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Danny Loader And Reading: A Fairytale Story That Was Never Meant To Be

Ahead of the academy star’s free agent exit, we recount how the club found itself forced to say goodbye.

Blackpool FC v Reading FC - FA Cup Third Round: Replay Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

If reports are to be believed, Reading FC have withdrawn their contract offer for Danny Loader and the teenager will leave the club as a free agent next month.

From then, he will likely complete a move to Wolves or a different Premier League club, Reading will likely take a relatively small fee decided by a tribunal, and the rest will be history.

The worry for fans is that Loader will enter the annals of ‘what might have been’. Michail Antonio, Simon Cox and Nathan Tyson were all good young forwards who left the club before their time. The chances of Loader joining that list are as high as any of theirs.

Therefore - if Loader does leave - we might look back on this decision as a major error from the Royals, as a sign they simply never learn. But I don’t think that will be a fair account.

Danny Loader was always a promising talent. He shot to fame as part of the England Under-17 side that won the World Cup but he had made his Reading debut before that tournament. In fact, he was already on a professional deal before he headed to India with Phil Foden and Co.

The club then backed him with a very solid run in the team during the following season. The striker scored just once in 22 games in 2018/19, calming hopes somewhat but certainly not eradicating them. And it wasn’t like the pressure-cooker relegation battle saw him cast aside - Loader started five of the last 11 matches and appeared off the bench in the other three.

So he entered last summer with just shy of 17 hours of first-team football in the bank and, to be brutally honest, little to show for it in the way of tangible development. Those minutes will no doubt become invaluable down the line if Loader does make it, but Reading had to face a more immediate fact.

The team desperately needed improving, Profit and Sustainability laws were biting and Loader’s contract was up in 12 months. The options were either sell now or convince him to stay over the coming year. A move to Wolves was formulated and, for whatever reason, the club’s ownership got cold feet and pulled the plug at the last minute.

With whatever hindsight we benefit from now, this was not a smart move. Because, realistically, there was little chance of a way back for Loader.

We had already seen he was not first-team ready. One goal in 12 appearances in 2019/20 proves he has not yet got a grip of senior football. And yet he remained a star for the Under-23s, enough so that he was a regularly linked with top-flight teams.

We knew Reading had to improve the attack - which it tried to do by signing Lucas Joao and George Puscas. Had the club not bothered, as a way of giving Loader more game time to convince him to stay, he and others could rightly accuse the club of lacking ambition. Let alone the looming danger of another relegation battle without those signings.

Manchester United v Reading - FA Cup Third Round Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Then we come to this reported decision to withdraw a long-term contract offer. It is a sad state of affairs that Loader is being let go and the manner of his exit, coupled with his in-out-in-out saga with Wolves, understandably leaves a sour taste in how a club famed for its academy has dealt with one of its own.

Reading cannot offer a long-term deal because of the coronavirus crisis, we are told. They also cannot offer one because of the vast overspending on player wages undertaken by successive owners and directors over the past five-ten years. We are yet to see if Jordan Obita, also out of contract in June, falls victim to the same circumstances.

And yet, despite all this, there is the simple fact that a bigger club can always come along with a more convincing offer (be that by way of game time, development plans, or cold hard cash). After all, Reading did exactly that when snapping Loader up from Wycombe when he was still a kid.

The reality of football is starker than ever, in terms of the haves and the have-nots. This story, for all the rights and wrongs, the caveats and the errors, shows that Reading are just another club in the have-nots.