Having last played for Reading in October’s 2-0 away defeat to Watford last season, Ovie Ejaria has not had the easiest of times since, which has seen him have injury issues as well as falling out with then-Reading boss Paul Ince.
However, there is hope that the mercurial talent can rebuilt his relationship with the Reading faithful in League One under new head coach Ruben Selles in 2023/24.
Having trained with the under-21s squad in 2023, Reading legend Noel Hunt - who coaches that team - could not speak highly enough of Ejaria’s professionalism with the young squad. That should stand the 25-year-old player in good stead in a young Royals team where his leadership will be needed in a long season.
Where does Ejaria fit into the system?
In Selles’ high-pressing, full-throttle 4-2-2-2 it would look most likely that Ejaria could play as one of the two attacking midfielders behind the strikers. This would allow him to show his mesmerising on-the-ball qualities which have made him a fans’ favourite at the Select Car Leasing Stadium in the past.
To some his tricks and skills may just look like showboating, but they do progress the ball up the pitch when his teammates may be struggling to break down the opposition backline. Once Ejaria has made his way up the pitch he has the ability to hold onto the ball in tight situations and get other players into the game.
This will help Reading progress the ball from the middle third to the final third more quickly and will also allow them to keep the ball nearer the opposition’s box for as long as possible.
Ejaria’s technical ability means he could also line up in one of the top two slots, just behind centre forward Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, which has recently been occupied by academy graduate Caylan Vickers.
This would allow Ejaria to get closer to the opposition’s goal and break down the opposing defence when they sit deep, which will be needed in a defensive League One.
If he were to play in this position further up the pitch, he would no doubt have to improve his final-third output as he has only hit 10 league goals for Reading since he first moved here on loan in 2018/19.
One cause for concern may be the fact that Ejaria is not used to Selles’ all-guns-blazing system. Instead, he is used to more defensive and lethargic tactics in which less player fitness is required. His work on the training ground will be cut out then.
On the other hand, this could work well sometimes as, in League One, it will be necessary at points to take the sting out of the game and calm things down. Ejaria could be key to this as he is an expert at keeping possession while making sure things tick over nicely.
Ejaria looks very well suited to the attacking side of Selles’ system but the defensive side may need some more work. This is because, in seasons past, such as 2020/21 when he was at his best under Veljko Paunovic, he was given very little defensive responsibility.
He will therefore have to change his game and prove he has what it takes to work tirelessly on both the offensive and defensive sides of the game.
Ejaria is expected to make his return to action in mid-September when the games start to come thick and fast. This should give him the opportunity to get some game time and make an impression though, whether from the bench or as a starter.
It will be no easy task to get into the team however, with 10 new faces through the door this summer, including players such as Harvey Knibbs, Paul Mukairu and Sam Smith who play in similar positions.
Arriving for a hefty fee of approximately £3.5 million (2020/21), most Royals fans believe that is the type of reckless spending that got the club into financial trouble. If Ejaria can provide some of the flair and ability previously seen, as well as shooting Reading up towards the promotion spots, then some may believe that it was not a waste of club funds.