Yakou Meite’s stint at Reading is quite the feat: seven years and almost as many managers when you count the interim appointments, all in the same league too. His length of service almost matches the Royals’ record scorer Trevor Senior! But there the comparisons end.
In his time, Yaks has turned out for Reading on 165 occasions and scored 47 goals. Senior on the other hand made 164 appearances and netted 102 between 1983 and 1987, which was just his first stint at Elm Park. They’re different eras to say the least and I’m certainly not going to compare players 30-odd years apart.
But it’s those appearance stats which got me thinking as Meite’s injury record has intrigued me for some time.
Ignoring his season loaned out to Sochaux, is it wise to try and keep a player in Meite who’s only been available for 60% of the time he’s been a Reading player? It’s a crude methodology, but when you calculate Yaks’ Reading appearances against the number of matches in a season, he’s effectively ‘missed’ 40% of games. ‘Missed’ means matches where he’s either not been picked to play or come on, been suspended or - more than likely in his case - been injured.
Injuries are part and parcel of the game for sure, but it’s a golden rule that you need consistency to be successful. Obviously playing well is one thing, but reliability in terms of being available is just as, if not more, important. Look back at Reading’s promotion-winning sides and you’ll likely remember the starting XIs because they were consistent in both their performances and availability.
The Ivorian’s stats back this up too. Meite’s best season was 2019/20 when he featured in roughly 98% of matches (45 appearances) and scored 17. Lucas Joao’s incredible 2020/21 a season later when he scored 22 goals saw him feature in 87% of games.
Measuring goals against appearances, Meite scores in 28% of the games he plays - the same percentage as Andy Carroll in a Reading shirt. However, the big Geordie has featured in 74% of games while at the club. The tactics may not have been great, but Carroll’s absence this campaign was notable, even if it was his own fault when it really mattered.
Overall, Joao scored in roughly 38% of games he featured in. Despite Noel Hunt’s comments after this season’s finale at Huddersfield Town, Lucas’s record is quite something. If anything, Hunt’s comments have me wondering how different things could have been…
It’s an incredible stat: when you consider their respective times in RG2, Kevin Doyle’s goals-to-games percentage was 34%, Leroy Lita’s 32% and only Dave Kitson can beat the Angolan with a score of 39%. Crude as they are, these hit-rate stats ultimately feed towards success, but what really sets players apart is their appearance-to-availability percentages.
The chart below showcases this. It’s surely no coincidence that those fondly remembered for their contributions in promotion races have a clear correlation between being potent in front of goal but also being more readily available.
So where does this leave Yaks?
Goals to games, he’s kind of middle of the road. But it’s his availability stat which really irks me. Only Sam Baldock has a worse score - a player who spent a sizeable chunk of his time in Berkshire frozen out!
Take nothing away from Meite the person: he clearly has shown he cares. He certainly puts the effort into his performances, and I really do think he could tear things up in League One. But there’s a big caveat to that last point: only if he’s fit.
Paul Ince was the only Reading manager to suggest he wasn’t a fan of Yaks, as others regularly picked him when they could. So, if we take away this season’s appearances from Yaks’ overall figure, his availability stays at 60%.
At 27 years old, the ex-PSG man should be in what people call “physical peak”. In theory, injuries shouldn’t have been that much of an issue up to this point, but clearly they have. Thus, hereafter injuries are seen as a potential downward slope, being more regular, having longer recovery times and lasting impacts, and generally adding towards a player’s demise.
Injuries have been a big issue not just with individual players but also with Reading’s overall squad in recent campaigns. It’s yet another area which needs addressing. Given its impact on results you’d also hope there hasn’t been any neglect to this area. However, we must question if players are conditioning themselves properly. I’m not suggesting unprofessionalism here, certainly not on Yaks’ part - it’s likely just a combination of bad luck along with everything else at Reading lately.
But League One will be tough with no international breaks and a quicker turnaround of games, including the added competition of the Papa Johns Trophy - all this likely with a smaller squad than we had this season.
Thus, if he stays, Yakou will be a big luxury player in a potentially resource-poor era, especially if used off the bench as he has been most recently. Regardless of our formation next season, we’ll need our forwards to be regularly available and to date he just hasn’t been.
Sure, Adam Le Fondre was once our super sub, but he had an 85% availability score. 20 years ago, Reading were promoted from the third tier by having such a super sub in Jamie Cureton. However, Curo’s availability percentage was… an incredible 88% and a scoring rate of 43%! Just to top it off, he’s also still playing, albeit lower down the leagues.
We’ve been very lucky to have such players in our time but, sadly given the above, I doubt Meite will be playing non-league football at 47 years old and sadly I’m not sure he should (or will) be playing in League One either.