After last week’s general breakdown of the action items Reading need to achieve this summer, it’s time to take a look at the transfer situation. Now of course, in January, we signed… errr, nobody. Ah.
Obviously, the club was committing to some pretty serious cost-cutting measures during the most recent season, but the fact that we were the only club in the Championship that didn’t make a transfer in January is concerning, and Veljko has admitted that this summer we’ll mostly be looking at free agents or loan signings.
Still, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Free-agent signings have arguably been our best of the season two years in a row with first Michael Morrison, then Josh Laurent. The club has also made smart loan signings over the past two/three seasons including Matt Miazga, Pele and Emiliano Martinez for example.
It seems that the scouting at the club has rebounded somewhat since the Ron Gourlay era, and hopefully Pauno will be able to make use of that to build something closer to the squad he wants. With that in mind, let’s talk about the financial situation, and the positions that Reading do, and do not, need to strengthen this summer.
FFP: The club needs clarity
I’m not expecting our FFP problems to be solved in one summer, but we need to be able to bring in players on our own time frame, not one put through the turgid bureaucracy of the EFL’s FFP restrictions. It seems insane that decisions made three to four years ago by one clearly incompetent CEO are still limiting our ability to compete to this day, but that’s the EFL for you.
We were lucky to be able to sneak Ovie Ejaria through the door last year, but the Rodrigo Riquelme saga showed just how detrimental it can be to a team’s planning to have to rely on an inconsistent and lethargic EFL. He’s made one start all season by the way: in a dead-rubber loss to Wycombe Wanderers. EFL rules: the very spirit of fairness.
With Michael Olise’s likely departure possibly being an expensive one though, there is perhaps some light in the darkness: some hope that the Royals could make limited moves this off season. Turning Olise’s fee into a first-rate replacement doesn’t seem likely given our losses. That said, you’d hope that Veljko has the scouting help and guile he’ll need to pick off low-cost promising League One prospects, or even go raiding in the rapidly improving MLS: something he looked eager to do in January.
With that in mind then, here’s two dos and a don’t for Reading’s transfer dealings this summer.
DO sign a winger
From where I’m standing, Reading’s greatest need is a true winger. I’m aware that out-and-out wide players aren’t exactly in vogue in modern football, but the fact is that our formation lacks width. If we’re looking to go for the playoffs again next year, we’re going to see more teams that pack 10 men behind the ball against us. Being able to use an actual out-ball to the wing to stretch the play would therefore be a huge asset.
Ejaria has been a lock all year on the left side of the attacking three, but his tendency has been to come inside and try to beat a man. On either side, width and overlapping runs have mostly been provided by Andy Yiadom and Omar Richards. Indeed, before Yiadom came back, most of the wide play went down Richards’ side, partly because of Richards’ early season brilliance, but partly because it was the only wide option.
I’ve always been surprised that we let Mo Barrow go as easily as we did. His contributions to poor Reading sides were inconsistent, but playing mostly as a winger, he still ended his Reading run scoring at an almost one-in-four rate. A player of his ilk, happy to come off the bench or challenge to start at a wide spot in the attacking three would be perfect for this team.
DO sign a replacement for Richards
How have we gone from three serviceable options at left back to zero in the space of a year? Back in May 2020, it would have been difficult for anybody to predict that Omar Richards would draw serious interest from Bayern Munich just a few months later, but not offering a contract earlier to the one LB on the squad that we intended to keep was a huge oversight.
Hindsight is 20/20, but thanks to poor foresight and contract management, Reading will have to dip into the market for a LB this summer. That player will need to be two things: starting-XI ready, and no history of long-term injury. They don’t need to produce a season like Richards has put together - there are few, maybe none available who could.
The point stands though that Reading will need to find a Championship-ready left back. With no true left backs in the squad if Richards is gone, if we are able to spend any money, this may be where we need to do it. Tom McIntyre may be able to produce good performances on the left in a pinch, but that’s not ideal for a squad and a manager who will have ambitions of reaching the playoffs next season.
DON’T sign a striker
Please, just leave it alone. No more Sam Baldocks or Marc McNultys sitting on the bench or worse. No more. Lucas Joao, George Puscas and Yakou Meite have all proved to varying degrees that they have goals in them at this level; they are not the issue going forward.
Strikers are expensive, and often demand higher wages than much of the rest of the team. Data on EFL salaries is spotty, so take this with more than a grain of salt, but by multiple accounts, Reading had four strikers among their top 10 weekly earners in 2020/21. Meite and Joao certainly earned their money last year, but did the other £29,000 worth?
The money coming off the books for Baldock alone would be far more useful spent on real competition for Ejaria on the left-hand side. Alternatively, a 60th-minute substitute for one of Josh Laurent and Andy Rinomhota, more suited to being creative while chasing a game, would also seem like a better option than another finisher. In short, we need more creativity to help us find finishers in good spots, not more finishers themselves. If Meite leaves (please, please no) we may need to revisit that statement, but until then, no more strikers!
Creativity in the final third really was a problem for the team last year. I’m sick of seeing us chuck on extra centre forwards who are incapable of creating their own chances when chasing a win. There’s only so much that a striker is going to be able to do without proper service or creativity in the midfield.
So that’s my list for a dream summer! Football changes fast and players we don’t expect could leave, but that doesn’t change that these are positions of need (or not!) for Reading FC. Hopefully the financial situation allows us to compete at the top end of the table again in 2021/22.