Michael Olise, Ovie Ejaria, Yakou Meite and Lucas Joao to go and express themselves in the final third as they have the confidence that, if they do lose the ball, Laurent and Rino will be there to mop things up - and 99 times out of 100 they don't disappoint.
Their partnership was summed up with one delightful moment on Saturday against Nottingham Forest. With Forest on the counter in the second half, Laurent was running alongside the Forest player before putting a tackle in that didn’t quite win the ball which Rinomhota was having absolutely none of.
Rino then came in flying in in true Gandalf ‘You Shall Not Pass’ style, getting both the man and putting the ball into Row Z. The passage of play was met with huge celebrations from not only the fans, but also from the two players who embraced each other like they were family.
It’s the little moments like that that mean the most to the fans. The attacking play and goalscoring is beautiful, but every good team has that hunger and mentality of “if he doesn’t get you, I bloody will” and the Laurent/Rinomhota partnership has that in abundance.
They are two absolute warriors who will leave absolutely everything out on the pitch (yes, I know that’s the most overused cliche in the history of football, but it’s true). Their quality is unquestionable, their importance undeniable. They are two wonderful players who are forming a truly wonderful partnership.