Squad Analysis 

As it stands, once again, we sit in the relative comfort of mid-table mediocrity. Once again we sit wondering what beckons on the horizon for almost every aspect of Reading FC.

The comparison between this season and last is nigh on identical in terms of results, performance and even the FA Cup run – this time falling one short of the hallowed trip to Wembley.

This time around, one would think we would know more than we did last season with regards to the strength of squad and what is required for next season. Frankly, we’re none the wiser.

The ‘transfer policy’ and player performance simply has not turned out remotely what we hoped for. So, what next as Brian plots his next assault on the ever difficult and arduous Championship?

The loan players almost to a man have flattered to deceive. It’s safe to say Vydra, John, Piazon, Taylor, and Fernandez have either not been played enough or not performed consistently enough to warrant consideration for next season.

Of course, Ola John has shown signs that on his day he can be unplayable, but questions remain over his fitness, especially over a 46 game season. Whether the club could tempt Benfica into selling and if we can afford Ola’s fee and wages is doubtful. We can but dream that we can sign a player who can turn a game like he can. Something we’ve sorely needed for many a season.

Even less of a possibility would be signing Matej Vydra. Despite his undoubted quality, he’s failed to find his feet in Berkshire. Considering the outlay for the loan, a rumoured £2.5m – the gamble has not paid off.

Tempting Chelsea into returning Michael Hector to us for a season is slightly more of a possibility, especially with a new man at the helm at Stamford Bridge, but more to the point is that McDermott likes a player that wants to ‘play for the shirt’; a plethora of loan signings next season looks extremely unlikely.

Also on the way out will almost certainly be the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu and Anton Ferdinand. Hal has shown little interest in re-signing, Ferdinand is likely to prove too expensive relative to his injury record. Others in consideration for moving on would be Aaron Kuhl and a host of other Academy players.

All in all, by my dubious maths, that means that we would have a potential shortfall of 16 players. If we discount the Academy players who will be replaced by incumbents from within, that’s still a fair number. Do the Thai owners have the capacity and desire to replenish those loan signings with longer term acquisitions? Plugging the void and, more importantly, improving the quality of the first team will not be an easy task.

Realistically, we’re aiming for top six (at absolute best). To say we can challenge for major honours from the position we’re in would be verging on optimism overdrive!

Goalkeepers

Whilst Al-Habsi and Bond are often mooted as being lesser than our previous goalkeepers, none of them could consider themselves as being attractive to other clubs or be put up for offer. To that end, I don’t think we’ll see any change in that department, bar who will be Numero Uno next season.

Expected Signings – None.

Defence

As ever, defence needs strengthening. With the loss of Hector and probably Ferdinand, we will be very light on Central Defenders. No doubt this will be a priority. With Gunter signing a new deal, and Obita midway through his contract, we have stability but not depth. The fact that both players are picked week in week out is not healthy. Every position needs to have cover that pushes the players to earn their place. Chris and Jordan have it easy with no serious competition for their place.

Expected Signings – Two, minimum. Full Back and Central.

Midfield

The midfield minefield! A conundrum of messes is the engine room. A collection of misfits and imbalance has cost us a much higher position over a few seasons and surely needs restructuring. In the centre, Norwood and Williams seem to have positions made their own, but we have struggled to find consistency and strength with these as a pairing. Evans and Fernandez have barely featured. Tshibola will no doubt push for a position after his injuries and rightly so. On his day, Norwood has a wand of a right foot, but is often the ‘quarterback’ that creates but does not provide the final ball. Whether we require another playmaker further forward is up for debate. Creation in the final third will be crucial to any success next season.

Which leads us to our wingers. Sadly, McCleary has been in and out of the team due to injury and been unable to recreate the form which he has fleetingly shown since he came back from injury a few seasons ago. On the left Hal Robson-Kanu could well leave, well, almost certainly will leave. Fosu and Stacy will return, but surely another winger is required.

If the club are keen on restructuring the wage bill, they could be looking at off-loading the expensive Danny Williams, if a club chose to come in for him. Oh, and we have George Evans. No, really.

Expected Signings – Two, minimum. One winger, One Central (Defensive or Attacking.)

Forwards

The vital front line will require a much needed upgrade upon this seasons showing. The expensive loan signing of Vydra, sadly, did not work out. What we lose, we may gain with the return of Dominic Samuel after his season at Gillingham. The relatively new signings of Kermorgant and Rakels could fare better after a pre-season under their belts also. The contract of Simon Cox is up in the air, he could move on – but equally, he would no doubt love to stay and would most likely accept terms offered by his hometown club.

Expected Signings – One, minimum.

Whether the Thai owners will wish to invest beyond the suggested absolute minimum of five, and that’s what it is, an absolute minimum of 100% first team quality, remains to be seen. The future is vague; it will be a long, long summer as the rebuilding unfolds.

Neill Rees

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