Reading have reportedly received a £2.5m bid for Lucas Joao from Besiktas.
Whether or not this specific rumour is completely accurate isn’t the entire point. Even if it’s wide of the mark, the Royals can still expect their star man to be the subject of significant transfer interest this summer.
After all, his 10 goals in 24 appearances proved crucial in last season’s relegation fight and reinforced his already impressive goalscoring record. Joao netted six in 19 during his debut campaign in Berkshire before really standing out with 19 from 39 in 2020/21.
Even away from the hard numbers, Joao passes the eye test with flying colours. He’s technically adept, capable of bamboozling a defender with a neat bit of footwork or a cute pass. As Olly outlined in early November 2020, by which point Joao had registered six goals and three assists in the first nine games of the season, Lucas is more than just a target man.
We know all of that already though. Joao’s quality is obvious and well-established. Few Reading players in recent years can rival the confidence he inspires as a match-winner; just seeing his name on the teamsheet makes you feel a result is possible.
So Reading have a big decision on their hands when it comes to potentially cashing in. Even though Joao only has 12 months left to run on his four-year contract, he should still be able to fetch a few million at this point. Goals are hard to come by, Joao’s record proves he can provide them, and that’s bound to court attention from clubs with enough funds to put in a pretty substantial - if not massive - offer.
Cashing in also looks a lot better in contrast to Joao’s former 2020/21 teammates who ended up leaving on a free. Rafael Cabral, Michael Morrison, Omar Richards, Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent all departed for no transfer fee, while squad exile Liam Moore is likely to join them. £2.5m is better than £0.
The thing is though, in this case, £2.5m may as well be £0. According to the terms of the Royals’ business plan with the EFL, when it comes to reinvesting any received cash, Reading...
“...will not be permitted to pay or commit to pay any transfer fee, compensation fee or loan fee or any other form of payment (other than a sell-on fee) in respect of the registration of any player in excess of the level as agreed with the EFL”.
What does “level as agreed with the EFL” mean in practice? Well, according to journalist Alan Nixon, the Royals are “under such strict EFL rules that they would not be able to spend the money from sales on a transfer fee for a signing”.
In other words, wave goodbye to the prospect of Reading using even a fraction of that £2.5m to sign a replacement for Joao. The fee would in the short term have to be banked, although it could come in handy after the business plan ceases to apply at the end of this coming season.
In the meantime however, Reading have a relegation fight to win. The importance of that battle dwarfs anything else on the table - slipping into League One would drastically weaken the club in the short term at least, and returning to the Championship is easier said than done. Just ask Sunderland, who have only just returned after four years, or former Championship regulars Ipswich Town who are still waiting after three. Are Reading in a position to fare any better? If we think this summer is painful, life in the third tier would be a whole lot worse.
Avoiding that fate will take every advantage Reading can get their hands on, and there are few better than Joao. He’s a more reliable source of goals and therefore points than anyone else in the squad, not to mention anyone else Reading could conceivably hope to sign. If anyone can be the difference between a poor side that stays up and a poor side that doesn’t, it’s Joao.
Holding onto him therefore makes financial sense because it makes footballing sense. And anyway, the £2.5m is a drop in the ocean compared to the hit Reading would take from relegation, while the end of the business plan will probably provide far greater spending freedom if relegation is avoided. Keeping Joao for this season to help our survival hopes before he (probably) leaves on a free in 2023 is the wisest way forward, even if we need to swallow the bitter pill of another player departing for nowt.
The most convincing counter-argument I’ve seen so far is the issue of what Joao himself wants. Surely he’d prefer to move on if given the choice, and if he really feels strongly that way, his head could be in the wrong place for him to play a decisive part in a relegation fight.
Although that side of things can’t be discounted, Joao strikes me (pun unintended) neither as someone who doesn’t care about the club, nor as someone who’d kick up a fuss if he has to stick around for a bit longer.
For one thing, he told Sky Sports’ Simeon Gholam in March that he wanted to repay the club for giving him the chance to play regular football. Plus, the way he’s gleefully lapped up fans’ adoration - not least in post-match celebrations at Sheffield United - shows he knows how much he’s valued here. While that mutual bond is understandably probably not enough to persuade him to stay on in the long term (see also: Josh Laurent and Andy Rinomhota), it should smooth over any annoyance about having to wait for a move.
Regardless, the message from the club to Joao can be a simple one: we need you here this season. We’d love to keep you on beyond that, but we won’t hold it against you if you want to move on then.