After a disappointing league season, and with the club’s finances still precarious, despite new Thai owners and a run to the FA Cup semi final, Reading have arrived at the off-season in full-scale rebuild mode.
Long-serving goalkeeper, and last season’s Player of the Season, Adam Federici has departed, joining Eddie Howe’s project at newly promoted Bournemouth.
Academy product, sometime captain and first choice centre-back Alex Pearce is also heading for the exit, with Derby the destination.
Short term deals for veteran players Yakubu and Zat Knight were not renewed after the pair failed to make an impact, and back-up keeper Mikkel Andersen – who has so far failed to force his way into the first team after several seasons out on loan – is also currently without a deal. Former Newcastle midfielder Danny Guthrie ended a troubled spell at the club on loan, and was released as the season ended. Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak is subject of interest from abroad, and with a significant wage going his way, the club will be all ears.
All in all, the times are a-changing at Reading Football Club.
Federici’s move is perhaps the most immediately pressing on the field, but the potential loss of club captain Jem Karacan, out of contract after two injury-ravaged seasons, may be the most destabilising. Karacan, like Pearce, is a graduate of the academy and has been a key component of recent Reading teams under Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins.
In both cases he was ‘their kind of player’. An optimistic character and positive influence off the field and a consistent and tenacious performer on it – if unspectacular. He is less Steve Clarke’s kind of player, lacking just slightly the clout and just slightly the technical ability. Clarke’s preferred midfield pairing for the second half of the season was US international Danny Williams and on-loan Chelsea youngster Nathaniel Chalobah.
Williams will remain first choice, but Clarke is likely to be forced by financial constraints to look to the loan market again if he wants to strengthen next season.
On the one hand, this presents an opportunity for Karacan with only the equally unfavoured Oli Norwood for competition.
On the other, Karacan is likely to be one of the highest earners, and the the chance to trim the wage bill again may be difficult to resist – particularly if it frees up budget for a much needed goalscorer.
A wholesale rebuild such as the one going on at Reading is a dangerous game to play. A team is a delicate eco-system that can take time to establish itself if its component elements change. It’s worth a glance at Reading’s FA Cup semi final opponents Arsenal, who even with significant resources at their disposal, took the better part of ten seasons to successfully rebuild their squad.
The backbone of Reading’s team has exited this summer, and with it decades of experience, including how to win promotion, win titles, and compete in Premiership matches.
Were Karacan to also set off towards pastures new, the team would be without a captain, without a senior goalkeeper on its books and with only one senior centre back – leaving Michael Hector, only one season of first team football under his belt, partnering young Jake Cooper, with just a handful of appearances under his own.
There can be no argument that improvements need to be made, a club that has become accustomed to fighting for promotion cannot accept quietly a campaign that spluttered its way to a conclusion in the lower echelons on the table, seemingly unable to buy a goal.
But such improvements can take time, and can be difficult to realise during periods of extensive change. Managers come and go, especially when teams are underperforming, and the responsibility for galvanising a squad, drawing players together, falls to the senior voices in the changing room.
As things stand, Reading have very few of those voices.
Karacan’s situation is complicated further still by the injuries, both suffered in separate seasons against Leeds, as it remains unclear how strong his long term fitness will be. After such an extensive spell out, and having struggled for full fitness as the season drew to a close, this pre-season will be a crucial one for Karacan to prove himself. He needs contractual stability to do so. If Karacan’s fitness can stand the trials of a full season, and the club can find a way to hold on to him, they must.