Before Christmas, it would have been insane to choose anybody other than Lucas João for the player of the season. His goals seemed as unending as they were easy for him. Now though, with João going through a tougher spell, others have stuck their heads up for consideration.
Let’s take a look at the state of the player of the season race then, and ask what the candidates need to do in the last eight games to take the award home.
Reading’s official social media channels recently referred to Laurent as “Mr Reliable”, and it’s tough to disagree with that sentiment. Laurent has performed admirably in the Championship this year. It’s tough to remember him ever showing a sign that the step up from League One has been beyond him. He has the athleticism to keep up with the game at this level, and a deft touch that lets him translate defense to attack with furious pace.
Laurent has been statistically and visually dominant this year. His role as a defensive stalwart has made him third in the league in tackles won this year, with 54 (Omar Richards and [remarkably] Alfa Semedo also grace the top 10), and yet Josh is no hatchet man. Laurent has picked up just three yellow cards in 37 games and 95.8% of the total minutes available played.
His midfield partner Andy Rinomhota has certainly had a similarly excellent season for the Royals, but a few things push Laurent’s contribution above Rino’s for me. As Baldock told us in the summer, things behind the scenes at Reading have been tumultuous in recent years, and Laurent’s transfer certainly fits that bill. He was brought in at the second time of asking by former manager Mark Bowen and doubtless expected to start the season under that familiar face. When Bowen showed himself the door (with admitted help) however, Laurent got his head down and was a true professional: seemingly not letting it affect his play or his mentality. Pauno clearly loves him for it.
That Laurent has been able to produce such an impressive season after the strange summer makes it all the more impressive.
You don’t need me to tell you why João is the favourite for player of the season. You’ve likely sealed away memories of João’s highlights this year in your “favorite Reading FC goals ever” memory bank already. There were times in the headier days early this season when João could simply decide to score, and he’d make a chance out of absolutely nothing. He’s been a threat from set plays and can be just as dangerous with the ball at his feet as from a thumping ball over the top.
What’s more, for all the worries of injuries curtailing João’s season, it’s worth noting that he’s now played in 32 games this year, missing just five and starting all but one of the others. That means João has now been ready to go over 85% of the time this year, more than enough to be in serious consideration for player of the season.
Before his injury suffered in the Birmingham game at the Madejski in December, João was in the form of his life. He’d scored 11 goals in 16 Championship games, and added four assists to his stat pile.
I recently heard it suggested that João’s form has changed since his penalty miss against Preston away that indirectly led to us dropping two points that day. Indeed, many of our ills this season seem as though they can be traced back to that particular game, and João will be hoping he can put in a final eight that looks more like his performances before either his injury, or that miss in Lancashire. If he can do that, he’ll be hands down the player of the season.
This one will require a return to action for Morrodonna before the end of the year, but I’m sure we can all appreciate the sturdy but sophisticated play we got to see earlier this year. Morrison had played every minute of the Championship season until he had to be removed against Blackburn.
With every reliable performance that passed though, you had to wonder what Birmingham were thinking in letting Morrison go at the end of 2018/19. Perhaps they thought they had better options at defense, but their bottom-five rating in goals conceded this year suggests that, if that was their reasoning, they made a mistake there.
Birmingham’s loss is Reading’s gain: the Royals have the second-highest number of clean sheets this year, with 16, and much of that is down to Morrison’s reliable play. While Liam Moore can always be relied upon to put his body on the line for the team, what pulls Morrison above his defensive partners in regards to player of the season is his leadership skill.
Morrison isn’t afraid to organise his defensive partners vocally (including Moore) and is often the man to break Reading out of a cycle of going back and forth across the pitch. Plus, he gets forward effectively, with four goals this year to back that up. Frankly, Morrison could win the player of the season just based on his goal against Bristol though!
The golden boy. Possibly the best Reading FC academy player ever. Possibly the most talented player I’ve ever seen play for Reading. Regardless of what awards we give him this year at the Madejski, Olise will be getting something shiny after the season. A shiny EFL young player of the year award, a shiny new contract, perhaps a shiny new BMW when he follows Omar to Bayern Munich - any and all of these things are possible!
I’d love to see Olise back in Reading colours next year, but frankly, there is an obvious chasm in talent and potential between Michael and just about every other squad member at the Madejski. Olise plays at least one pass a game that has me making some kind of involuntary exclamation. It’ll usually be a delicious pass, concocted of some combination of x-ray vision and his wand-like foot, and it’ll scream obvious Premier League quality.
He’s certainly still got some way to go, as his set-play delivery has been notable sub-par for a player of his quality. It’s tough to blame him for not starting well, as he would’ve expected John Swift to take FKs and corners, but I haven’t seen much improvement from dead balls.
All that said, he is clearly a remarkable talent that we’re very privileged to watch flower. Olise reminds me of nobody so much as Patrick Mahomes: a versatile and mobile double-threat QB in the NFL, perhaps the league’s best. The way he combines searing pace and control with an ability to spring forwards loose is exhilarating. He definitely would be a worthy player of the season.
The dark horses - the academy Toms
The player of the season award might come a little too soon for messrs McIntyre and Holmes this year. That’s no disservice to them however, and their contribution this year has been huge. Without them in the team, we would’ve struggled mightily in the many many games we’ve had to play without key experienced defenders Liam Moore, Michael Morrison and Andy Yiadom.
They still have mistakes in their game: Tom McIntyre’s overexcited challenge leading to an unconverted penalty against Wycombe Wanderers comes to mind, as do various times Holmes hasn’t quite tracked his winger while playing RB. However, for their age, both are showing remarkable maturity and fitness to produce Championship-level performances week in week out.
Plus, remember: the player of the season can be a popularity as much as a consistency and quality contest, and for good reason: the boys are very popular!
Who do you think is the current front runner for the player of the season?
Who would you vote for as Player of the Season?
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