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TTE’s 2015 Academy Graduate Crystal Ball: Revisited

We’ve gone back in time to grade our academy predictions from 2015.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Reading Photocall 2014/15 - Madejski Stadium

Almost half a decade ago, we set ourselves a challenge: go through some of Reading’s brightest academy prospects and try to work out where their careers would have taken them in the following five years. In total, we assessed 11 players, basically a full starting XI of young Reading players: Stuart Moore, Niall Keown, Michael Hector, Jake Cooper, Jordan Obita, Jack Stacey, Aaron Tshibola, Aaron Kuhl, Tariqe Fosu, Craig Tanner and Dominic Samuel.

As Dan wrote in 2015: “feel free to link back to this in 2020 and have a good old laugh at us”. Not one to pass up an invitation like that, I've had a look back at where we got it right and where we were a little wide of the mark. To do that, I’ve recapped the three predictions that were put in for all those 11 players, where they actually ended up, and a brief overview of what happened in those intervening five years.

You can see our full predictions in part one here, and part two here. We also let you have your say on those players’ futures in the form of a series of polls - recap those results here.

Stuart Moore (25)

Predicted level: Championship, League One, Championship

Actual level: League One

Then 20 years old, it looked like Stuart Moore had a decent chance of ultimately getting into Reading’s first team at some point further down the line. However, he left in 2017, having failed to make a single appearance.

He initially dropped down to National League side Barrow, although he returned to the Football League with Swindon Town in 2018. He’s now at MK Dons, meaning he’s essentially jumped from the fifth tier to fourth and now third since leaving Reading.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Reading v Charlton Athletic - Madejski Stadium

Jordan Obita (26)

Predicted level: Lower Premier League/higher Championship, Lower Premier League, Premier League

Actual level: Mid Championship

Of all the players we looked at through our crystal ball, Jordan Obita is the only one to have stuck with Reading ever since. The left back is in fact the club’s longest-serving player, having made his debut for the club all the way back in August 2010 in the League Cup, and he remains a popular, loyal member of the squad to this day.

Having been more or less an ever present for the first few years of the last half decade, Obita unfortunately suffered from long-term injury between 2017 and 2019. However, he bounced back and has been on the mend ever since, even netting a couple of goals this season. What the future holds for him is hard to tell; Obita’s contract expires in the summer and he may well move on from the Madejski Stadium.

Jake Cooper (25)

Predicted level: Higher Championship/Lower Premier League, League One, Championship

Actual level: Mid Championship

If we’d done this piece a few months later, Cooper may well have been a lower Premier League player. He didn’t do enough to impress at Reading, but the lanky centre half has certainly showed his potential at fellow Championship Millwall, who are only just outside the top six at the time of writing.

Having initially impressed at the Mad Stad, Cooper could well have kicked on if Brian McDermott had stayed in post in 2016. However, Cooper’s exit was ultimately made inevitable by the arrival of Jaap Stam as manager; the Dutchman’s brand of possession football didn’t suit Cooper at all.

But a move to Millwall - first on loan, then permanently - brought the best out of him. He may well be snapped by a bigger club which, from the point of view of Reading (due to a handy sell-on clause), would only be a good thing.

Michael Hector (27)

Predicted level: Mid Premier League, Top-eight Premier League, Lower Premier League, Higher Championship

Actual level: Higher Championship

On the face of it, Michael Hector’s career in the last half decade has been the best advert for Reading’s academy - at least out of this group of 11 graduates. The Jamaican centre half turned down interest from Crystal Palace to sign for Premier League champions Chelsea in the summer of 2015, earning Reading a few million and showing the standard of talent we were able to produce.

However, the following few years haven’t been as good for Hector as he would have hoped. He never played for Chelsea, instead spending his time out on loan, at clubs including Eintracht Frankfurt and Sheffield Wednesday, before eventually joining Fulham on a permanent deal in the transfer window just gone.

He’s impressed at Craven Cottage though, and should be a key player for promotion-chasing Fulham for the foreseeable future. That could well be in the Championship or Premier League though.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Reading v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Madejski Stadium
Hector celebrates his first goal for Reading - the opener against Wolves in 2014

Niall Keown (24)

Predicted level: Championship, Mid Championship, League One

Actual level: Free agent (most recently Scottish Premiership)

The only player on this list currently without a club, Keown made a couple of appearances for the Royals but ultimately never made the grade. Instead he headed north of the border, first to Partick Thistle and then to St Johnstone, before his contract at the latter club expired last summer.

Tariqe Fosu (24)

Predicted level: Championship, Lower Premier League/Higher Championship, Lower Premier League

Actual level: Higher Championship

Fosu has certainly had an interesting career in the last five years. In the summer of 2015, off the back of an impressive cameo at Derby County on the final day of the season, it looked like he had a bright future ahead of him at the Madejski Stadium. That would however be his first and only appearance for the club, with no opportunities forthcoming under either Steve Clarke or Jaap Stam.

Instead he dropped down into the lower leagues, first on loan, and then to Charlton Athletic in 2016 - around the time fellow winger Callum Harriott made the opposite move. Fosu started to show what he could do in League One, later impressing for Oxford United, before being snapped up by Brentford in January along with fellow former Royal Shandon Baptiste.

Aaron Kuhl (24)

Predicted level: Mid Premier League, Lower Premier League, Higher Championship, Championship

Actual level: Southern Football League

We never really did learn all of what happened with Aaron Kuhl. Another player who was destined for great things, Kuhl played half a dozen games in 2014/15 before disappearing from the first-team picture. Underwhelming loan spells at Dundee United and Boreham Wood didn’t prompt a change in fortunes, and he was apparently frozen out despite not being injured - before eventually being released in 2017.

After a trial in Iceland, Kuhl moved to non-league football, but during an outing for Aldershot Town in the summer of 2017, he suffered a long-term injury that would leave him sidelined until last year. Now with Hartley Wintney in the Southern League (seventh tier), on loan from Slough Town, Kuhl will hopefully be able to get his career back on track after a few difficult years.

NB: Reading were founding members of the Southern League in 1894.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Brentford v Reading - Griffin Park

Aaron Tshibola (25)

Predicted level: Lower Championship/Higher League One, Championship, Upper Championship

Actual level: Primeira Liga (Portuguese top tier)

After making a name for himself during Hartlepool’s unlikely survival from relegation in the back half of 2014/15, Steve Clarke put Tish in Reading’s first team the following season. He certainly impressed at the start of that campaign, but injury derailed his progress, although he did earn a money to promotion hopefuls Aston Villa in 2016.

From there, things started to go wrong for Tshibola. Steve Clarke had been assistant manager when the midfielder arrived at Villa Park, but the Scot’s departure with manager Roberto Di Matteo threw a spanner in the works. Tish wasn’t in successor Steve Bruce’s plans, and didn’t do enough to catch the eye on loan at Nottingham Forest, MK Dons or Kilmarnock.

Now plying his trade overseas, Tshibola spent the first half of this season in Belgium with Waasland-Beveren before moving to Portuguese side Desportivo Das Aves a few months ago.

Jack Stacey (23)

Predicted level: League One, Mid-lower Championship, Lower Premier League/Higher Championship

Actual level: Lower Premier League

The only player from this list to have since played in the Premier League, Stacey has certainly ended up at the highest level, but it didn’t always look like he’d be the one to make it the furthest. He went under the radar somewhat at Reading, including on loan spells with Barnet and Carlisle United.

However, he impressed when he got regular football at Exeter City in 2016/17, and could well have moved there permanently. But Luton Town got the deal done, and turned him into arguably the most dangerous attacking full back in the lower leagues as they stormed from League Two to the Championship.

Bournemouth liked what they saw, and splashed out a few million for Stacey in 2019. He’s so far played 13 times for the Cherries - that’s just over double the number of games he was given by Reading (6).

Craig Tanner (25)

Predicted level: Lower Championship/Higher League One, League One, Mid Championship

Actual level: National League

Unlike others on this list, Tanner racked up plenty of game time in the few years following our crystal ball piece. Across three different loan spells before leaving Reading in 2017, he played 19 times for AFC Wimbledon and 84 times for Plymouth Argyle, registering 12 goals and 8 assists at Home Park.

It looked like he would continue that at Motherwell, and a record of 9 goals and 8 assists in 36 certainly made for a bright start. However, a ‘freak’ knee injury in 2018 left him sidelined in the long term, before he joined Aldershot Town last year.

Olly caught up with Tanner in a wide-ranging exclusive TTE interview:

Dominic Samuel (25)

Predicted level: League One, Championship, Upper Championship

Actual level: Mid Championship

Somewhat similarly to Cooper, Dominic Samuel left Reading for a League One club, helped get them promoted, and has stuck with them in the Championship. In fact, their teams are only separated by one point in the second tier at time of writing.

In this case, it was Blackburn Rovers, who Samuel joined in the summer of 2017. That came at the end of a season in which Samuel had briefly appeared for Reading, scoring against Burton Albion and (slightly ironically) Blackburn in late 2016. But it wasn’t enough for Samuel to make a lasting impact on Jaap Stam.

Samuel played regularly for Rovers in their promotion-winning 2017/18 campaign (5 goals and 5 assists in 36), but he was another one to suffer long-term injury. In fact, he made his first league start in 18 months in a February win over Charlton Athletic.

Blackburn Rovers v A.F.C. Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Rachel Holborn - CameraSport via Getty Images

Who’s come and gone during that period?

A few players have graduated from Reading’s academy and left the club since we published our crystal ball piece. Rob Dickie, Axel Andresson and Teddy Howe didn’t manage much game time before heading elsewhere, although the former’s impressive spell at Oxford United may prompt a Premier League or Championship move. There was more of an opportunity for Josh Barrett and Liam Kelly, who both got into double figures for appearances, although both are now in the lower leagues.

There’s also a lengthy list of those still with us. Before this season, debuts were given to Tennai Watson, Omar Richards, Danny Loader, Tom Holmes, Andy Rinomhota, Ryan East, Tom McIntyre, Gabriel Osho and Michael Olise. In the current campaign, the list of graduates has been bolstered by Ramarni Medford-Smith, Jeriel Dorsett, Akin Odimayo, Andre Burley and Ben House.