We had a variety of news behind the scenes at Reading Football Club on Friday, so we’ve wrapped it all up for you in one piece. In the coaching department, two backroom personnel are off: first-team coach John O’Shea and assistant manager Eddie Niedzwiecki. There’s also some positive developments in the academy, with seven young players agreeing new contracts: Femi Azeez, James Holden, Lynford Sackey, Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, Harvey Collins, Kian Leavy and Malachi Talent-Aryeetey.
First up, the coaching news. John O’Shea leaves so he can continue on his pro license and go on a UEFA MIP course. He’d been on Reading’s staff for two seasons, working under Jose Gomes, Mark Bowen and Veljko Paunovic after spending the 2018/19 campaign at the Madejski Stadium as a player.
Although he added more in the way of experience than impact on the pitch, that season ended with with O’Shea being given a guard of honour in the finale at home to Birmingham City to mark his retirement. He had, after all, been going for two decades at that point, including an impressive spell at Manchester United.
In a coaching sense, by all accounts he’s been highly regarded at Reading. Jose Gomes and Liam Moore are among those to have spoken highly of him, with the latter saying of the Irishman during his playing days that his “character and professionalism [had] been an example to us all”.
At the end of this season, Paunovic forecast a bright future in management for O’Shea:
“I completely agree. I think he is going to be a fantastic coach, and I think that for everyone in our staff. I know at some point I am going to lose them, but lose them in a good way, because I know that they have to move on with what they want to do, if that is being a head coach.”
The former Man United man had a brief glimpse of being a head coach at Reading. Pauno’s required self-isolation after being appointed, which overlapped with the League Cup game against Colchester United, meant O’Shea and Niedzwiecki took charge for that match.
O’Shea leaving is a real shame. I’ve thought for a while that he’d be a potential future manager, should Reading like the option of picking a successor already working at the club and setting them up as a successor to Paunovic. Him leaving doesn’t remove that possibility entirely, but you’d think he’ll get an offer to lead a team somewhere before too long - should he want it of course.
As for Niedzwiecki, the last season’s been an odd one. Brought in by Mark Bowen in October 2019, he’d been expected to move on after the Welshman departed last summer, but stayed put. There’d been markedly little mention of him from the club though, and that extended to today’s statement, which led heavily on O’Shea and mentioned Niedzwiecki at the bottom. The statement did however clarify that Niedzwiecki’s contract had run out, adding simply that he was a “valued member of the coaching staff”.
With little information on his circumstances, it’s hard to assess why Niedzwiecki stayed on in the first place, with Marko Mitrovic also coming in as assistant manager under Pauno. I can only speculate, but it could have been that moving him on didn’t work financially.
Then again, Pauno may have simply valued Niedzwiecki’s experience - just not in the exact same role as before. He said in late May:
“He was very resourceful, because of his knowledge, his experience about not just about the team, but the whole league and football in this country and worldwide, because he is definitely a football man. He has been a huge resource all the time.”
We wish John and Eddie all the best in the future.
That brings us onto the academy contracts news. Seven youth players who were out of contract this summer have agreed new deals:
- Femi Azeez (forward, 20)
- James Holden (goalkeeper, 19)
- Lynford Sackey (right winger, 18)
- Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan (forward, 18)
- Harvey Collins (goalkeeper, 18)
- Kian Leavy (number ten, 19)
- Malachi Talent-Aryeetey (midfielder, 18)
In each case these contracts last for one year, bar Collins who’s sticking around for two.
Going by the club’s retained list, everyone out of contract is now accounted for. These seven players, alongside Tom McIntyre - who committed his future to the club for another three years earlier this week - were the final squad members with unresolved futures. One more, Thierry Nevers, was offered terms but ultimately was sold to West Ham United.
Only two of those seven have appeared for the first team: Azeez and Sackey, who came off the bench in the Championship and League Cup respectively last season. The former is the closest to first-team level, having finished as top scorer for the Royals’ under-23 side last term with 10 goals in 25 league games.
I know little about the others - besides Sackey developing for me excellently on a Football Manager play-through. Leavy was described as “one of Ireland’s hottest young prospects” in 2018 by the Drogheda Independent when he signed a three-year deal with the Royals, Given his regular appearances in the under-23s last season (15 in Premier League 2) and the lack of academy midfielders after Oli Pendlebury and Conor Lawless were released, he’ll probably get his first-team debut next season.
In all cases, these players will be looking to make an impression sooner rather than later. Their short-term deals suggest the club are hoping for signs of quick development and, in the cases of the older players, progression into the first team. Should that happen, there may well be extension clauses built into these deals that we don’t know about - as with Ethan Bristow, Michael Morrison and Nevers.
Regardless, them committing their future to the club is great news. I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing all of them in the first team, and wish them the best of luck.