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Should They Stay Or Should They Go Now?

To paraphrase The Clash, selling some players will cause Paul Ince trouble, while keeping others could double his woes. So, what should he do?

Reading v Nottingham Forest - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The last few summers offered Reading FC a much-needed “clear-out” after another dismal season. Yet, come August, it felt as though only one or two faces changed within the ranks as the “new” squad barely differed from May’s. However, as the Royals are set to start the 2022/23 season with just nine recognised senior pros on the books, we’re about to see the clear-outs of all clear-outs and I advocate: why not go the whole way?

As the cliché goes, we are where we are for a reason. Why should any player left at the club feel safe? Managers have come and gone off the back of this group, so we should rightly take a closer look and ask if it’s time to move them on as well. There simply cannot be room for sentiment here.

As for incomings, don’t forget, EFL sanctions related to our breach of Financial Fair Play mean Paul Ince and co. can generally only sign free transfers on restricted wages. However, the club MIGHT be able to offer itself more wiggle room IF it can get rid of some high earners. For example, sell or loan out a player who’s on £20k a week and the club could make a business case with the EFL in signing two replacements on £8k a week. We’d be financially better off whilst adding squad depth! Something we desperately lacked last season.

The rules are convoluted but getting Reading’s finances back into the black (or close) are a must for its future. Ince needs as many options at his disposal as possible. Hard decisions are needed for clinical results.

Let’s assess those currently still with us.

Luke Southwood – contract ends summer 2023

Is Southwood likely to be Reading’s number one in August? I think not. Which then begs the question: why keep him?

The fact that unknown quantities in Karl Hein and Ørjan Nyland started ahead of him upon their arrival last term speaks volumes, especially as the Royals conceded a whopping 92 goals! Put into perspective, I’ve struggled to find a season over the last 30 years when we’ve conceded that many.

They weren’t all Southwood’s fault obviously, but errors at home games against Hull City, Derby County and Huddersfield Town certainly made him culpable. Body language at times from the likes of Andy Yiadom and Michael Morrison suggested they found Southwood lacking. Teams need to have confidence in their keeper and Luke will have to turn opinions around quickly.

Just three clean sheets from 25 starts is a harsh introduction to first-team life. At 24 years old, Luke will get better, but in my opinion an experienced pro within the ranks would help here. Given Reading’s plight, that pro will probably start ahead of him, plus plenty of other up-and-coming keepers will be willing to come here too in a bid to get noticed, especially with the usual GK merry-go-round ahead of the World Cup.

Therefore, I see no reason to keep Southwood, especially with his contract now in its final year as next summer he’ll likely be off seeking starts elsewhere. Long-term succession planning will be better served with Coniah Boyce-Clarke and Jökull Andrésson.

Reading v Luton Town - Sky Bet Championship - Select Car Leasing Stadium Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Tom McIntyre – contract ends summer 2024

As it stands T-Mac could be a key player next season alongside Scott Dann, and it can’t be stated enough how, at only 22 years old, he’s made a big impact and written himself into RFC folklore. A potential asset for sure, especially with his contract length, but one that may prove more valuable kept at the SCL. He offers a commitment and usability like Jay Tabb did - vastly underrated players in my view. Keep this lad.

Sure, he’s not Michael Olise level and we might not miss him in the starting XI as we have Andy Rinomhota at times, but he’s dependable. Playing him at left-back needs to be avoided, but he’s shown he’s handy as a makeshift defensive midfielder. His goals at Bramall Lane and against Swansea City suggest he’ll fight on the big occasions.

I’d like to think if we can keep him and he builds on his potential playing for the shirt as he appears to, we’ll one day rate him alongside Michael Gilkes and Phil Parkinson. His character is something this club has missed and needs to be built around.

Liam Moore – contract ends summer 2023

Where do we start here? Simple, Moore needs to go by any means necessary. Whatever you believe on his situation, hanging around Bearwood uninvolved in the first team or even trying to rehabilitate him will be an unwanted distraction.

For me, Moore’s Reading career ended when the club issued its bizarre and confounding statement about him after the Middlesbrough game in January. Naturally there are two sides to every story and maybe one day we’ll hear Liam’s. But the club have absolutely botched this up!

Moore is reportedly Reading’s top earner and at one stage arguably their biggest asset too. But, having excommunicated him the way they have, he’s now a weight around the club’s neck. We must offload him just from a financial standpoint and Mark Bowen will deserve credit if he can do it permanently this summer. Moore’s wages could pay for potentially three extra players. Think about that.

Ince already has a massive job to do. Adding the divisiveness seen when Chris Gunter and Garath McCleary were frozen out won’t help. This is an example of how NOT to deal with “wantaway” players.

Reading v AFC Bournemouth - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

Ovie Ejaria – contract ends summer 2024

Some believe Ovie could replace John Swift as chief creator but, with no assists in 2021/22, that feels quite the ask. He’s certainly got the potential, but when was the last time Ovie bossed a match? High earner? Maybe. Admired elsewhere? Certainly. Time to go? Probably.

Something happened to Ejaria last season, and we may never know what. He seemingly disappeared in November, reportedly catching Covid-19. Bar a cameo at QPR in late January, he didn’t properly reappear until Paul Ince’s tenure over a month later. Veljko Paunovic’s coyness when asked about Ejaria suggests something out of the ordinary was going on. Whatever it was, having a key player go AWOL in a difficult season isn’t good. Inevitably it leaves question marks around his commitment, and we need everyone pulling together.

Having appeared a similar amount, I feel Junior Hoilett offered the Royals more last season than Ovie in terms of creativity and attacking threat. Tom Ince too, despite joining late on. Thus, from a return-on-investment basis, do we really need Ejaria? Maybe see how he does till January, otherwise I’d cash in.

Yakou Méïté – contract ends summer 2023

It’s hard to doubt Méïté gives 100%, hence why he’s a fan favourite. But an inescapable truth is he’s extremely injury prone - so much that we haven’t really had a full season out of him and the most recent has seen zero input in terms of goals and assists. Brutally, we need players we can depend on, and while injuries are unlucky, it is what it is, therefore I’d sell.

“La Brute” is also on a Ron Gourlay-era contract, so his wages are likely hefty. We can’t afford those deals anymore and his unfortunate fitness suggests he may not be up to this level – harsh as that is.

Furthermore, there’s acute naivety in the former PSG man, starting with him being better suited out wide or as a number 10, (in my opinion) despite believing himself a lone striker. He wears his heart on his sleeve but on many occasions, it runs away with him. Too often he commits fouls or is reprimanded for simulation. We know forwards can be greedy or go missing, only to pop up and score when it matters. However, with Yaks, once you see him get frustrated, that’s him lost. A fresh start elsewhere might do him good.

Nottingham Forest v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - City Ground Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

Lucas João – contract ends May 2023

Over the last two seasons, João has scored 29 goals, with 10 assists from 60 appearances. It’s a given he’ll have suitors and furthermore his arrival was orchestrated by “fan favourite” Kia Joorabchian. We can assume his wages are high too. Selling him makes absolute sense from a business point. However, doing it would be total self-harm in my opinion. Finding another João on our budget isn’t happening. He’s our most consistent striker over seasons since Adam Le Fondre. How long ago did he leave?!

Like Méïté, Lucas can go missing and look frustrated in games, BUT then does score when given a chance. Thus, I’d build around Lucas this summer. I’ve often wondered whether João just plays to managers’ tactics when he’d rather we played a style to suit him. Imagine if we got more out of him doing this? Having said that, we’ve relied too much on the Angolan since his arrival and we must recruit other options to go alongside him if we’re to have any chance of winning games. Reliance on one man could be our downfall and has been for too long.

George Pușcaș – contract ends summer 2024

Inter Milan saw us coming when they sold George. Given the amount we reportedly paid, the loss we’ll inevitably make on Pușcaș epitomises how badly RFC has been run in recent years. If it wasn’t clear, the “Romanian rifleman” is done in RG2.

Rumour has it Pisa have an option to buy him permanently now their play-off campaign has concluded, yet nothing is certain. Despite the fanfare upon his arrival, Pușcaș’ time in Berkshire hasn’t delivered. Five goals from the last two seasons isn’t good enough and to suggest we “don’t play to his strengths” is laughable. Players like Michael Olise, Ejaria and John Swift etc. can magic up plenty of chances and to not succeed says it all. Our plight over recent seasons has gifted George numerous opportunities to show potential. Serie B is not the Championship, and the former is probably his level.

So, there we have it. Out of seven players we can realistically move on and get off the wage bill, I’d only keep two. Maybe three, if the Ejaria of old can return. Let me know your thoughts as we see what happens over the coming weeks.