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Stacey, Fosu, Baptiste - Who’s Next To Prove Reading Wrong?

The Royals have gained somewhat of a reputation amongst the fans for allowing players to leave the club too early. Here is a closer look at some of Reading’s former academy players who’re on the rise, and those whose careers took a turn for the worse.

Oxford United v Manchester City - Carabao Cup - Quarter Final - Kassam Stadium Photo by Darren Staples/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

As a Reading fan it certainly wasn't a pretty sight watching promotion-chasing Brentford complete the double signing of Shandon Baptiste and Tarique Fosu from rivals Oxford United. The pair both came through the academy ranks at Reading and were deemed not good enough for the club.

Baptiste joined Oxford on a free transfer in 2015 and Fosu left to join Charlton Athletic in 2017, also for free. This isn't the first time and nor will it be the last that Reading’s judgement of academy players has come back to bite them.

Stacey worked his way up to the Premier League

Along with Fosu, full-back Jack Stacey left Reading for free in 2017 to join League One side, Luton Town. Stacey’s role in the Hatters’ record-breaking 2018/19 season was enough to win him player of the season and it certainly didn’t go unnoticed; the youngster completed a Premier League move to Bournemouth for a fee in excess of £4 million last summer.

AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea - Premier League - Vitality Stadium Photo by Tom Mulholland/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Dickie on the move?

In January 2018, aged 21, Rob Dickie joined Oxford United from Reading for a undisclosed, minimal fee. Now 24 years old, the centre back has established himself in Karl Robinson’s side and is one of the first names on the team sheet. Dickie’s composure is one of his key attributes; he very rarely panics and is calm in possession, able to display a solid range of passing from defence.

The defender’s presence at the back has earned him plenty of speculation; Premier League clubs Burnley and Southampton are both reportedly keen on signing the Yellows’ brick wall, as well as Championship sides Leeds United and Derby County.

Oxford could demand a fee in the region of £2 million for the centre-back but would prefer to keep their man, having already allowed Fosu and Baptiste to leave. After a recent surge in form, United find themselves sat in third in the table, just two points off the automatic promotion spots. Providing the season is completed, they will be hoping that the potential appeal of Championship football at the Kassam next season will be enough to ward off all suiters and convince Rob Dickie to stay put.

Will Novakovich go on to bigger and better things?

Frosinone v Salernitana - Serie B Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Andrija Novakovich was a surprise departure in the summer of 2019, with many Reading fans feeling he was ready to make his mark on the Championship, following two exceptional loan spells in Holland and multiple call-ups to the US national team. The 22 year-old had proven himself as a goalscorer and a creator at times too, but Jose Gomes didn’t see him as part of his plans. The youngster played once for the under-23s in the 2019/20 season, scoring a hat trick, and made a five-minute cameo in the Championship, before being allowed to leave for free to Italian side Frosinone, despite being valued at nearly £1.5million.

The striker has been involved in 10 goals so far for his new side, and has proven a hit with the fans as the club push for promotion to Italy’s top flight.

Millwall fend off Premier League interest in Jake Cooper

Unlike the aforementioned players, Jake Cooper enjoyed a lengthy spell in the Reading first team before departing on a loan move to The Den, which would later be made permanent by Neil Harris.

Cooper played 54 times for Reading, 42 of which were league appearances, and his most memorable moment in a Royals shirt was his brace in a 2-1 win at Carrow Road in 2014. The centre back left the Madejski in 2017 to join Neil Harris’ Lions for an undisclosed fee. He has since played over 150 times for Millwall and has been linked with moves to Premier League teams Southampton and Aston Villa this season.

Millwall v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship
Jake Cooper clashes with former teammate Hal Robson-Kanu as Millwall host West Brom
Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The 25 year-old has developed into one of the Championship’s top defenders. He is currently valued at around £3.2 million but Gary Rowett could demand a much higher figure for one of his standout players.

Royals fans can only hope that Jaap Stam agreed a sell-on clause for the 6”5’ Reading fan who looks destined for top-flight action.

The mysterious case of Aaron Tshibola

Aaron Tshibola joined Reading’s academy aged 13 years old and was touted by many as the next big thing; the youngster started for England’s under-18s and even spent time on trial with Manchester United whilst under contract for the Royals.

Ahead of the 2014/15 season, Tshibola committed his future to Reading by putting pen to paper on a deal that ran until the summer of 2016, and in August 2015 he made his debut for Reading as an 86th-minute substitute against Nottingham Forest.

After impressing with the first team, Reading wasted no time in extending his contract further; the central midfielder signed a four-year extension in September 2015. Tshibola spent time on loan at Hartlepool where he was named man of the match on two occasions and was praised by manager Ronnie Moore, who noted that his commitment to the club was terrific.

On his return Tshibola, much like Cooper, enjoyed a solid run in the first team, establishing himself as a regular in the heart of Steve Clarke’s midfield. However, unlike Jake Cooper, Tshibola’s career was only going one way - up - and the midfielder was scooped up by Aston Villa for a fee believed to be around the £5.3 million mark. Reading fans were disappointed but admittedly Villa had paid a hefty fee for a man with just 13 league appearances to his name, and that certainly proved to be the case.

Tshibola started brightly, scoring Villa’s only goal in a 1-1 draw with Newcastle, but he went on to make just 10 appearances for the club before leaving to join Belgian side Waasland-Beveren for £900k in August 2019. Prior to his permanent move away, the 25 year-old had multiple loan spells including dropping down to League One to play with MK Dons, and re-uniting with former Royals boss Steve Clarke at Kilmarnock.

Kilmarnock v Celtic - Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership - Rugby Park Photo by Jeff Holmes/PA Images via Getty Images

Tshibola could be considered the perfect example of ‘too much too soon’. If you look at the likes of Shane Long and Gylfi Sigurðsson, both players enjoyed extended periods of success at the Madejski, before successful moves away from the club. Tshibola jumped at the first chance to move up the ladder and ultimately suffered from being second choice. The DR Congo international was forced into dropping back down in order to get his career back on track, and struggled to find the form that he left behind at Reading.

Tshibola is now playing for Desportivo Aves in Portugal, after joining on a free transfer in January.

Where does Danny Loader go from here?

Danny Loader’s name has been doing the round ever since he turned 16 years old; the youngster has had spells in and out of the first team and shown glimpses of quality, but on the whole I think it’s fair to say that he hasn't lived up to the hype yet.

Now 19, many Reading fans felt in January that it was time to cash in on Danny Loader while we could. The youngster was minutes away last summer from a move to Premier League side Wolves, before the Reading hierarchy pulled the plug on the deal at the last minute. Loader’s contract is up in the summer and Bowen has confirmed that the two parties are trying to come to an agreement. It’s been speculated that Loader’s agent was the main problem in striking a deal, however the forward has recently changed to Colossal Sports Management agency, the same representation as Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling.

Loader’s attitude has been criticised by fans in the past, but the youngster is still on the books at Reading and, providing the club agree a deal, will hopefully play a bigger role in the squad next season, alongside Michael Olise.

The 19 year-old was born in Reading and joined his hometown club from Wycombe Wanderers when he was 12 years old. Loader made his way through the Royals’ youth ranks quicker than most, and was playing regularly for the under-18s by the time he was 16. Prolific for the under-18s, the attacker was moved up to the under-23s side and Danny Loader was the name on everybody’s lips. He had featured for England at under-16, under-17, under-18, under-19 and under-20 level, including winning the under-17 World Cup. The forward famously scored four goals in a pre-season friendly for Reading, just hours after signing his first professional contract.

Under Jose Gomes, Loader was given his first real run in the team; he became the youngest ever Reading player to reach 20 senior league appearances, and scored one of the goals of the 2018/19 season at the Riverside Stadium against ‘Boro.

However, since Mark Bowen has taken charge at the Madejski, Loader has struggled to make an impact and hasn't been named in any of the gaffer’s last nine match day squads. It is understood that the young forward is still training with the first team, despite playing more often for the under-23 side.

Danny Loader will want to avoid any chances of tailing off and heading down the wrong road. I personally think that, if he values his career and his future enough, he will sign the contract that Reading are offering him, get his head down and focus on what he can do to force his way into Bowen’s plans for the 2020/21 season.

Who knows, Michael Olise and Danny Loader could be at the heart of this Reading team in, what he hope will be, a serious push for the playoffs next season. Or does Danny Loader need to follow the paths of Jack Stacey and Jake Cooper, and take a chance by dropping down a level? Only time will tell.

England U19 v Czech Republic U19 - UEFA U19 Championship Qualifier Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images