Saturday, August 20, 2022

Is This One Man Destroying The Future At Reading?

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Tom Amies
Tom is passionate about football and is looking for a career in sports journalism. He’s a Reading fan and season ticket holder and will be providing as much Royals content as he can.

Paul Clement’s arrival in March was greeted with plenty of scepticism from the Reading faithful. Having spent only eight months at Derby County and then nine months at Swansea, Royals supporters were rightfully concerned about how Carlo Ancelotti’s former right-hand-man would fare in Berkshire. However, honestly Reading fans should be worried about the possible damage Clement will cause in the long-run, rather than fretting about the short-term problems.

With the squad the Royals currently have, they will survive relegation for the next couple of years, but Clement’s refusal to give youngsters a chance in the first team will only encourage academy graduates to leave the club to get first-team football permanently. Players like Luke Southwood and Danny Loader are two of the brightest prospects in the academy at the moment. These are two players who, if they can reach their full potential, would be playing Premier League football in a couple of years’ time.

It will be bad financially for Reading as they won’t be able to potentially sell-on these promising players when Premier League clubs come looking at them. It would also harm the reputation of the club as Reading is a club that prides itself on producing top quality youth players, and if Southwood and Loader do not get integrated into the first-team, they would eventually move on to pastures new, and the Royals would have lost another quality youngster.  

The main issue is, Clement prefers to stick with experience (like John O’Shea) and doesn’t like to ‘take risks’ with promising youngsters. Reading’s academy started up in 1999, and since then forty-seven academy graduates have gone onto make first-team appearances, including future Premier League players Alex McCarthy, Shane Long and Gylfi Sigurdsson. This is no doubt down to the exceptional work of the late great Eamonn Dolan, who had been pivotal in producing so many players from the club’s academy.

However since Jaap Stam took charge, nine of Reading’s academy graduates have left the club, with the Dutchman preferring to stick with new signings. Stam had made twenty-three permanent signings in the four transfer windows he had in Berkshire. To give the former Manchester United defender credit, he did get in players like Liam Kelly, Sam Smith and Omar Richards who were all provided with plenty of chances in the first-team.

Other than those three, however, not many other graduates got their opportunity (excluding cup games). And realistically, one cannot see this improving any time soon. Clement had sent one of Reading’s best young strikers (Sam Smith) out on loan, which was very disappointing especially after how much game time he got last season and during pre-season.

A loan to League 1 or 2, in previous years, signalled the beginning of the end for some Reading youngsters, including Dominic Samuel, Jake Cooper and Tarique Fosu. They were all loaned to the lower divisions of the English footballing pyramid, and all left permanently in the next couple of seasons. Since the passing of Dolan, the academy at Reading has gone downhill and it feels like all of his outstanding work is being undone, and there is nothing anyone can or will do about it.

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