I’ve said it before in one of my Fans Verdicts, but I’ll say it again. Danny Drinkwater moving to Reading had ALL the ingredients of being yet another transfer howler for the Royals. A big-name player, on big-time wages (although I know we aren’t paying the majority of them), who had hardly kicked a ball for nearly three years. *Gulp*.
However, that analysis, albeit probably realistic and with valid reasons to worry, is definitely the analysis of a Reading fan. We’ve had to endure some horrific ‘big name’ signings in recent years; à la Matej Vydra, Sone Aluko, Sam Baldock and others. So, we’re always going to be nervous when signing a player of Danny Drinkwater’s stature.
But, there is a reason Danny Drinkwater has made 105 appearances in the top flight, been an integral member of a Premier League-winning side and been involved in a big-money transfer to a top four club. He has quality. And serious amounts of it.
Ever since his move to Chelsea, it’s gone a bit downhill for the midfielder. He’s had a few rather unsuccessful loan moves and more than likely lost his love for the game. But you know how the old saying goes: form is temporary, class is Kermorga... sorry, permanent.
He has shown since walking through the door at Reading that he’s still got it. All he needed was game time, who’d have thought it? It took him a while to build up the match fitness and get to a point where he could get through 30 minutes let alone 90, but now he’s got that fitness it’s clear to see he may be a bit too good for this league.
Throw him into any team in this division and I think he makes a difference, but it’s almost as if he was made for this Reading team. He offers us something that we haven’t had since Oliver Norwood left for Brighton in 2016 - the ability to run a game from midfield.
Yes we've got Swifty, but his territory is 30 yards further up the pitch. Drinkwater gives us that touch of quality and calmness where we perhaps need it most. Laurent and Rino were superb for the vast majority of last season, but the lack of ability to play through the lines and pass through teams became more and more apparent as the season went on - and we begun to get figured out.
Drinkwater’s brain works differently to and quicker than the average Championship footballer. He always looks to play a progressive pass. But by progressive pass, I don’t mean a ‘Hollywood’ style 50-yard ping across the pitch (which ironically, Norwood found himself guilty of doing perhaps a bit too much).
I mean a little pass around the corner into the pockets, or a first-time pass through the lines into the feet of Swifty, Halilovic or TDB. He can speed up the play when he needs to and he can slow it down when we’re under a bit of pressure. He dictates the tempo of a game - again, something we’ve not had in a very, very long time.
The second thing that stands out to me about Drinkwater is his movement off the ball, which you may think is a strange thing to say about someone who, usually, plays in the deepest of a three in midfield. However, he never, ever stands still after releasing the ball.
Again, that’s a very simple thing. If you played football at any junior level in this country you’ll remember the bellows of ‘PASS AND MOVE, PASS AND MOVE’ from the sidelines for 75% of the game. It’s something that’s drilled into players from a very young age.
And, again, I’m not talking about Danny laying off the ball and making a 50-metre sprint in behind the defence. He makes subtle movements that just open up a couple of metres of space behind him, and we all know that that that is more than enough for players ahead of him to do their thing.
I remember watching a documentary about Pep Guardiola’s famous Barcelona team. There was a moment when Pep pointed out something quite profound about Sergio Busquets. He said: “If you watch the game you don’t see Busquets, but if you watch Busquets you see the whole game.”
Now, I am not putting Danny Drinkwater of Reading Football Club, currently sitting in eighth place of England’s second tier, in the same breath as one of the greatest midfielders of all time. But I think that quote rings true for Drinkwater, too.
He's not necessarily the one who stands out or grabs the headlines. But if you watch him for 30 seconds, a minute or five minutes, you’ll see how important he is to this team and how much the way we play revolves around him. In fact, Drinkwater (65.2) makes significantly more passes per game on average than the next most frequent passers in Reading’s squad: John Swift (52.9), Josh Laurent (47.3), Michael Morrison (46.3) and Liam Moore (42.6). That stats backs up my previous point beautifully.
I know it’s early days in his Reading career - which is also a career that, let’s be honest, probably won’t go much further than May 2022. But Drinkwater is showing signs of being that player that we’ve craved and cried out for for far too long.
The big thing surrounding Danny Drinkwater of course is can you keep him fit? Can you keep him on the football pitch? If we can answer those questions with a resounding yes then he will go down as one of our most successful signings in recent times, albeit on loan, because his quality will do the rest for him.
We are lucky to have him with us, we really are.