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Academy Graduates Galore Next Season? Part Two

After looking at the goalkeeping and defensive positions in part one, our attention switches to midfield and attack.

Reading v Chelsea - Pre-Season Friendly - Madejski Stadium Photo by Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images

After reviewing our goalkeeping department and defence in part one, let us take a look at the other players in midfield and attack who could make their mark next season, as we aim to balance the books and reduce our wage bill.

It would be almost insulting not to start off with Andy Rinomhota, who has been one of the more successful academy graduates over the past couple of seasons. After signing from AFC Porchester – he has developed his game in the academy and made his debut under Jaap Stam against Colchester United in 2017.

The 23-year-old’s rise from non-league to the second tier has been remarkable – and impressed when he made his full first team breakthrough in 2018-19. Although it was not a good season for the Royals, he was named as the official supporter’s player of the season in the last campaign.

After impressing on his Championship debut under Paul Clement away at Preston North End in September 2018, he retained his place for the vast majority of the season and signed a new deal under six months later to extend his stay at the Madejski Stadium.

Rinomhota has become an integral part of the first team squad
Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

After wrestling with the likes of Pele and John Swift for a place in the starting eleven this season, it looks like he may have finally secured his place in the first team eleven again. It is unlikely that the Royals will be able to sign Pele on a permanent deal from AS Monaco – making Rinomhota an even more important player in the first team.

However, if a big offer comes in for him, I can see him being sold. I hope not, because he has become a regular in the first team and could establish himself as a fan’s favourite if he stays for the long term.

Despite Rinomhota’s emergence, there are no other obvious academy central midfield candidates who could challenge for a place in the first team squad. Ryan East, who’s contract expires in 2021, has featured for the Royals in the Championship before – but is he ready to come off the bench?

John Swift, Pele and Rinomhota are all above East in the pecking order at the moment and it is hard to see him breaking through even when Pele returns to AS Monaco after his loan deal expires. It also remains to be seen whether Charlie Adam’s contract will be extended. If we really are in dire straits financially, this could provide East with the opportunity he needs.

However, I very much doubt we are at that stage yet.

Another player who could make a surprising breakthrough is Jordan Holsgrove, who has spent this season out on loan in the Spanish third tier. Making the jump to the Championship could be a major challenge for both East and Holsgrove – and I’m not convinced that Mark Bowen will make the duo a big part of his plans for the first team next season, especially with Swift and Rinomhota asserting themselves as regular starters.

Holsgrove has appeared for Scotland at youth level
Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group via Getty Images

We have not really heard all that much about 20-year-old Ethan Coleman, although he did make it on to the bench this season’s Carabao Cup tie against Plymouth Argyle. At his age, he will be hoping to get some experience at a senior level – whether that is in the Championship or out on loan. Tyler Frost, who is also 20, may not have a future at Reading after failing to make his mark in the senior squad yet. He also needs first team football.

One player who has been mentioned before is Conor Lawless, who travelled up to Wigan Athletic with the first team squad in November 2018 under Paul Clement. The midfielder is still only 18 – he’s one that we should be keeping an eye on over the next couple of years.

Fellow 18-year-old Michael Olise was becoming a regular starter for the Royals until the coronavirus stopped Championship action. The French youth international performed well against Birmingham City in the last league match of 2018/19 – giving us real enthusiasm about the future. After signing a new contract last summer, extending his stay at the Madejski Stadium until 2022, he could be one of the Royals’ key players next season.

This is an impressive feat for a teenager who is starting to prove his worth in the second tier. Regardless of new signings, I can see Olise being involved in the first team again for the foreseeable future. Could his performances be attracting the interest of clubs in the top flight? A major offer for the midfielder could see him depart the Madejski, although it would be a shame to see the 18-year-old depart without fulfilling his potential in Berkshire.

Danny Loader may also be leaving Berkshire in the summer, after spending several years at the club. Although the striker has already made appearances at a senior level, he has not played as much as he would have liked to, especially considering the hype surrounding him in the past as an England youth international.

It seems like he has struggled to adapt to senior football so far, just like Sam Smith, who had also impressed at youth level. Although Smith has scored at a senior level, he currently faces stiff competition for a place in the first team squad.

This is considering the fact that Ben House also has aspirations of breaking in to the first team squad. He turns 21 in July and there are doubts over whether he will make a senior appearance again after making a very short debut against Cardiff City this season. Another centre forward who turns 21 this year is Adam Liddle, who was out on loan at Derry. You have to fear for the duo’s future at the Madejski Stadium, especially with the presence of the likes of George Puscas and Lucas Joao.

Reading v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium
Is Loader set to leave the Madejski this summer?
Photo by Zac Goodwin/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

However, at 18, Thierry Nevers still has time to grow and make an impact. He has impressed for the Royals and signed a professional contract earlier on this year. Let’s hope Nevers can continue to perform and live up to his potential.

The obvious duo that have established themselves as first team regulars are Andy Rinomhota and Michael Olise. I can see a number of players listed here departing Berkshire this summer, especially those who are now in their early twenties. 19-year-old Danny Loader could be set to leave on a free (excluding compensation) this summer which would be a major blow for the club.

As much as I wish for a first team squad filled with academy graduates, we need to get the right balance between youth and experience. The fact that we have underperformed for the last couple of years reinforces the need to start players who are up to the task of performing well in the second tier.

We have done a reasonable amount of work with the academy over recent seasons, giving several youngsters their first appearance. If we can keep this trend going and perhaps go even further, it will give those who are currently playing in the youth system the inspiration to break through. This is the sort of thing that could bring fans back to the Madejski Stadium.

There may even be some players who I have missed out. Oliver Pendlebury is just one example. This sets us up nicely for a surprise breakthrough next season. Michael Olise’s sudden emergence in 2018/19 could be the motivation that other academy players need.

The connection we felt with the players in 2011/12 is something that we desperately need now. Can we do it? I really hope so.