When Reading were linked in the summer to many a free agent, plenty came and went without so much as a tremor on the Royals Richter Scale. Josh Murphy, Connor Wickham, Julian Jeanvier, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill all came through the doors of Bearwood and couldn’t make the grade.
One name not among the initial tranche of potential transfers was that of the young Senegalese who was released from Metz, who had just been relegated from Ligue 1. His arrival was without fanfare, we didn’t even see a picture of him for weeks! Who was this mystery man? Who was Amadou Salif Mbengue?
Even after some frantic googling, there wasn’t a huge amount of detail about him. At only 20 years of age his digital footprint was scant. Most triallists came and went – only Sam Hutchinson and Nesta Guinness-Walker remain from the revolving door of has-beens or never-weres. But Amadou stayed, stayed some more and eventually signed until January 2023.
The head of football operations, Mark Bowen, heaped praise for Mbengue’s professionalism and patience before sealing the short deal in mid-September after the player’s arrival at the club in early August. This seemed quite unusual for a player to be on trial for so long, but Reading had a balancing act to perform with the never-ending EFL embargo.
Without knowing much of the detail, we can only speculate that Mbengue was happy with us, didn’t have many offers that were comparable or better and ultimately chose to stay until January as a trade-off of sorts. If it didn’t work out then he had not wasted too much of his career. Whether that decision proves to be a benefit or a curse remains to be seen.
Amadou made his debut at Wigan Athletic in September before his home bow versus Norwich City at the SCL in October, coming on as a substitute for Nesta Guinness-Walker. He instantly seemed to fit in, appearing to be committed, dogged and smart. They were only cameos amounting to 20 odd minutes, but he looked tidy. Fans were excited.
In the coming games he played on the right-hand side of a defensive three, right wing-back, left-hand side of another defensive three and then as a right-sided centre back in a four, and in none of those games did he look out of place. When he was not selected for the home game against Preston North End (which we lost and were dreadful) many rued the decision not to select him. The sole reason we lost being because we didn’t play him is doubtful, but it could have been a decision that Paul Ince might have rued as a result.
Arguably, Amadou shone brightest in the 2-1 away win at Hull City where he played on the left of a back three. It was a win that was full passion, pressing and no shortage of emotion, including Mbengue himself. And that’s what fans like to see. When a player engages with the fans, as he did, we got to know and feel a bit more about him. He seems happy, he’s happy to be a Reading player, he’s proud of his game.
All of that conjures the opinion that he wants to be here longer. So far, there’s no reason to believe Reading do not want to extend his stay. His versatility alone shows that he’s the type of player not only do we need now but also need to keep and keep for a long time. At 20, he is raw, but the fundamentals of his game are sound. To play in various different positions and not look like a square peg in a round hole each time is testament to his game. When comparing to other 20-year-olds that we have or have had, he’s far more mature and physically capable.
There’s also an argument that, whilst he can play anywhere across the back four, his best position could ultimately be as a defensive midfielder. He’s got the mobility, pace and power, that’s clear to be seen. Not to put too fine a point on it, he’s a diamond in the rough.
The issue now is whether Reading can keep him. As his contract is short, like Andy Carroll, we need to act swiftly to keep hold of his services, if possible. Other clubs may also have noticed his eye-catching performances, too. He’s not the finished article by any means, but he’s something we haven’t had for eons: he could actually be an asset financially to the club. Being a selling club is not the ideal scenario, but being realistic, this is what Reading need to do. Buy cheap, sell high. It’s what we did successfully in our heyday and that should serve us well in the future under the current regime.
All of that is huge conjecture but players, like Amadou, fit the mould that other clubs have done so well - whilst we have plucked known names without so much of a plan and failed miserably. The big IF now is ‘can we sign him for another year or two, maybe even three?’ Aside from our own financial constraints there would seem little reason to suggest why we wouldn’t want to keep him. But whether he wants to explore other options beyond January is in his favour also.
His future is bright, his future should be with us. He’s a rare thing for Reading FC: an asset in the present and, hopefully, for years to come.