Award season is in full swing and it’s time to hand out our Rookie of the Year accolade, which is given to the young player who enjoyed the best breakthrough campaign.
This award serves to celebrate the fantastic work that the club’s academy does in producing players ready for first team football, with the list of previous winners as follows: Tom Holmes, Tom McIntyre, Andy Rinomhota, Omar Richards, Liam Kelly, Aaron Tshibola and Jake Cooper.
The criteria for Rookie of the Year is as follows. Candidates must:
- Have been 22 years old or younger on August 1 2021.
- Have made fewer than five Reading starts before the start of the season.
- Have made five Reading starts this season or a combined 10 sub appearances + starts.
- Not be on loan at the club.
Plenty of academy players have featured for the first team this season, but first of all we need to rule out those who don’t fulfil all of the above criteria.
Previous winners Tom McIntyre and Tom Holmes are both still young enough to win the award, but had started too many games before this season to qualify. We can also cross off loanees Tom Dele-Bashiru and Karl Hein, despite the pair being 22 or under.
Nine first team debuts were handed out to academy players through the course of the season, but eight of them - Michael Stickland, Tyrell Ashcroft, Claudio Osorio, Kelvin Abrefa, Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, Kian Leavy, Louie Holzman and Rashawn Scott - did not make enough appearances to make the shortlist. The same goes for Mamadi Camara, Nelson Abbey and Lynford Sackey (who made their debuts in 2020/21).
So without further ado, here is our four-man shortlist in alphabetical order...
Age: 20 / Appearances: 5 starts (+ 9 as a sub) / TTE average rating: 5.6
During a miserable start to the campaign, Azeez was one of the few rays of hope as he scored his first professional goals against Preston and Bristol City. Issues with both his hamstring and ankle meant we frustratingly didn’t see too much more of him after that and he will hope that next season is less disrupted by injuries. Whether that will be in Berkshire remains to be seen - the forward is yet to accept the club’s offer of a contract extension.
Age: 20 / Appearances: 7 starts (+ 1 as a sub) / TTE average rating: 4.5
No player under the age of 21 made more starts for Reading this season than Bristow, who was required on the left flank while the squad was stretched. At the start of the season he played a higher role at wing-back and looked more accomplished there than he did in a more conventional left-back role while deputising for Baba Rahman in January. It has been confirmed he will move on this summer and he will hope to establish himself in League One or Two.
Age: 18 / Appearances: 0 starts (+ 13 as a sub) / TTE average rating: 5.8
An Under-18 player in 2020-21, Clarke was drafted into the first team squad in the first half of the campaign after Lucas Joao was sidelined. His magic moment came at Birmingham away, when he came off the bench with Reading trailing 1-0 and scored twice in 12 minutes to earn a memorable victory. The striker wasn’t seen on the pitch again after January, but has been offered a first professional contract - if he stays at the club he will be eligible for this award again next season as all of his appearances this year came as a substitute.
Age: 19 / Appearances: 7 starts (+ 5 as a sub) / TTE average rating: 5.4
Naturally a midfielder, Tetek was used more as a right-back this season due to the squad’s injury crisis but ultimately he too succumbed to the treatment table and did not appear after January. A highlight of his campaign was a confident and assured man-of-match display against Middlesbrough in September as he helped keep the team’s first clean sheet of the season. Out of all these candidates, you would say that the Serbian youth international is perhaps the most ready for a regular role.
Vote below by ranking the nominees from 1 (highest) to 4 (lowest). If you can’t see the poll on your device, click here.