Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you likely know that Reading are facing a summer in which numerous first-team players have contracts that are set to expire. Pauno recently made some comments indicating that the club were working to talk to players who’d been with the club for both years and months, but the upside of those comments were that “at this point, there is nothing close to closing a deal”.
Yikes, that’s worrying. We’re just two months from the January transfer window opening and we still don’t fully know who we should listen to offers for, and who is likely to re-sign. Excluding loan deals for Danny Drinkwater, Baba Rahman and TomDele-Bashiru, the full list of thirteen (13!) senior players out of contract in the summer reads as follows.
Here’s my ranking of most important to least important contracts to get sorted before the end of the year. I’ll work through my reasoning in groups. I think some of these rankings are interchangeable (I could see Yiadom being most important to some), but they do fit neatly into groups...
I’m eager to point out that I’m ranking these players by long-term importance to the club, rather than by their respective quality. You’ll also notice that I’ve left out Swift. Let’s talk about that elephant in the room first.
Swift: the big “if”
I didn’t think it made sense to add Swift to this list. In terms of quality, value to the team in both the short and long term, and sell-on value he’s number one. The problem is, as of November 1 2021, I just can’t see any way he stays in January.
If Swift is interested in signing a new contract, we should move heaven and earth to make that work for him. His presence in our side regularly wins us games, and a longer contract should mean a dearly needed larger payoff when Swift eventually moves on. But if Swift is not looking likely to stay by mid-January, it may very unfortunately be time to cash in.
1-5 the exciting youngsters and the backbone
Put that list in a different order based on who you’d most like to keep, and little changes.
Azeez and Holmes are young players with an awful lot of promise. Femi’s sample size of performances is small right now, but he looked exciting and direct in his time on the pitch. Meanwhile, Holmes seems a natural pairing to McIntyre in central defence, and passes the ball forward well. I’d like to see the Academy Toms dominate that part of the pitch for years to come.
Rino and Laurent, last year’s holding duo in midfield, should both be close to the top of this list. Rino is obviously Reading through and through and can fill a lot of holes across the midfield. His injury issues so far this year could also stop him from getting an offer from elsewhere that Reading can’t match, so his signing seems as though it should be easy enough. Meanwhile Laurent could be the opposite. He was drawing interest from a number of teams over the summer. This suggests it could be harder to keep him signed, but also that we should be pushing hard to do so!
Yiadom is perhaps the only outlier in terms of age/promise, but his impact on the team both on and off the field is substantial. I was unsure about Yiadom’s performances to start the year, but he’s course-corrected well and seemed much steadier since Rahman arrived. As a former captain, he’s also an important locker room presence. Put simply, he should stay.
6-7 the new match-winners
Both of these players have been fun to watch since joining Reading on free transfers in August.
Halilovic seems the more important of the two to keep to me, mostly due to the situation with Swift. Halilovic seems like the player on our current roster most likely to be able to replicate the array of skills Swift offers the team. I’m not arguing that Halilovic is a better player: we’re far from that being the case, despite Alen’s Barcelona DNA. He does combine forward running with an eye for a through ball though. I’d like him to shoot more often, but that’s more the concern of the other new player in this group.
Hoilett wasn’t perfect in his time starting up top for the Royals this year, but he was growing into the role and demonstrated his finishing ability against his old club, Cardiff City. Goals from players who aren’t traditional strikers are crucial for this team. Joao can be scintillating but he can also be disinterested, and that’s when he can stay on the field. Puscas is… Puscas. The point is: we need options up front and Hoilett seems like an experienced and mostly reliable hand there.
8-9 quality, but necessary?
That these two are this far down the list is more a result of the number of players needing new contracts rather than any commentary on their performances and qualities. It also speaks to my confidence level in Reading’s future at CB being Tom Holmes and Tom McIntyre. Dann and Morrison, while quality options, play CB, and that may not be the position in which we most need players under new contracts.
I suspect that Morrison and Dann are fighting this season for one contract between them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them line up for the Royals in ‘22/23, but I’d be shocked to see both of them.
Morrison has been one of the best free transfers seen in the Championship over the past few seasons, and has proven Birmingham City’s folly in moving on from him too soon. Injuries appear to be racking up now though and his performances at the start of this season weren’t up to the incredibly high standard he set during the winter of ‘20/21.
Dann meanwhile is just getting started with the Royals but looks to be one of many surprisingly astute pickups in the mad scramble at the end of the Reading’s transfer window. He’s an experienced and classy defender, but his availability may genuinely be the best ability he can offer the Royals this year. Stay healthy, and Dann may play his way into a new contract.
10-11: What do we have?
How much can we truly say we know about Bristow and Araruna?
Bristow was a mixed bag when he started a few games at the start of the season. He clearly understood his assignment was to get forward, but maybe didn’t perhaps have the positional discipline yet to understand when to stay with his man. Often large spaces would be left wide open on his side for opposing wingers to expose. Further experience may lead to significant improvement, but given how many seemingly interesting academy players the club let go last summer, I can see Bristow being a similar casualty this summer.
Araruna has had a nightmare of a time while contracted to Reading. When he started shortly after his signing in January 2019, even he was surprised that he was already getting a run-out. He’s seemingly versatile, able to play RB or CM, but he doesn’t appear to offer more than any of our other options so far. Felipe is by all accounts a lovely bloke, but that doesn’t mean he’ll pick up a new contract if Reading are trying to make ends meet.
12: The odd man out
Six weeks is a long time in sports. On September 16, I was writing after Luke Southwood’s impressive first game against Peterborough about whether we should continue with Southwood or return to Rafael after his whiteboard-punching hand was healed.
Rafael has been a good servant to Reading and I’ll remember him fondly when he’s gone. Highlights include his wonderful performance against Fulham, and arriving on The Athletic’s Championship squad of the season for 2019/20. The clear successor to Reading’s #1 shirt has arrived in the form of the young and exciting Luke Southwood though, and thus realistically the writing may be on the wall for Rafael. He’s a fantastic keeper who I won’t be surprised see end up on a top-flight side next season, but Reading’s starting goalkeeper position is Southwood’s to lose.