Just before we head into the summer and enjoy the European Championships, there’s one more bit of Reading FC-related business we need to tie up for 2020/21.
Each season we hand out our ‘Rookie of the Year’ award, given to the young player who enjoyed the best breakthrough campaign. It serves to celebrate the continued fantastic work that the club’s academy does in producing players ready for first team football. Tom McIntyre was the recipient of last year’s accolade, following in the footsteps of Andy Rinomhota, Omar Richards, Liam Kelly, Aaron Tshibola and Jake Cooper.
The criteria for Rookie of the Year is as follows. Candidates must:
- Have been 22 years old or younger on August 1 2020.
- Have made fewer than five Reading starts before the start of the season.
- Have made five Reading starts this season or a combined 10 sub appearances + starts.
- Not be on loan at the club.
A remarkable 20 players under the age of 23 featured for Reading in 2020/21, which includes debuts for 11 academy prospects - the joint-most for a single season since the academy’s foundation. Yet that does not give us 20 nominees.
Sadly, all 11 of those debutants (along with Jeriel Dorsett) didn’t play enough games to meet the criteria for this year’s award. Dejan Tetek came agonisingly close with nine appearances, but he, along with the likes of Ethan Bristow and Femi Azeez, will aim to be in the running in 12 months’ time.
Then there are the players who had played too many games coming into the season and are therefore seen as too experienced to claim the title of ‘rookie’. That’s 2017/18 winner Omar Richards and 2019/20 winner Tom McIntyre, along with Michael Olise and Ovie Ejaria.
Finally, we have to rule out the loanees. Tomas Esteves, Lewis Gibson and Alfa Semedo had mixed success in RG2, but are ineligible for this award.
So that leaves us with just one man. For the first time, no vote is needed to decide our Rookie of the Year as we can hand the title to... Tom Holmes!
But make no mistake, this is so much more than an award by default; Holmes has had a fantastic breakthrough season in his own right and thoroughly deserves the accolade.
Given his debut as a 17-year-old in one of Jaap Stam’s final games in charge in 2018, Holmes struggled with injury the following campaign before being sent out on loan to Reading’s sister club KSV Roeselare in the summer of 2019.
While it provided the youngster the opportunity to experience regular first team football for the first time, not many would have said that the Belgian second tier would give Holmes the platform to step up to the Championship little over six months on.
But step up he did, starting the 2020/21 campaign with mostly substitute appearances before becoming the go-to at right-back following injuries to Andy Yiadom and Felipe Araruna. It was a position that Holmes had rarely played before, but he did not look fazed and won our man of the match awards against Millwall and Stoke City.
As the 21-year-old settled into life in Reading’s backline he became more and more assured and confident. He was often on hand to make a vital interception, clearance or block. Injuries to Liam Moore and Michael Morrison meant that Holmes moved back to his more natural centre-back position in the latter stages of the season and was equally as impressive.
He started 11 of the final 12 games and ended up with 40 appearances in total across the campaign; only four outfield players in Reading’s squad made more. While it would have been considered a surprise at the start of the season to see Holmes feature so heavily, the opportunities were no less than he deserved.
What is great too is that Holmes, who has been at the club since the age of eight, is a lifelong Royals fan and the more of those we can see in the team the better. Congratulations again to Tom, who we hope goes on to have a long and successful career at the Madejski Stadium!