The January transfer window slammed shut (cliche alert) at 11pm on Friday, bringing an end to a fairly low-key few weeks of business at the Madejski Stadium, which you can recap in full here. But the last month still had plenty of ramifications - both good and bad - for people connected to the club.
George Puscas, Sam Baldock and Yakou Meite
The biggest sub-plot to Reading’s January transfer activity was whether or not we’d be able to bring in a new striker. It hadn’t been a priority until the injury to Lucas Joao, suffered in the 2-1 win at Fulham on New Year’s Day, which denied the Royals their best target man. It was a huge tactical blow, with the side now without a player capable of convincingly playing up top on his own, holding the ball up and bringing others into play.
Getting a like-for-like replacement to take Joao’s spot in the side was a no-brainer, although Reading’s search for such a player proved to be difficult. Pedro Mendes of Sporting Lisbon and Connor Wickham of Crystal Palace were both heavily linked towards the end of the window, but the former proved too expensive and the latter opted to rejoin Sheffield Wednesday.
That’s left Mark Bowen with, essentially, three centre forwards that he can call on. I initially only included George Puscas and Sam Baldock, both of whom have been starting up top in Joao’s place recently, but Yakou Meite’s fine goalscoring performance at Cardiff City - in partnership with Baldock - has thrown him into the mix.
Had Reading brought in an orthodox target man of decent quality, they would surely have gone into the first team, most likely at the head of the 4-2-3-1/4-1-4-1 that Reading had been using. But the failure to sign such a player is a win for Puscas, Baldock and Meite - all of whom now have a chance to impress and kick on.
A short while ago, it emerged that Reading were set to make Alexandre Mattos their new director of football. The Brazilian executive had solely worked in his home country, building up an impressive reputation, and the Royals decided to poach him - although his appointment will only be made official when his visa comes through this month.
Two things stick out about the players he could bring to Reading. Firstly, it was reported that he’ll oversee the exchange of players between the Dais’ three clubs (Reading, KSV Roeselare and Beijing Renhe), and second is of course his contacts back in Brazil. Both those factors were evident in Reading’s January transfer business. Ayub Timbe joined on loan from Beijing Renhe, while Felipe Araruna came in from Brazilian side Sao Paulo - after the Royals were also linked with compatriot Igor Liziero.
It’s a safe assumption that, even if Mattos wasn’t decisive in those transfers, he had a significant deal of influence. At the least, those deals both match up with the strategy that Mattos has been brought in to oversee - one that’s global and innovative. Expect to see signings like those of Araruna and Timbe in the future.
The entire nation of Kenya, apparently
Kenyans sure are loving the fact that Ayub Timbe has broken into English football. Head on over to the comments section of Reading FC’s Facebook page, and you’ll see exactly what I mean, with seemingly every post on deadline day met with a swarm of replies from Timbe fans, telling the club in various ways to “announce Timbe”.
Some of them were particularly funny. My personal highlights include:
“We are preparing rituals on your [social media] admins if you don’t announce Timbe.”
“Your highness..The royaltyness of Reading..the duke and duchess of Reading...the immortality of the loyalty of royalty of Reading ...ANNOUNCE TIMBE...”
“Despots!!! Announce Ayub Timbe or we send Kissi’s & Wakambas to deal with you the traditional way!!”
I believe “Kissi’s & Wakambas” are Kenyan tribal groups, although I’ll gladly admit that my knowledge of Kenyan culture has plenty of room for improvement.
But when Timbe was indeed announced by Reading, pretty late on transfer deadline day, the club’s legion of new fans made it clear just how much they loved the news. There were more than a few tongue-in-cheek references to just how long they’d been following the Royals; one dated his support back to 1987, another to 1898.
“Where can I get a Reading Jersey please. I have been supporting this club since 1987.”
“150% of Kenyans are Reading fans since 1898. Even when stephen hunt injured Cech we were still around.”
As funny as it all is for us, there’s a serious point to be made here. Kenyan football fans love Ayub Timbe, and seeing him make it in English football genuinely means something to them. After all, it’s not a regular occurence; Victor Wanyama is the only really high-profile Kenyan footballer in England, so him being joined by another prominent player is a great thing for fans from that country.
We kenyan's have also joined on loan— Uncle Chimz (@chrischimano) January 31, 2020
Did Reading really need another defensive midfielder? We’ve already got Pele in that position, backed up ably by Andy Rinomhota, and both of them have shown they’re more than capable of playing that role in the side. So the arrival of Felipe Araruna doesn’t fill an obvious gap, at least not yet - Pele’s loan deal expires in the summer and Reading may be trying to get a head start on replacing him.
But the clearest explanation of this signing, to me, is that Bowen isn’t fully convinced that Rinomhota is good enough specifically as a holding midfielder and therefore wants more cover for Pele. Rinomhota may have some of the qualities needed to play as a holding midfielder, such as his energy and ball-winning ability, but in terms of positioning he’s still got room for improvement.
Therefore, putting Araruna into the first-team mix means Rinomhota could well get even less game time than he’s had recently. It’s up to him to impress as much as possible when he does get opportunities in the first team - starting with the cup replay on Tuesday.
The fact that Danny Loader’s future lies away from Berkshire has been evident for quite some time. Even excluding his aborted summer transfer deadline day move to Wolverhampton Wanderers, he’s looked disinterested when he’s played, and has shown no sign of wanting to sign a new contract.
So January would have been an opportunity for him to find a new long-term home where he’d have been happy. Despite not impressing here, he’s still a big talent, and could well have ended up at a top-tier side in England or Germany - as has previously been rumoured.
That’ll probably happen in the summer, when potential suitors will be able to get him for a much lower compensation fee - rather than potentially forking out a few million to get him midway through the season. Indeed, Norwich City and Wolves are both thought to be willing to bide their time until the end of the campaign.
But him staying put leaves him in limbo until that point; Reading won’t get him to sign a new deal and he won’t be in Bowen’s first-team plans. Logically, all parties should want him to try his best at the Madejski Stadium in the coming months - better performances could both boost the compensation Reading get in the summer and put Loader in the shop window for better sides.
But will that realistically come to pass? It should have happened already, but hasn’t. As it stands, Loader’s set for a wasted few months at an important point in his career.
If the last month of transfer activity proved anything, it’s that Reading don’t know what to do with all the young talent they produce. The two most notable examples here are Josh Barrett and Teddy Howe, both of whom would have gone into this season with high hopes of regular first-team football, but headed to lower-league sides on permanent deals in January after failing to secure it.
You get a similar impression by looking elsewhere, too; Brentford paid around £3m to bring in Tariqe Fosu and Shandon Baptiste from Oxford United on deadline day. Both spent time in Reading’s academy, both made their names in the lower leagues due to getting regular first-team football, and both are now talented players at Championship level - at least.
Off the back of Jack Stacey moving to Bournemouth from Luton Town in the summer, you can’t help but think that Reading’s young talent succeeding elsewhere after being overlooked at the Madejski Stadium is a worrying trend. Barrett and Howe could well show us all what we’ve missed out on, and something similar could have been behind the thinking of Jack Nolan who signed for Walsall a few weeks ago.
Reading have a great academy and there’s plenty of top talent coming through, but we need to make sure that we’re getting the most out of it.