Should Reading sign Shane Long?
MM: Yes. Shane Long has been a Premier League level footballer/hurler for over a decade and can bring a level of street smarts, physicality and desire this squad is really lacking. He’s not the player he once was, but even taking the nostalgia out of it this move makes sense.
OA: No. Without the sentimentality, Long is a player who no one would be clamouring to sign. He’s 35 years old and has scored seven goals in 76 games across the last three seasons, including an underwhelming spell back in the Championship with Bournemouth. Long is one of the club’s greatest modern-day frontmen who was a joy to watch, but let’s cherish those memories, not ruin them.
Where would Shane Long fit in the team?
OA: If he is being lined up as Lucas Joao’s replacement then we’re in big trouble. Long was always best in a strike partnership and that’s still the case, but that seems pretty unlikely given how Paul Ince has stuck fairly rigidly to using a lone forward so far. He would probably be most useful as an impact sub.
MM: Olly is right to highlight the impact sub role - Ince would surely use him that way although I’m not sure he has the goals in him to thrive as a super-sub. Presuming Lucas Joao stays, Long could operate as a much more mobile, floaty strike partner than what we’ve seen from George Puscas and Yakou Meite.
One similar-ish former teammate is Sam Baldock, but those two (Baldock and Joao) only started two Championship games together (a win and a draw for what it’s worth), so we don’t know exactly how Joao would fare in this setup. Obviously, a lot more players would have to be signed before a 4-4-2 can be a realistic proposition - pushing Long towards the super-sub territory.
If not Shane Long, then who?
MM: If Puscas goes, Reading will be left with a sure starter (when fit) in Joao and a capable number nine in Meite who managers prefer to play out wide. Both of those can lead the line alone but will need back-up. I would find that by still pushing for a veteran presence, someone who can play alone ideally and come on late in games to provide a deadly finish, in the Charlie Austin/Billy Sharp/Glenn Murray mould.
OA: It’s a fair question. We know Reading’s pool of targets is limited and perhaps there aren’t too many more players available than Long. I’d maybe target a slightly younger free agent such as Saido Berahino or John Marquis, or in an ideal world a promising youngster on loan from the Premier League. Like Marc, I wouldn’t be against seeing Meite up top either, while I hope Jahmari Clarke signs a new deal.
Is the nostalgia factor a good thing or a bad thing?
OA: Tricky. There won’t be a lot to get excited by this season so seeing Long back in a Reading shirt will certainly create a bit of a buzz and from a warm-feeling-in-your-stomach standpoint, it would be great. But as alluded to, it does mean we’re kind of blinded by the fact that Long is nowhere near the striker he was.
There would be a level of expectation on him and we all know how quick the fanbase are to turn on players when things don’t pan out as hoped. Everyone has such brilliant memories of Long away at Anfield and Cardiff, it will be slightly painful to see him toiling away with little joy at Sheffield United in midweek at the end of August.
MM: I’m slightly more optimistic that fans won’t turn on Long if he struggles, as at the very least he’s the sort of player who will try hard and run like stink (were he to lose that, well...).
As for nostalgia in general, I think in moderation it can be really useful for any club. Particularly given Reading’s struggles in connecting with the fans, plus the success of the ‘06 vs ’12 150th anniversary game in the summer, I would welcome nostalgia playing a role in bringing Long back. But let’s limit it to Long for now... I don’t want to see Seol Ki-Hyeon line up alongside him next season!