This bizarre season just got another odd plot twist: the Royals have swapped Liam Moore for Tom Ince. The two players head in opposite directions between Reading and Stoke City on loan deals.
It feels very much like a case of two clubs simply trying to get unwanted players off the wage bill at the same time, reminiscent of Manchester United and Arsenal swapping Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez.
First, the Moore side of things. This move brings an end to his five-and-a-half years in Reading - a period that quickly turned toxic in its final weeks. Moore was very bluntly stripped of the captaincy a few weeks ago, having made it clear to the club that wanted to leave.
The Royals have presumably been working ever since to get him and his reportedly huge wages out of the club. Had they been unable to do so, going by the anger levelled at Moore recently by fans on social media, it’s hard to see how he would have been able to play a significant part for the first team.
Things weren’t always so bad for Moore, who played more than 230 times for Reading after joining from Leicester City. He was a key part of the 2016/17 side that reached the play-off final, where he missed a crucial penalty against Huddersfield Town, and showed his quality in the dreadful 2017/18 campaign.
That’s when things started to go wrong though. A very public summer 2018 transfer request ultimately didn’t tempt Dai Yongge into cashing in, but did persuade him to sign off on a bumper new contract which is believed to have been worth north of £35k a week. The following year, Moore was named captain.
Moore never consistently regained his pre-transfer-request form and was conspicuously dropped by Mark Bowen following the 3-0 home defeat to Wigan Athletic in 2020. Although Moore had some good spells in the last three and half years or so, such as the first half of last season, there were frequent doubts over his quality. Those doubts only intensified as Reading’s financial situation became increasingly precarious, with Moore’s high wages under more scrutiny.
So to Tom Ince. The 30-year-old replaces Moore as an experienced Championship campaigner who has fallen out of favour this season, albeit in a different position.
And position is probably key here. Reading have a shortage of wingers, so much so they have played a midfield diamond in recent weeks and also played Tom Dele-Bashiru and Andy Rinomhota out wide.
Ince is certainly no longer the exciting young winger he once was at Blackpool or the player who set the Championship alight in his prime for Derby County five years ago. He has struggled to reach those heights since signing for Stoke in 2018 and is expected to leave the Potters permanently at the end of his contract in the summer.
This season, Ince - son of Paul - has made 11 Championship appearances (four starts) and scored three goals, equalling his tally across the previous two campaigns.
Veljko Paunovic said: “I’m very pleased to welcome Tom to Reading Football Club. He is an exciting player and he knows this division inside out.
“He will add creativity, pace and power to our play in the final third. On the other side of this deal, I want to wish Liam Moore an excellent rest of the season.”
Welcome Tom and good luck Liam!