Here’s one that completely came out of the blue: Naby Sarr has left Reading permanently, signing for Al-Markhiya SC. In a deal that was announced by the top-flight Qatari side late on Sunday night UK time but only ratified (kind of) by Reading on Tuesday afternoon, Sarr has agreed a two-year deal.
Strangely, he was announced as an Al-Markhiya player and gave a farewell message on his Instagram account before anything was mentioned by Reading. The Royals eventually broke their silence at 2pm on Tuesday afternoon, saying:
“Naby Sarr is expected to trigger a relegation release clause in his contract to take up a new opportunity overseas. Without any formal approach submitted to the club for the centre-half, Sarr was set to remain a registered player with the Royals whilst under contract with the club. However the defender - who turns 30 this summer - is now expected to formally activate the contractual clause to allow him to leave RG2 and sign for Qatari side Almarkhiya.”
By the sounds of it, Sarr has been able to unilaterally break off his Reading contract and sign for another club without needing any permission from his employers. The Royals will presumably therefore not get a transfer fee.
Whatever the exact truth of the matter, it’s an odd situation, and one that speaks to how desperate Reading were to get decent players in last summer. The Royals will have had to include such clauses in offered contracts in order to entice talent to the club - with wages severely restricted by the EFL. Similarly, it’s been reported that Tom Ince has a clause of just £50,000, while Tim Dellor added on BBC Berkshire on Tuesday morning that other players also have relegation clauses.
For a bit of context on Sarr’s new club that I definitely knew already and absolutely haven’t pulled from Wikipedia, Doha-based Al-Markhiya SC are a side on the up. They’ve won the Qatari Second Division six times, most recently in 2021/22, in the process becoming the first team to be promoted into the top flight: the Qatar Stars League. They’re now under the management of Englishman/American Anthony Hudson and have recently had former AFC Wimbledon player Ayoub Assal on their books.
Opinions about Sarr on social media seem to vary quite starkly; quite a few fans seem entirely unfussed about him leaving permanently. For me, although Sarr was too erratic and error-prone in the middle of the season, he gradually improved and was one of Reading’s better players by the end of the campaign. He made it into our April/May POTM voting and came second.
Sarr would probably have been an important player for Reading in League One, being an experienced player at both that level (with Charlton Athletic) and in the Championship (with Charlton, Huddersfield Town and ourselves). The Royals might well find it tricky to recruit someone with Sarr’s pedigree in the third tier.
What’s less subjective is Sarr’s injury record. After it took ages for him to join Reading last summer - due to slow ratification from the EFL - Sarr played just one and a half games (Millwall and Sheffield United away) before immediately being ruled out until December. Although he’d only miss another four matches in all competitions (all in January), the nagging doubt over his durability was still there.