It emerged recently that former Reading loanee Lewis Baker is unhappy at his current club, Fortuna Dusseldorf. Baker joined the Bundesliga club in the summer for the duration of the season, again in search of the game time he’s not been given by parent club Chelsea, but it’s not been happy sailing for him.
The midfielder has barely played recently, despite a pretty promising start in Germany, and is believed to be upset at his situation. Few can blame him – he’s a promising 24 year-old, needs to settle at a club to properly kick on in his career, and wanted to do that with Fortuna.
Given the success of other Englishmen in the Bundesliga in recent years, like Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund and to a lesser degree former Reading man Reece Oxford at FC Augsburg, Baker’s career choice made sense.
Of course, plenty of Royals fans wanted Baker to have committed his future to Reading, such was his impact last season. Eventually settling as a deep-lying playmaker at the base of a three-man midfield, after initially playing further forwards, Baker’s technical ability and passing range stood out.
Such players are difficult to find. Having someone capable of getting on the ball in front of the defence, getting their head up and either playing an incisive forward pass or simply picking the right teammate out to retain possession, is valuable in any system.
So, if Reading did get the opportunity to bring back Baker, it’s a no-brainer right? Not quite.
On paper, his aforementioned qualities are ones that few others in the squad have – perhaps with the exception of the injured John Swift – and he’s at least at the level of other players in Reading’s midfield. But how would we fit him into that midfield?
Considering the current first-team picks – Andy Rinomhota, Swift and Ovie Ejaria – which of them drops out? Rinomhota was 2018/19’s player of the season and provides vital defensive balance, while one of Swift or Ejaria could well take the award in 2019/20 due to the impressive creativity they’ve shown.
Baker is certainly ahead of reserves Pele and Charlie Adam, although each of them provide useful defensive cover and experience respectively. But Baker wouldn’t be here to play second fiddle – he’d have to start.
Assuming none of the main three are injured, that means dropping one of Swift or Ejaria – not a wise decision – or changing the entire balance of the midfield to make a 4-4-2 diamond. That could well work, but would risk a lack of width and the full backs being exposed – all for the sake of fitting the team around Baker.
These aren’t minor issues – they’re ones that will surely face Mark Bowen if Baker does return, and they could negate any positive impact the loanee would have on the pitch. None of this is to say that Reading shouldn’t try to bring Baker back under any circumstances – but they should properly consider that transfer before doing so.