It’s that time of year again: January, in which the days are short, doors and windows are firmly shut, and the transfer window is open. Despite Pauno’s significant recent struggles, Reading’s previous transfer window feels almost like one of the high points of the season. It included us bringing in crucial reinforcements in positions of weakness (Baba Rahman, Scott Dann) as well as interesting talents in Junior Hoilett and Alen Halilovic. Now though, stuck gasping for air above the drop, Reading need another excellent window.
In January 2019, Ovie Ejaria, Matt Miazga, Emi Martinez and Nelson Oliveira joined Reading, helping to create a clean break with the previously negative environment in the wake of Paul Clement’s departure. Along with Jose Gomes’ best pep talks, that positivity became a huge reason for Reading’s ultimate survival that year. The club is in a real relegation scrap yet again, and learning the lessons of survival in 2018/19 means this to me: we need to add as many fresh and positive influences in the squad as possible in a trying time. Perhaps, just as it did in 2018/19, a good window could change the atmosphere and save the season.
Bringing anyone in this January does feel like an almost surreal idea though. The club is in an unprecedented financial situation, working from the EFL’s ‘business plan’, and besides, who’d want to join a club in this state? And yet that hasn’t stopped rumours trickling in, the club confirming its intention to bring in reinforcements, or getting started in a strange manner by signing a teenage goalkeeper…
Other than between the posts then, where else do Reading need reinforcements? While there may be a certain desire to say “everywhere” right now, there are some positions that look weaker than others. I’d also like to see the club begin to try to patch up its future by signing players that will be here in mid-August 2022: when the next season begins, so that will be taken into consideration here.
Ok, this isn’t a position. My point is that Reading need leaders right now more than ever. The Royals have pure talent all over the pitch, and likely won’t be much improved in that department this window. In the mentality department though, there is a chasm to fill, and signing ex- or current captains should be a way to help us do this.
Obviously clubs aren’t likely to simply sell us their captains, and we wouldn’t be able to afford it either, however evidence of good temperament, proven leadership qualities and accountability should all be on the list for any players the club brings in this window. These are obviously qualities that many captains embody (or supposedly do), therefore it would be prudent for Reading to put extra effort into any pursuit of a player who’s previously engaged in a captaincy role.
Where recently the club was blessed with talent at full back on both sides of the pitch, we’re now staring down the barrel of a serious shortage. Ethan Bristow and Tyrell Ashcroft have played far more than would have been expected or desired at the start of the year, and while both have shown flashes of talent especially when pushing up the pitch, both are clearly not yet ready for the Championship full time.
As a reminder, Andy Yiadom and Baba Rahman will both be free to choose another club in the summer, so there’s no reason the club shouldn’t be looking for full backs to stay beyond the end of the season. Two are definitely needed, and a younger player should be brought in if at all possible, and definitely if the club is also able to pick up an older and more experienced full back.
It would still be prudent though to bring in a slightly older player who can play now if needed, especially on Baba’s left side. Yiadom may be tempted to stay with Reading despite our situation in the summer. He’s clearly settled here and may even be offered the captaincy to stay. Baba meanwhile, fan favourite though he is, is unlikely to be here next season.
You can probably guess then that I see Moore’s probable exit as a net positive for the club. I have issues with the way it was handled, and we still need to actually offload him, but sometimes ripping out a bad actor root and stem is best for all involved.
That said, it does leave us light at CB, especially with just Tom Holmes and Michael Morrison currently fit. It was great to see Tom McIntyre training again earlier this week, and I hope for a speedy return to form for him once he’s available again. The Royals should be looking for a little extra cover in the position if an experienced operator is available though. We’ll likely be scraping the barrel here, as finding available experience at this stage of the season will be tough, but we must avoid a situation in which we’re playing academy graduates with no starts before this season in crucial relegation dogfights.
I hesitated to add this as a position of need simply because of the difficulty we’ll have in finding the perfect player, but the above situation is a nightmare the club can’t afford to countenance.
While both Lucas Joao and George Puscas recorded their first league goals of the season against Huddersfield Town, Reading must secure the services of another striker in January. It would be a huge boost if that striker was Andy Carroll, but that looks unlikely. Carroll’s cameo with the club was just as great off the pitch as it was on, but it’s clear to me at least that he still has enough in the tank to ply his trade higher up the league than the Royals currently sit.
Reading must replace his influence if he leaves though as the in-house alternatives all come with asterisks. Joao is scintillating when on form, but doubtful to make it to the end of the season unscathed. Puscas is looking like a man reborn, but it’s hard to predict that continuing for long based on previous form. Jahmari Clarke is an interesting option but shouldn’t be shouldered with steering the club to safety at 19 years old.
The only caveat to all of this is the return and subsequent form of Yakou Meite. If he’s able to return for the final 15 games of the year that’ll be a big boost; he managed 45 minutes for the under-23s at Aston Villa on Monday evening.
Still, with Carroll, we saw that opening up Reading’s attack to another option in the big man up front can be effective. Therefore, even with a Meite return, replacing Carroll with a similarly statured player would be a more than useful tool for Reading’s arsenal down the stretch.
It feels as though Reading have been searching for true wingers for three seasons now. After letting Modou Barrow and Sone Aluko go over the past few seasons, Reading never really made any moves to replace them. Pauno’s narrow formation and lack of interest in using players in their true positions has papered over this crack in the roster. Earlier this year though, a long period without Hoilett or Meite really showed that some more width and pace is sorely in need in this squad.
I want to believe that we’ll be able to put together an offer to convince Hoilett to stay, I really do. But with his small amount of game time so far, Hoillett has still been able to show exactly why he’s been a quality performer at this level for a long time. If we stay up, I’d hope the club does their best to keep him, but if we go down then his loss is almost a certainty.
As with full backs then, it would be great to find a winger for next season as well. We’re a little more covered at that position, with Ejaria signed until 2024, and Meite until 2023, but another attacking talent to inspire our forward line is seriously needed now, and next year.