Whilst the past few years have been disappointing for the club, there has been one shining light: the academy.
The Reading FC academy was founded back in 1999 and has ever since produced tons of talent. The late Eamonn Dolan set an emphasis on “balancing footballing ability with developing hard-working, humble people off the field”; this philosophy has been sustained ever since his passing.
The academy is something Reading take immense pride of, and since 2013 the club have attained Category 1 status, the highest an academy can achieve. The under-23 side compete in Premier League 2, whilst the under-18s compete in the under-18 Premier League. Most younger age groups apart from the under-16s tend to train and play ‘friendly’ type games against other clubs.
Since the founding of the academy back in 1999 the club have had 66 academy graduates, some of which have gone onto to represent the first team on a consistent basis. However, since the turn of 2010, it has been shown that Reading’s academy has been utilised more with over 45 graduates making their debut during or after 2010.
With the talent that the academy keeps on producing, Reading will continue finding players that can be implemented into the squad and perform at a high level, such as Michael Olise, Omar Richards and Andy Rinomhota, with the first two moving onto Crystal Palace and Bayern Munich respectively. Between the three players mentioned they have racked up 295 appearances, showing the integral role they have played within the side.
Last season we saw Reading start their FA Cup game against Luton with six academy graduates. As the game went on, Reading continued to rotate and they ended the game with an incredible nine academy graduates on the pitch. Not only was this impressive, but they were also very unfortunate to lose the game after troubling a strong Luton side on more than one occasion.
But this season of all seasons our academy is going to more important than ever before. The transfer embargo placed upon us restricts spending, meaning we cannot reinforce the squad in the way we would like. This may mean Reading look to the contracted players in the club more, which includes the current academy players.
We have seen players such as Dejan Tetek, Femi Azeez and Mamadi Camara all featuring last season and prominently in pre-season so far, which could suggest they could play an important role in the upcoming season.
Every once in a while, the Royals produce a potential superstar - something that Michael Olise could certainly become. The club still consistently produce players that are “league-level players”, something which Reading are desperate for at the minute, to help bolster squad depth, and it is hopeful that we can see breakthroughs like Simon Church or more recently Tom Holmes, who can fill in and provide added squad depth to the team.
Not only do Reading seem to adopt this type of system, but you will also see something similar in Ajax who develop youth prospects who can then play consistently for the first team with players such as Ryan Gravenberch and Kenneth Taylor.
However, one thing the club must get right if the academy is going to keep on being successful is sort out players contracts. We cannot afford to have situations in which academy products such as Omar Richards, Danny Loader and even Tariqe Fosu leaving the club on free transfers. We also cannot afford to put in release clauses that let prized assets like Olise leave for less than half the price they should leave for.
When players are at a level which they can leave for a better team, Reading should be more prepared and have players tie down to long contracts, leaving the club in a strong position to demand money the player’s ability actually reflects - instead of giving high-quality young players the chance to leave the club on a free or for a price which will not benefit the club.
Moreover, what is better than seeing an academy graduate come on the pitch and put in a good performance? Not much. When you see fans such as Tom Holmes and Tom McIntyre step onto a pitch and you get the chance to chant that they are “one of our own”, trust me, there’s no better feeling. They play for the badge, and the passion is always clear to see.
Whilst the club may be in some tough times and the league we play in may change, there will always be consistent: the academy. Our academy.