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Where’s Ovie Ejaria?

How can a player turn from the mercurial to missing man of Reading FC so quickly? It’s a story only this club of late could write, but one which surely needs a closer look. Especially given recent outbursts from Paul Ince.

Burnley v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Rich Linley - CameraSport via Getty Images

As Paul Ince tetchily told BBC Radio Berkshire after defeat at Cardiff City, he’d “love to get the ball down and play football”, one player came to mind who’d fit that remit: Ovie Ejaria. Yet where is he?

Ejaria was last seen in a Reading shirt before the World Cup as we lost at Watford. If that feels long ago, his most recent SCL outing was against Norwich City in October. These cameos aside, I’ve genuinely forgotten at times he’s still a Reading player. So, what on earth’s going on?

Paul Ince often tells the press Ovie is “two to three weeks away” from returning, however that line has been used for nearly (guess what?) two to three months now. I don’t know about you, but I don’t buy it anymore. How on earth can this status keep being recycled without any progress?

No real details have been given as to what he’s suffering from and to our knowledge he hasn’t required any surgery etc which you’d expect with a long-term absence. Nothing’s been said about progress or relapses either. We see most players returning from injury get a few minutes in an under-23s match, but with Ovie - nothing.

He clearly can’t be that injured as he was being lined up as a likely departure from the SCL in January’s transfer window. It’s as if he’s been excommunicated from the club. Sound familiar?

Speaking of Liam Moore, his return was controversial mainly because of “that club statement” last year and its fallout. However, on a practical sense he returned because our defence hasn’t been good enough. Ince has also been very cute to distance himself from those events he wasn’t party to.

An extra defender is one thing, but my word do we need all the help we can get going forward! We have won just two league matches and scored 11 goals in 2023. That is relegation form. If Moore can be brought back into the fold in a desperate bid to stave off defeats, why can’t Ovie?

Results speak for themselves and so do the stats. We’re not creating enough, keeping possession nor getting the ball forward to cause opposition teams problems. It’s happening game after game. We know how changeable football can be and to seemingly not be in any rush to bring a player back who’s shown guile in all the above stretches credulity. Especially given the arrival of Cesare Casadei, who isn’t as experienced.

Blackburn Rovers v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Joining RG2 from Anfield back in January 2019, Ovie instantly became a fan favourite. Many would feel the team suffered if he didn’t play given his technical ability, which helped a side that looked doomed to rejuvenate and stay in the Championship. Ovie’s later combinations with Michael Olise were masterful in giving us a season that should really have ended better. But it’s as if the day Olise departed RFC in the summer of 2021, so too did Ejaria, having only made 26 starts since.

That’s an incredible difference given he’d made 90 appearances from his arrival up to May 2021! In that period Ejaria scored seven, plus had assists and involvements in over double that amount. Not quite John Swift at the height of his powers, but useful given the current state of players we witness now. Many even hypothesised last summer that Ovie was the natural successor to the outbound Swift.

Go back to the World Cup and you may remember Ovie didn’t go to RFC’s Tenerife training camp on account of “disciplinary issues”. Surely the penance here has been served, or is there more to this?

Ejaria seemingly wasn’t available during a stint of Veljko Paunovic’s reign in Berkshire, as the Serb would often go coy about an absent Ovie despite no known injury concerns.

If it’s the case that the player simply doesn’t want to be at Reading FC anymore, then the club have only limited options. They could try the public flogging option a la Liam Moore, but I think we know how that’ll work.

Alternatively, if the manager doesn’t rate the player, well good luck there too. Ovie is contracted to RFC till 2024 and, given the club’s history on contracts, I think we can all expect Ejaria’s stay in Berkshire isn’t ending soon.

Playing him seems the only suitable alternative as it will at least put him in the shop window. It’ll be noticed if Ejaria isn’t trying in matches, plus I think angry fans will let him know if his efforts aren’t seen as genuine. Nick Blackman (remember him?) had a decent spell in what felt an attempt to silence fans who didn’t think him all that great. It also got him a move to Derby County and importantly off our wage bill.

As for Ejaria at 25 years old, it’s up to him how desperate he wants to look towards having a decent football career. Bowing out early with questions over his attitude isn’t the smartest move. But equally we’re in the dark as to where we stand with our once tricky midfielder.

A midfielder who we know can show a bit of magic. I don’t know how the last eight games are going to go, but we’re going to need all the points possible, and I frankly don’t care how they come if we stay up.

One thing I do know is that Ejaria wouldn’t likely volley a ball almost out of the stadium in frustration at a misplaced pass. But then maybe he would if his dad was managing Reading FC.