WHEN IT comes to promoting youth, managers often talk the talk without walking the walk.
Platitudes about giving a club’s best young talent always go down well with the fans, but in practice they’re often not backed up with actual action. To be fair, the threat of impending relegation makes the prospect of risking an 18-year-old in the senior side look like a bad idea.
So it was refreshing to see Jose Gomes put his money where his mouth was last Tuesday night by handing out two debuts; the first in his time at the club, aside from January’s loanee arrivals. Under-23 regular Ryan East started against high-flyers Leeds United after previously only making the bench, while 17-year-old Michael Olise was handed a second-half cameo to strut his stuff before starting against Stoke on Saturday.
Gomes wasn’t forced to play either of them. Liam Kelly is a more established (albeit out of form) alternative to East in the middle of the park, and Reading don’t lack options out wide in place of Olise. Turning to the young duo was a big call from Gomes, especially in a match as tough as Tuesday’s.
It’s also the sign of things to come. Gomes has talked frequently about his desire to trim the main squad to provide opportunities for the academy’s brightest and best – and the first part has already happened thanks to a bulk of departures across January and February.
That process will have to continue, not least due to the club’s worrying 2017/18 financial report that laid bare how out of control the wage bill had become. Replacing high earners with East, Olise, Jack Nolan, Tom McIntyre, Gabriel Osho, Andrija Novakovich, Coniah Boyce-Clarke and others will give Reading far more bang for their buck.
Gomes’ passion for the academy is clear to see, and should hopefully stand us in good stead in the coming years.
Simeon can be found on Twitter @SimFromBucks and his Reading fansite account is @TheTilehurstEnd.