Reading's pre-season hasn't been easy. Despite the financial issues caused by the pandemic, some clubs have been able to operate well in the market in the Championship. The same cannot be said for Reading.
The clubs' mass spending over the last few years has finally caught up with them, with the Royals breaching the EFL's profit and sustainability rules. The punishment has been a transfer embargo of sorts, with the club unable to buy players. The situation is set to be resolved soon, with the club in discussions with the EFL about how they can get out of this mess.
But with all things considered, how is Reading's squad shaping up for this season?
As previously mentioned, the club hasn't been able to bring anyone in so far this summer, so the only players coming in are ones that have come back from being on loan. Highly-rated goalkeeper Jokull Andresson and young striker Nahum Melvin-Lambert both returned from loans at Exeter City and St Patrick's Athletic respectively, although both have been loaned out again for this season. Andresson has stepped up a division to League One, as he joins Morecambe in their first-ever season in the third tier of English football, while Melvin-Lambert has returned to St Patrick's for the rest of the season.
Forgotten man Marc McNulty returned from a season in Scotland with Dundee United, but has been frozen out of the first-team, and is currently training with the U23's as the club look to offload him. Sam Walker and Sam Smith were out on loan, but have since been released by the club.
The club has had three players on trial so far this pre-season. They previously had former Watford left-back Achraf Lazaar and former West Bromwich Albion winger Kyle Edwards on trial and took them to Scotland for their pre-season camp. They also featured in the 0-3 defeat to West Ham United, but clearly failed to impress manager Veljko Paunovic, as they were both told they would not be offered deals. The club currently has winger Kadeem Harris on trial, who was released by Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the summer.
In terms of outgoings, there has been a lot of them, leaving the squad very thin. There are two key outgoings. The first being left-back Omar Richards, who left at the end of his contract to join German champions Bayern Munich. This departure leaves Reading with no senior left-backs going into the first game of the season.
The second and most important departure is that of Michael Olise, who left so join Premier League side Crystal Palace for a fee believed to be around £8 million, after they met his release clause. Olise was the EFL Young Player of the Year last season, racking up seven goals and 12 assists.
Other players that left were mainly backup players. Sone Aluko and Sam Baldock were both released, while Alfa Semedo and Tomas Esteves returned to their parent clubs after spending the season on loan.
The current squad
The current squad is bare, with only 15 first team players contracted. what is even more alarming is the fact that eight of those 15 contracts expire in 10 months time. Goalkeeper Rafael, right-backs Andy Yiadom and Felipe Araruna, centre-backs Tom Holmes and Michael Morrison and midfielders John Swift, Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent all have contracts expiring next summer.
The problem now is whether Reading can be able to tie these players down on new deals before they get snapped up on potentially free transfers in the summer. Another option is for the club to cash in on the players now while they have some decent market value. Some of the players have already been attracting interest, most recently Laurent, who won the club's player of the season award last season.
Reading have reportedly rejected a seven-figure bid for him from Nottingham Forest, who are set to make an improved offer. Forest have also registered interest in defender Holmes too, who Reading have offered a new and improved three-year deal. With both of them having less than a year left on their deals, the club may be forced to cash in rather than lose them on frees this summer.
The club not being able to bring anyone in is a big problem with a number of positions lacking depth. Left-back is a priority after the departure of Richards, While the Royals lack an experienced winger. Ovie Ejaria plays well but maybe lacks the pace, while Femi Azeez is only just coming through. A backup centre midfielder would also be a good buy, with only the Serbian youngster Dejan Tetek providing competition to Rinomhota and Laurent.
What's the latest on the finances?
So far, not much. Paunovic has said recently that the club is still working with the EFL to come to a solution, saying:
"We're still working with the league, conversations are ongoing, the best I can say is if we're allowed to progress in our financial situation we could have someone coming in. It could be possible this week."
It's progress, but nothing concrete. The problem has never been the fact that Reading doesn't have the money, it is that they haven't been able to spend it. When eventually the embargo goes, the club will spend the money, with an ambitious owner. This is why selling Laurent for a cheap price seems a bit pointless, as the money won't necessarily do anything to help the situation.
While Reading are currently in a sticky situation, there seems to be a small light at the end of the tunnel. If the embargo goes soon, they could spend to save their season, and spend big.