Following the departures of Ovie Ejaria and Dom Ballard, Reading are left with two free spaces in the squad for January arrivals - if finances permit signings.
This season, we’ve struggled with quality more than quantity, and have consistently had team-selection predicaments, a refreshing problem to have after past years when we’ve had as much squad depth as a paddling pool.
So here, I’ll be looking at recruiting in the positions that have been a sort of revolving door in terms of players being unable to cement their place in the team, namely the left wing, and across the rest of the pitch in places where we could benefit from some more effective options off the bench.
Obviously, this is limited to free agents and potential loan signings, and I’ve tried to keep them all at least semi-realistic.
A familiar name to Royals fans after being linked with the club in 2018 and 2021, the 27-year-old is a free agent following his release from Portsmouth in the summer. The left-winger managed 25 league appearances in the 2022/23 season before suffering an ACL injury in February, and turned down a lower-paying contract with Pompey in June, instead opting to go unpaid during his recovery, but now finds himself without a club.
Curtis made 226 appearances for Portsmouth since joining from Derry City in 2018, scoring 57 goals, making him the south-coast club’s top scorer in the 21st century, but has not been without problems during his time there. As the BBC wrote, the Irishman’s Pompey spell featured “goals, ill-advised Snapchat stories, assists, unwise parental tweets, a club record, nearly losing a finger in a door, triumph at Wembley, an incident outside a Portsmouth nightclub and perhaps most disappointingly for him, no promotion”.
He certainly sounds like a character, and possibly a player we would have been more likely to sign under Veljko Paunovic or Paul Clement, but this ACL problem was his first-ever big absence from playing, and Curtis still has a fair few years of good football ahead. Securing his signature to a short-term contract could be the perfect restart for his career, and a good fill-in until the summer on the left wing for Reading.
Matos is a Chelsea youngster who plays as a winger or midfielder and has made his Premier League debut for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, with a late cameo against Fulham in October, but has made the bench on 10 other occasions.
The 19-year-old only joined the Blues’ academy in the summer of 2023, having previously played in the Luton Town and Norwich City youth setups, and became a regular for the Canaries’ under-18s in the 2022/23 season, also managing to break into the under-21s, where he scored three goals in Premier League 2. He left for West London after frustration at the lack of first-team opportunities in East Anglia, and had competition for his signature from the likes of Newcastle United and Southampton.
This would have to be a loan signing, similar to the short-term deal that we had with Cesare Casadei last season, but that is certainly enough time for Matos to make his mark on Reading’s campaign.
He also seems very ready for first-team senior football, with Pochettino accelerating his development at Chelsea saying: “In training, he is so smart, always watching everything, always smiling. But when he goes to compete with the first team, he is tough. He is really competitive, really strong. He kicks you and smiles at you! It is nice to have this sort of profile through the academy.”
The brother of Chelsea star boy Carney Chukwuemeka, Caleb is a 6”3’ centre-forward free agent, and despite not having the best career so far, he is just 21 years of age and still has plenty of EFL experience under his belt.
Chukwuemeka began his career in the Northampton Town academy and graduated to make 22 League One appearances for the Cobblers in the 2020/21 season. He managed two goal contributions, mainly off the bench during that time, earning him a move to Aston Villa in 2021 for an undisclosed fee.
He failed to make a senior appearance during his time at Villa Park, but had loans to Livingston and Crawley Town in his tenure there, as well as featuring in a handful of Premier League 2 fixtures for the Villans, where he won the September 2021 player of the month award in the youth team.
It’s been a pretty difficult start to life in football for Caleb, but he still has his whole career ahead of him, so a reintroduction into the men’s game with Reading could be what’s needed, as well as getting back up to fitness in the Royals’ youth setup. However, as far as free-agent signings go, I’d say this one would be fairly low risk given his age and potential.
Fosu could return to Reading now as a 28-year-old after six years away from Berkshire, having played for the likes of Charlton Athletic, Oxford United and Brentford, as well as spells at Stoke City and Rotherham United on loan from the Bees. The Ghana international made his debut on the final day of the 2014/15 season for Reading, but didn’t make any more appearances in the league, even after three League Two loans.
The winger has 218 EFL matches on his CV, but turned down a new contract with the Royals in 2017 in favour of a move to Charlton, where he really broke through, scoring 11 goals in 57 appearances for the Addicks. Later in his career at Brentford, he was largely frozen out of the squad once they reached the Premier League, only making one top-flight appearance.
There must be a reason why he is still a free agent going into January, but if a Championship club in Rotherham United were willing to take him on loan last year, he must have enough pedigree to contribute to a struggling League One side like Reading.
Fosu is certainly capable of doing a job in the left-wing position for us, and I could see this being a very realistic January signing.
Although Ruben Selles has not given any suggestions on January arrivals, there have been names rumoured lately, including Premier League loans and players from non-league, so hopefully we will see some reinforcements in the New Year to bolster the squad.
At least this year, January arrivals are more of a want than a necessity.
Here’s to some 2024 signings!