Yakou Meite joined Reading as a 20 year-old unknown entity from French giants PSG in the summer of 2016. Highlights packages on YouTube (agreed, not the greatest scouting tool, but the only one us fans really had in this specific case) showed that we were getting a powerhouse of a winger, with noticeably raw talent but obviously a lot to learn - and that's exactly what we got.
I think you would all agree with me in saying that, since then, he has enjoyed a bit of a turbulent time in a Reading shirt. Failing to make an impact in his debut campaign, before being shipped out on loan to Ligue 2 side Sochaux for the 2017/2018 season probably left the Ivorian feeling unsure about his future in Berkshire - before being given a lifeline by Paul Clement and Ron Gourlay.
By lifeline, of course, I mean a totally undeserved, lucrative four-year contract which Meite signed in October of 2018. Undeserved may be a bit of a blunt way of putting it, but I’m pretty sure even Meite himself would’ve been a bit shocked when the offer was put in front of him, having only scored two goals and made 27 first-team appearances at this stage of his Reading career.
However, although I've been a big critic of Meite throughout his time in the blue and white hoops, I am one to give credit when credit is due - and I feel he’s deserving of a bit of credit now.
Since signing that contract, Yakou has cemented his place as an integral member of the squad. Yes, he is nowhere near the best player we’ve seen at Reading in terms of their technical ability (to put it mildly) and there are still occasions when I’m sure you’ve all been sat in the stands almost tearing your hair out at his decision making. However, it’s hard to argue with his record of producing the good when we’ve needed him most.
Throughout the relegation scrap last season, the 24 year-old produced some absolutely huge moments. Goals against Bristol City, Preston North End and Norwich City, plus a match-winning brace against Brentford were all vital in our fight for survival - a fight that we ultimately won.
Without Meite’s goals last season, it’s very hard to say what kind of position the club would now be in. And for that, and that alone, he deserves a lot of respect and gratitude from us as a fanbase. We all know relegation would’ve been an absolute disaster for the club, and without Meite that nightmare may well have turned into a reality.
It's fair to say that Meite has also carried that form into this season. His opener against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday afternoon took him into double figures, just three goals behind his entire tally from last campaign. Whether you like it or not (and a part of me has had to learn to like it, too) Meite is an important player for this team and has shown that over a sustained period of time now.
It has though taken time for him to find his best position, having now made that right-wing position his own in recent months. Even though a good proportion of the fanbase are quick to criticise his footballing ability sometimes (myself very much included in that) he can, on his day, be an absolute nightmare for opposition defences. He’s not a player who necessarily likes the ball into feet, but send a ball down the channels for him to run onto and he’ll do that all day long, every day of the week.
He is slowly maturing. The Yakou Meite of a couple of years ago wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to make the run off the ball like he did for his goal on Saturday, for example. It’s the little things like that that will impress Bowen - he's showing that he's improving his match awareness, something that the manager must've been working on with him.
That being said, he does still have a lot to learn. Yakou does have a tendency of showing his naivety sometimes - both on and off the pitch. As I previously stated, some of his decision making can leave you frustrated and baffled at times to say the least. I’ve actually lost count of the amount of times he's done all the hard work before hoofing it into Row Z from 45 yards - but these are things that, with time, he will hopefully learn from and become better at.
He will never have the skill of an Ovie Ejaria, nor will he ever have the footballing intelligence of a John Swift or Gylfi Sigurdsson, and maybe we’ve all been a bit guilty of falling into the trap of expecting that from him. But you can almost guarantee that he will leave blood, sweat and tears on the pitch after every 90 minutes - which was proven more than ever recently by his willingness to play, and score, a matter of days after the tragic loss of his father.
Arguably his biggest selling point is that, every now and then, he pops up with a vital moment. And it's surely not a bad thing to have a player in your ranks who can do that, is it?