Reading’s first departure of the January transfer window has been announced: Tom Holmes is off to Luton Town. Well, eventually he will be. Although the Royals have agreed a sale now, the 23-year-old academy graduate is set to stay at the SCL on loan until the end of the season.
This was an expected exit, with the Reading Chronicle reporting last week that Holmes was on his way to Kenilworth Road. However, concerningly, the move was believed to have been originally agreed without the knowledge of Ruben Selles or Mark Bowen, let alone their approval.
Holmes told Luton Town’s site:
“I’m very grateful for Luton’s continued interest in me, I know I’ve been on their radar for a while now, so it’s nice it’s come to fruition; I’ve spoken to the manager and I’m excited to work together.
“My aim is to come back and hit the ground running and really impress. That’s why going back will be a win-win for myself, Luton and Reading.
“It’s quite a nice way for me to end my time there and do something productive. I’m excited for that opportunity and I’m relishing the challenge. It’s been tough this season with a lot going on off the pitch but hopefully it will be resolved sooner rather than later and we can continue with improved performances of late.”
In some ways this exit could be a lot worse. Under this agreement, Reading reduce their wage bill (presumably) and get a transfer fee - both of which things will help with short-term cashflow problems. And while Reading won’t have Holmes’ services next season, retaining him on loan now is a boost for our survival hopes.
Holmes has after all been a key player recently. Having returned to the first team in late 2023 following his ejection from the side at the start of the campaign, he’s brought plenty of composure and authority to the back line, helping secure some important points, particularly on the road: Lincoln City, Peterborough United and Cheltenham Town.
There are two major, linked concerns though: how the move came about and what other exits could follow.
On the former, it’s simply unacceptable that Reading’s manager and head of football operations were both seemingly shut out entirely of the decision to cash in on a key player. That’s hardly the sign of a properly functioning club on a day-to-day basis regardless of broader ownership or financial issues.
Further, there’s nothing to say other important players won’t leave this month. On the contrary, Sell Before We Dai were informed by a credible whistleblower that players were likely to be sold in January to cover running costs.
After Holmes, that’s likely to continue with Nelson Abbey. Selles said on Saturday a bid had been accepted for the youngster: various outlets have reported this as also being Luton Town, although there’s also believed to be interest from abroad too.
Short of getting a similarly generous arrangement to the one that allowed Holmes to return to the club on loan, Reading won’t be able to lose any players this month and replace them with similar quality. It’s unlikely we’d be able to replace them at all.