After our emphatic 5-0 away win against Luton Town last weekend, Mark Bowen said the five academy graduates who played were the “future of the club”. Gabriel Osho, Tom McIntyre and Andy Rinomhota started that game, with Omar Richards and Michael Olise coming off the bench. All but Richards featured in the following match against Huddersfield Town.
Reading Football Club have always been proud of academy players who go on to play for the first team – and seeing five on the pitch was a proud moment – especially at 5-0 up. It must have been a dream for those on the pitch and it was a dream for us fans too.
However, we need to be realistic about the chances of all five going on to establish themselves as legends at the club. Who will go on to be a Royals hero for years to come? Which of them will go on to attract interest from big clubs? Or will any of them fall below expectations and leave the Madejski Stadium without having the impact they wanted to?
Let’s take a look at the fantastic five from Saturday – and what role they could play next season in the short-term.
This guy is Reading through and through. Even though he suffered with various injuries at academy level and had to wait his turn to become a first team player, you can clearly see he is a class act at the back.
Whenever Tom McIntyre plays for the first team, he has rarely let us down. I specifically remember the 2-0 away win at Huddersfield Town at the start of the season when Matt Miazga had to come off. After a 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion in the previous game that week, this injury could have been a major blow. However, McIntyre fitted in so well and led us not only to a win – but also to a clean sheet.
When you look at our backline without Matt Miazga who is unlikely to sign for us permanently, you have to feel he is beginning to make his case for being a starter next season – especially if he plays like he did on Saturday.
Being an academy graduate is not enough though, he needs to make himself undroppable especially if he is to start ahead of captain Liam Moore or experienced pro Michael Morrison. The decision to drop Moore just for the Luton game was seen as a huge decision – to drop him for the rest of the season would be an even bigger decision.
Despite this, you have to feel he will be in the first team squad for the foreseeable future unless injuries come back to haunt him. This is the minimum for me – he could well be a starter next season and perhaps the captain of Reading in the long-term.
Like Tom McInytre, you can tell Gabriel Osho loves the club. After coming through the academy, becoming U23s captain must have been a great honour for the 21-year-old. In my match preview for the Huddersfield Town match, I questioned whether he suited the right back role. In all fairness, his role in the second goal showed he can get forward well – but I feel he is better defensively.
Combining this with Andy Yiadom’s possible return before the season ends, his spell in the starting lineup may only be temporary. Despite this, I feel he could have a role to play next season in the matchday squad even if he starts the 2020/21 campaign on the bench.
Two factors could decide how often he does appear next season: a possible formation change and the future of Tennai Watson. Chris Gunter already has one foot out the door with the expiry of his contract at the end of the season, leaving Tennai Watson as the next orthodox right back after Teddy Howe’s permanent departure in January.
If Mark Bowen sees Osho as a backup right back, that could all but confirm Watson’s departure, unless he keeps both of them as options in case Osho is needed at centre back.
Playing five at the back could also boost his hopes of major first team involvement.
After the game at the weekend, it’s easy to forget his contract also expires at the end of the season. However, the fact that there are discussions about extending his deal is a promising and we will be hoping for an announcement sooner rather than later. His wages are unlikely to be astronomical either – definitely one to keep.
Both Tyler Blackett and Jordan Obita’s futures at the club are uncertain. Both players’ contracts expire at the end of the season – and there have been strong rumours linking Blackett with an exit. Whilst he may leave the Madejski this summer, the chances of Obita staying are currently 50:50.
Although he suffered a major injury, he can be a real threat on his day and Blackett’s rumoured departure may just seal his future in terms of getting a new deal. His deliveries from the left hand side are a weapon in itself.
The uncertainty over their futures and the release of Ramarni Medford-Smith leaves Omar Richards as the prime candidate to start at left back next season. You could argue he could also be one who leaves in the summer, especially if a bigger club come in with a lucrative offer for him.
However, Mr Dai seems to be reluctant to sell players and I think our main aim for this summer will be to protect the academy graduates. If we can adopt a homegrown academy-based philosophy, he is a player that is most likely to stay at the club. He is certainly more than capable of being a starter.
One concern I do have is the lack of experience we may have with both Richards and McIntyre in the left hand side of our defence. Both are talented – but can we rely on them both against potent Championship attacks in the next campaign?
If he can continue his development, he could turn in to a fantastic player and I would not be surprised to see him appearing in the Premier League at some point. I feel he is a couple of years away from reaching that level yet – but he is on the right tracks. He needs to fully establish himself as one of our best players first though. I have high hopes he will.
Going back to what I was saying about Mr Dai and his reluctance to sell players – this also applies to Andy Rinomhota. Although he may need to sell this summer, the likes of George Puscas and John Swift are probably the preferred players to leave Berkshire this summer if we have to cash in on a key player or two.
He is the type of player we can build a team around and with Pele unlikely to return and John Swift subject of strong interest – he is one of the players we really need to keep ahead of next season.
In fact, I would go as far as saying he is the one player who would leave a major void in our side if he did exit the Madejski Stadium. Not just because of how good he was back in 2018/19 and his decent performances this season – but because he is a symbol of academy graduate success in recent years.
It will be fascinating to see who he plays alongside next season (if he stays). Will we cash in on John Swift? Is it even remotely possible to get Pele back in any form for 2020/21? Could Felipe Araruna be the answer to our midfield dilemma?
He needs a player that will give him the license to push forward with the ball – because he can be a lethal figure in the starting eleven when he is at the top of his game.
His versatility is also a good option for us, especially if we suffer injuries/suspensions at right back next season. It certainly isn’t his best position – but it gives us that option. He could end up in the Premier League at some point or at the least, compete for Championship promotion whether that’s at Reading or a different club.
The central midfielder is another player who has attracted interest from other clubs. Despite this, I think he will continue to be a key player at the Madejski Stadium next season.
Prediction: Key Player
I was saying in the Andy Rinomhota piece about needing to get the very best out of him – and this is the same with Michael Olise.
Do we really get the best out of him when we play him on the wing? I’m not so sure. His tracking back against Leeds United to help out Omar Richards was impressive but one particular performance back in 2019 caught my eye.
I studied him closely in pre-season (I think it was against Extremadura) and the way he took charge of the ball from deep and ran with it through the middle was impressive. However, the likely signing of Ovie Ejaria could set him back if Bowen is suddenly stubborn about playing the Liverpool loanee in the centre, which is undoubtedly his best position.
At the moment, Olise is in contention for a starting spot next season despite not appearing from the beginning against Luton Town (writing this before the Huddersfield match!). We can draw comparisons between Tom McIntyre and Michael Olise in terms of their current squad status. They may start next season, they may not. Both will be hoping for the former.
Even if he is not the first name on the team sheet next season, I do believe the 18-year-old will go on to become a decent player in Europe. Although Richards and Rinomhota have the ability to go on and do well in the top-flight, I just feel Olise will attract interest from the best leagues across the continent.
His potential in the academy was somewhat overshadowed by the hype surrounding Danny Loader – but the French midfielder has held his nerve at senior level already. This is a very promising sign of things to come from the teenager.