Forget about anyone else, Michael Olise is the brightest star to come from the Reading academy in the past decade.
Not since Gylfi Sigurdsson has an academy graduate generated so much excitement in Berkshire. Even the likes of Brentford winger Tarique Fosu and West Ham attacker Michail Antonio didn’t receive the attention the French youth international has.
There is a catch for Royals fans though: his contract situation. The 19-year-old is set to leave the Madejski Stadium in the summer of 2022 unless the Berkshire side take decisive action and tie him down to a new deal.
The likelihood of that? Little to none. Reading’s current Financial Fair Play situation, after losing over £90m in their last three financial accounts, is set to hamper the amount of business they can do this summer – both in terms of bringing in new players and offering new deals to their existing squad members.
This leaves the Royals with two bleak options: cash in this summer or keep him and avoid losing him for free in 2022. The season Olise took his game to the next level was the period when fans couldn’t even see him play in person – and for this understandably selfish reason – they will want to see him stay put.
However, the club must ask itself whether they want another Danny Loader situation on their hands. Although Loader struggled to adapt to Championship football, he was impressive for the under 23s, had previously won the under 17s World Cup with England and was even on the verge of signing for Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers in a multi-million pound deal less than a year before he left for nothing.
In the Royals’ current financial mess, they simply must accept a sizeable offer for the teenager this summer. Although Olise could potentially reject interested clubs, his future is realistically out of his hands.
Under Jose Gomes, Reading implemented an aggressive method to move players on, including segregating unwanted players from the first team squad.
Although this strategy is unlikely to appear again, the midfielder could be under pressure to move on as the club continues its recovery from the Ron Gourlay era. And if a big club comes knocking, why would he reject a wonderful opportunity?
All Reading fans know how reluctant owner Dai Yongge has been to sell his most prized assets though – and his stubbornness may satisfy supporters who want to see the midfielder in person and cost the club dearly in turn.
If Mr Dai does refuse all offers, the Berkshire side are still likely to make full use of Olise next season, even with Ovie Ejaria, John Swift and Yakou Meite as other options in the attacking midfield area. If Paunovic’s indications are anything to go by, the latter could be utilised as a striker in the future.
And after initially limiting Olise’s playing time, Veljko Paunovic started him regularly at the business end of the 2020/21 campaign.
Let’s face it, the Frenchman is also unlikely to kick up a stink in the summer, knowing he is likely to have a range of top clubs to choose from in 2022 if he stays at Reading for an extra year.
For me, his future at the Madejski Stadium comes down to one man with a host of clubs likely to make a move for him in the next few months: Dai Yongge. The academy graduate is unlikely to sign a new deal – is it worth delaying the seemingly inevitable for an extra year and causing further financial damage?