Well then. We’re less than a week removed from the most recent Reading season, and I’m already anxiously counting the days until the next. This will be a huge off-season for the Royals. It’s crucial that we carry momentum into 2021/22, and don’t follow up a season of growth with a disappointing one. Ten years will have passed since the past promotion season when we open the Madejski Stadium doors in August, and as 21st-century Reading fans: frankly we’ve gotten used to shorter breaks between competitive seasons!
Over the next two weeks on Midweek Musings, I’ll break down my wishlist for Reading’s summer. First focusing on decisions the club needs to get right, and the second focusing on where we need to be looking in the transfer market when the window opens in June.
This is the first and most important thing to list because it’s the most important thing Reading can do this summer. Unless a bonafide Premier League manager is available and for some strange reason interested in Reading FC, there is absolutely no reason to sack Paunovic.
There’s been a strange narrative from more frustrated fans in recent weeks that Paunovic has been no improvement on Bowen, especially if you “remove the first 8 games”. That is pure and utter nonsense. Remove Mark Bowen’s Xmas 2019 run from his record and see where that leaves him. Some, (including the BBC Berkshire bunch) want to compare Pauno’s run-in to Bowen’s poor last 10 games that got him the sack. See this argument also filed under: nonsense.
There is a marked difference between Pauno’s example of an under-pressure Reading side having trouble finding a goal against 10 men behind the ball most weeks, and Mark Bowen’s example of essentially letting the team take the last month of the season off.
Veljko Paunovic has brought a belief, drive, and hunger to this club that has been lost in the reeds arguably for a decade. That expectations for the club have changed, and some are now less convinced by him than they were just three months ago speaks to just how good of a job he has done.
It is imperative that Reading commit to a consistent vision for the first time in years and keeping the manager is a key part of that.
Get more contracts signed
This to me is even more important than being able to sign new players. This nucleus of players has forged a strong sense of togetherness this year, likely thanks to Paunovic’s clear vision for the club’s future. For the first time in years, there is a project for players to buy into.
For that reason, it would be even more of a shame than usual to lose more players to poorly managed finances.
Southwood and Morrison agreeing new contracts over the past seven days could indicate that more signings are just around the corner. Indeed, Pauno recently confirmed that McIntyre is currently in negotiations. Losing these players (especially Morrison and McIntyre) was not and is not an option the club can afford to countenance. With Richards seemingly a Bayern player in all but name, losing three members of this year’s already depleted defensive corps would have been catastrophic for the Royals, especially with questions around Liam Moore’s future.
Beyond the defence, it would be nice to get Dejan Tetek signed for another couple of years. He has a long way to go before being a true Championship midfielder, but he didn’t look completely out of his depth against Premier-League-bound Norwich City. Signing Tetek should be fairly cheap, and trying to develop our own player must be a better option than bringing in a defensive midfielder on a season-long loan for the third year running.
So that encompasses just the contracts ending in 2021. Ready for some Reading-themed horror? Just take a look at the contracts expiring in 2022.
That list is enough to have Reading fans waking up at night in a cold sweat, especially considering Richards’ impending departure during the final year of a contract. Uncertainty in the backroom is as likely a culprit as the FFP restrictions when it comes to reasons for that debacle, but management needs to learn fast that Richards has just shown the rest of the squad how easy it is to leave when your contract is expiring.
McIntyre and Morrison are must-haves then, and Tetek would be nice too. To both avoid more situations like the Richards departure and not disrupt this team’s progression however, we’ll need to see contract extensions for some of the ‘22 expiring class as well.
Don’t let Jonathan Swift go
Michael Olise has likely played his last game in a Reading shirt. For most teams, replacing his production would be a huge issue, no matter what fee comes back in the other direction. The Royals are blessed then, that Olise wasn’t Pauno’s original first choice in the middle of the attacking three this year. If we’re going to carry some momentum through into next year, keeping Swift is even more important this off-season than last.
Olise has stepped up immeasurably this year to make the central creative position that Swift usually occupies his own. At times, he’s arguably done it even better than Swift can, as he proved in his parting gift to the Royals: a first half against Huddersfield that came with a goal and an assist.
Still, Swift is an excellent Championship operator who makes our whole team tick when he’s on his game. We already know what he can do when he’s feeling it. His ceiling may not be as high as Olise’s, but he was improving last year, and his experience and consistency at this level should make him more than a suitable replacement for the 2020/21 version of Olise. That Olise spent time on the bench or the wing during Swift’s brief stints in the team this year suggests that Paunovic knows it as well.
If we were to lose both Swift and Olise, we’d be staring at a worrying question in the crucial middle of the offence: where does the creativity come from? There are potential candidates within the current playing squad, led by Ejaria, but nobody is the clear favourite in that department.
Presumably, if both Olise and Swift left, Pauno would have both the time and the finances to find a replacement, but neither are a guarantee and Reading have more pressing needs in the transfer window. So for consistency’s sake, for the sake of being able to challenge for the play-offs, and to give us one less need this off-season, it’s critical that we keep Swift.
Next week, with today’s piece in mind, I’ll break down my wishlist for the summer transfer window. It’s going to be a tough one: we know the FFP restrictions will be omnipresent. That said, we’ve got needs and it’s exciting to imagine a squad that Paunovic has had a chance to build himself.