After the release of 23-year-old left back Omar Richards, Reading currently have no senior left backs on their books going into the summer transfer window.
It was a whole different story just over a year ago, when former boss Mark Bowen had Bayern-bound Richards, Tyler Blackett and Jordan Obita at his disposal in the latter stages of the 2019/20 campaign.
Three expired contracts later and Veljko Paunovic only has teenagers Ethan Bristow and Imari Samuels to choose from as natural replacements at left back, despite the deployment of centre back Tom McIntyre and former loanees Lewis Gibson and Tomas Esteves at various points last season in the absence of Richards.
Paunovic’s reluctance to use Bristow and Samuels during that period was striking, especially with criticism of Gibson in multiple games and Esteves’ refusal to use his left foot away at Brentford.
One would think Paunovic will make recruiting a left back his top priority as the Berkshire side eagerly awaits the opening of the transfer window.
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However, it’s set to be a summer of uncertainty for Reading with their current financial fair play situation – and the club may need to rely on some of their younger players again next season.
One player who could be involved after the emergence of midfielder Dejan Tetek is England youth international Imari Samuels. It’s not inconceivable to think Paunovic will only make one signing at left back with the current financial situation and the reinforcements needed in other areas.
This will provide the platform needed for Bristow and Samuels to not only train with the first team, but also be in with the chance of getting senior minutes in 2021/22. The former has already started a few games in the Carabao and FA Cups – and whilst Bristow held his own against two Championship sides – he didn’t exactly pull up any trees.
Samuels, on the other hand, was called up to the England U19 squad last month and has been playing with some of the most exciting young prospects the country has to offer.
With this, he could potentially overtake Bristow, who is just over a year older than him, into second place if a new left back arrives at the club in pre-season. According to Mirror journalist Darren Witcoop, former Villa defender Neil Taylor is one of the Berkshire side’s potential targets.
The 18-year-old signed his first professional contract last year and is due to expire next summer, leaving the Reading board with an important decision to make: offer the full back a new deal now or wait and see what impact he makes in 2021/22.
Omar Richards’ meteoric rise and move to former European champions Bayern Munich will be a stern warning to all those at the Madejski Stadium – but can the Royals offer Samuels a deal worth signing in their current financial position?
Either way, he’s one to watch out for next season. Knowing Reading’s injury record, the left back may appear quite frequently in the next 12 months.