Finally, some good news on the contracts front: Luke Southwood has agreed a new deal with the club that runs until the summer of 2023. It’s excellent but somewhat unexpected news given Reading’s lack of progress this season in tying down players’ futures.
In fact, this contract makes Southwood the senior goalkeeper that Reading are due to have for the longest. Sam Walker’s deal runs out at the end of this season and Rafael’s expires in 2022. In addition, youngsters Jokull Andresson and Coniah Boyce-Clarke - both of whom have appeared in matchday squads for Reading but not made their senior debut - have contracts running to 2022 and 2023 respectively.
It certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Southwood would stay. Although he made his debut for Reading at the beginning of this season in the League Cup, before playing in the FA Cup in January, he’s not got a look-in in the Championship. Rafael has in fact played every minute of the Royals’ league campaign, leaving Southwood as the bench option.
Agreeing a two-year contract with Reading - notably longer than the one-year deal he signed in 2020 - strongly suggests there’ll be an opening in the first team. Given that he’ll be 25 when this contract runs out, he can’t afford to be spending these years of his career on the bench.
That leaves open the possibility that Rafael will leave this summer, and I wouldn’t be too disappointed by that. I like Rafael and he’s been a commendably reliable number one, especially seeing as we went through five first-choice ‘keepers in the 12 months before his arrival: Vito Mannone, Sam Walker, Anssi Jaakkola, Emi Martinez and Joao Virginia.
But I do feel Reading stand to benefit both on the pitch and off it by moving Rafa on. He’s been prone to errors this season, looking less reliable than in 2019/20, and his distribution over short or long range has never fully convinced me. You’d also think that his wages may be significant giving that he was at Napoli not all that long ago, and he can command a reasonable - if not huge - resale value.
Letting Southwood succeed him therefore would be the logical choice, albeit not one without its risks. After all, he’s yet to play at Championship level at all, let alone over an extended period.
Whatever the case, Reading have made a step in the right direction by keeping hold of Southwood. Now we need to do with the same with other out-of-contract players - primarily Tom McIntyre and Michael Morrison who are due to leave this summer, although there’s also a number of academy players in the same position. Only a small amount of the first-team squad is contract to the club beyond the end of next season, as you can see below:
Hopefully there’ll be a lot more progress on that front in the coming weeks. Reading have been behind the curve in sorting contracts out in the last couple of years, and a lot of work is needed - quickly - to rectify that.