It’s clear Reading have bagged themselves an excellent signing when the Town End write-up is emailed in alongside the comment “look after him, a hell of a player”.
The Royals made probably their best addition of the summer so far on Friday afternoon by snapping up Lewis Wing on a free transfer from Wycombe Wanderers. He agreed a three-year deal, with that length of contract reportedly allowing Reading to beat Championship side Queens Park Rangers to Wing’s signature.
So, what should we know about him? Well, as his most recent experience was an 18-month stay at Adams Park, of course we had to get the inside view on how that spell went. A big thanks to Chairboys fan George Hipgrave who gave us an extended take on Wing’s time in South Buckinghamshire.
How would you sum up Lewis Wing’s time at Wycombe?
I think his spell with us is one of the few in football that benefitted both parties equally. I remember thinking our January window was coming to an end without us strengthening for a promotion push before receiving the email notification saying we had signed Lewis Wing.
After years of Trust ownership, signings of his calibre were few and far between. His signing announcement included a goal compilation that plenty of players higher up the footballing pyramid would be proud of. The announcement was met with negative comments from Sheffield Wednesday fans after his time there and, as has become a tradition with the opposition view on our signings, they could not be more wrong.
Wycombe teams under Gareth Ainsworth were always given the labels of direct, long-ball merchants, anti-football etc, but Wing was essential in us changing those labels (to those opposition fans who could accept little Wycombe played better football than them). We beat Cambridge United 3-0 at Adams Park having lost to Accrington and Wigan Athletic, but the result was not the surprise – the style of football was unrecognisable. We turned up that night and we were rolling it short from the ‘keeper and doing everything possible to get Wing on the ball.
The main highlight of the run-in for that season was the game at Crewe – he scored a brace but absolutely ran the show. I would recommend watching the highlights to see how well he took the two goals, but what the video doesn’t show is how many times he looked after the ball with composed dribbling and picked passes between defenders.
His red card at Gillingham felt like the end of our promotion hopes at the time.
It had been quite some time since a Wycombe lineup included a player that warranted a non-sarcastic ‘SHOOT!’ every time the ball fell to them on the edge of the box. If there is anything to take from his time at Wycombe, it is that he simply does not score tap ins. A worthy winner of the goal of the season award for his last appearance in a Wycombe shirt.
What style of midfielder is he?
He is the football equivalent of a quarterback. There were points in matches under Ainsworth when the game plan almost became ‘give the ball to Wing or Mawson and let them pick whatever pass they see’. Both had excellent distribution and were true masters of the diagonal ball.
I think what made him step on last season is that Ainsworth/Dobson/Bloomfield made him the team player that every player at Wycombe has to be.
There were games when he would drop between the central defenders to collect the ball, play almost as a number 10, and cover right-back when McCarthy pushed up too far. I am sure if you asked Sheffield Wednesday or Middlesbrough fans to describe his style of play, that would not have featured on the list. Wing looks after the ball better than most at this level and has many Championship-level attributes.
What are his main strengths?
He has mastered the art of striking a football. It could be a long-range screamer or the aforementioned long diagonal, but he makes striking a football look effortless at times. I think his dribbling was incredibly underrated in his time in our midfield – he would often shift to the left or right of a pressing midfielder to find space to play a pass.
How about weaknesses?
I think his main weakness is that he doesn’t come with Josh Scowen attached. Wing improved his defensive game significantly in a season and a half but that is made considerably easier when you have the irreplaceable Scowen alongside you.
I do not want to do Wing a disservice but the freedom any midfielder gets when they have someone alongside them doing the job of two or even three people is undeniable. Kante often made Drinkwater look 10 times better in the Leicester title-winning side and that was the Scowen-Wing partnership. I am sure Reading fans can appreciate more than most that Drinkwater is not the same player without that player alongside him.
I still think there are more than enough positive attributes within Wing’s skillset that will make him a success at this level and possibly even higher. If he had even a small increase in pace or if his time at Wycombe had come two years earlier, he would quite comfortably have signed for a top-half Championship team.
What’s his character like?
I have only positives to say. I think it is clear by how much time he spent making a decision on this summer’s move that he is ambitious. There is no denying that he was waiting for a Championship move and, for whatever reason, that did not come about. I cannot fault his effort levels in the full season; even when we were playing a style of football that didn’t suit him, he put in everything he had.
At the end of the 2021/22 season there were definitely points when it felt like games passed him by (possibly because the ball physically passed him by) but that was quickly eradicated from his game as he became one of our most important players.
How sad are Wycombe fans to see him leave?
Gutted. It was a far easier pill to swallow when it seemed he was moving to QPR. None of us could have been surprised if he followed Ainsworth; coaching staff, analysts, medical staff already had, and a number of past players were linked. I would also not have been shocked to hear they had set up a shuttle bus from Adams Park to Loftus Road. It made sense; Ainsworth is attempting to build a team that will die for him at QPR to improve their chances and there is no better way for him to do that than trust what he knows.
I am sure I will read several more shocked reactions from our fans who felt the Championship calling was the only reason he would leave after such a strong season. If you had asked me after the final day, I would have been fairly confident that, if he were to stay in League One, it would have been with us.
Is he a good signing for Reading?
Yes. Reading are making what looks from the outside as incredibly un-Reading signings. From someone who has not watched Reading a lot of times in the past couple of years, the club always seemed to have no plan in managerial hires/player signings/financial decisions but that is starting to change.
There will be very few teams that end the window with stronger signings than Sam Smith, Harvey Knibbs and Wing. If it weren’t for the financial element, I would have quite liked to see those three players mentioned lining up for us on the opening day. In the many years we have spent in League One, the teams that get out the quickest are those who sign players who know the league and have performed in the league.
How well Wing does at Reading will be solely determined by what the plan for the style is. If there are three or four more signings that show you are looking to play a possession-based game and dominate teams in this league, he will prosper. Few teams have ever gone a League One campaign without having to do the ugly side too. I think Wing is better suited to that part of the game now than he ever has been. I wish him the best, just not twice a season.