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Conversion not creation the problem for Reading FC

The Boot Room

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Reading’s 2014/15 season was salvaged by an unlikely run in the FA Cup. They stuttered and stumbled their way to a Wembley semi-final against Arsenal, and as is so often the way of these things, then suddenly looked like a different side able to compete with the very best.

The truth of last season may have been that it is difficult to get yourself motivated for a game against fellow midtable opposition in the Championship – whereas a cup run has its own magic.

As we settle into the rhythms of this season, Reading’s form has been lukewarm. An off-season clearing out the deadwood and rebuilding the squad means many players who find themselves in the first team still need time to bed in.

Reading are creating chances. As of last weekend, they led the Football League with 69 shots attempted, and also led it on shots against, with the Berkshire side’s defence allowing just 21 efforts on goal. That’s a hefty 3.29 shots taken per each allowed.

Worryingly though, this comes in the midst of a run of home games without a goal. Reading have failed to score in six consecutive home games, a run stretching back to 4th April. Worse, with the departure of Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, no one in the current squad has a home goal in the league this calendar year.

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The Royals’ attacking woes were evident for all of last season, with Crystal Palace loan man Glenn Murray finishing the season top scorer with eight goals – despite playing his last game for the club on Boxing Day.

All in all, it makes for bleak viewing at the Madejski Stadium.

When you’ve gone so long without a goal at home, it becomes the first thing on the mind of every supporter as soon as the final whistle has blown – “how many minutes without a goal is it now?”

In the 1978-79 season, Reading goalkeeper Steve Death went 1,074 minutes without conceding – a record that was only beaten 30 years later by Edwin van der Sar in goal for Manchester United. Reading FC’s own goalless streak at home currently stands at 624 minutes. When you’ve come so far, it almost seems a shame not to go for the record…

The aching weight of those minutes, and the burden of the expectation from the crowd, will inevitably be having an effect. Worse still is that the expectation is not a positive one – instead, the Madejski Stadium crowd now audibly anticipates failure. A misplaced pass is typical. Of course he skewed that cross. I knew he’d scuff that shot.

Under that kind of scrutiny, even the hardiest of souls will begin to feel the pressure. Goalkeepers and strikers, more than their comrades elsewhere on the field, cannot allow this to get to them. More so than those comrades the roles at either end of the field are reflexive and instinctual. Thinking is the enemy, you just have to act – if you’re worried about failure, worried about hearing fifteen thousand people tut at you in unison, you dramatically increase the risk of just that occurring.

Royals manager Steve Clarke has made moves to bolster his attacking options during the transfer window, bringing in Portuguese striker Orlando Sa, and making several bids for Rapid Wien frontman Robert Beric.

Unfortunately for Clarke, the market for strikers is especially hot at the moment. With Andre Grey moving between Championship clubs for a hefty £9million, Benik Afobe the subject of £10million bids, and Charlie Austin surrounded by £15million rumours, the days of finding a reliable scorer at a reasonable price seem to be behind us.

Just four years ago, Reading signed Adam le Fondre from Rotherham for a fee of just £350,000. Le Fondre came with more than 100 league goals under his belt, albeit at a lower level. By contrast, Afobe, briefly a Reading loanee himself, has barely 100 senior appearances, and somewhere in the vicinity of 20 goals. Afobe is certainly a talent, and much of his somewhat pricey valuation will stem from the desire of Wolves to retain his services, but this is an especially hot kitchen to be working in.

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Afobe’s former manager Arsene Wenger is of the opinion that the transfer window, rather than encouraging the use of home grown talent, actively discourages it by making it too big a risk to go into half a season taking a gamble on the rapid development of a youth star. It seems that this risk aversion has reached such a level of prevalence that teams are willing to pay significantly inflated sums for an identified talent – rather than risk a step up, or attempt to develop talent.

Norwich City, the club responsible for Afobe’s £10million bid, as well as interest in £8million Dwight Gayle from Crystal Palace, need a goalscorer and cannot afford to take any risks. Newly promoted and correspondingly precarious, a closed window leaves them struggling through the months of September, October, November and December before they are once again able to strengthen. In short, they are desperate to do a deal.

The transfer window is a flawed system, warping the market and dangerously inflating transfer fees. It’s unsustainable and encourages financial overreach.

It’s time it was looked at again.

Featured image: some rights reserved by Crystian Cruz.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers

Goncalo Guedes and Andre Gomes would make Wolves top-six contenders

Wolves have been linked with a move for the Portuguese pair this week.

Mathew Nash

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Wolverhampton Wanderers fans are getting used to seeing their team linked with big names. But two of the players linked in the last seven days would truly take the club to a new level. The Portuguese pairing of Barcelona’s Andre Gomes and PSG’s Goncalo Guedes are both being linked with moves to Molineux.

Of course, the common denominator is their agent. Jorge Mendes represents both players and has previously facilitated their moves to Valencia.

Now both players are said to be available at their clubs, who are trying to balance Financial Fair Play.

According to The Sun, the Barcelona midfielder Gomes is available for around £30 million. Guedes, who was chosen to lead the line with Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup recently, is set to be sold by the French champions who need to balance their books in the eyes of UEFA.

(Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

According to Get French Football, PSG need to raise around £53 million by July from player sales. The club wants a fee of up to €60 million (£52 million) for the player but there appears an acceptance that €45 million (£39.3 million) might get the job done.

If Wolves have that sort of money available from the Fosun group then spending nearly £70 million on the Portuguese dup would be a magical piece of business.

Both are excellent commodities who would walk into many of the top clubs in European football. If Wolves were to actually bring them in, with talk of Rui Patricio also abounding, then they would be serious contenders for the Premier League top six next season.

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Leeds United

Should Uwe Rosler offer Pawel Cibicki a Leeds United escape route?

The Swedish forward has struggled to make an impact at Leeds United.

Mathew Nash

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Last summer Leeds United beat off plenty of competition to sign Swedish attacker Pawel Cibicki from Malmo. As reported by The Sun the forward cost Leeds a fee in the region of £1.5 million and it seemed a wise deal. Capable of playing anywhere across the front-line the Malmo star was known to current Leeds star Pontus Jansson and looked something of a coup.

That has not been the case.

(Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The 24-year-old played just 10 times for Leeds this season and despite impressing some fans, even bagging two assists, he was not given a prolonged chance under either Thomas Christiansen or Paul Heckingbottom.

Therefore, his future seems to be away from Elland Road and perhaps a return to Malmo would be the best option for the player.

If he did so he would be joining up with someone else who knows all about the brittle nature of a Leeds career. Uwe Rosler was recently appointed the new boss at the Swedish powerhouse.

The German lasted just 12 games as Leeds manager before being given the ceremonial axe by ‘manager-eater’ and former chairman Massimo Cellino.

Now he is being tasked with taking Malmo to the next level and fans at the club would love to see Cibicki back at the Swedbank Stadium. It could prove to be a match made in Leeds reject heaven.

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Leeds United

Leeds United should target Marcelo Bielsa teacher’s pet Stephane Sparagna

Leeds United’s new boss was a big fan of Sparagna at Marseille.

Mathew Nash

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Leeds United have completed one of the more eye-catching managerial appointments in Championship history, with the appointment of Argentine legend Marcelo Bielsa before the weekend.

The former Athletic Bilbao and Marseille boss is a cult hero in the sport for his revolutionary tactics and influence on some of the best young managers in the world today.

He also often sees things in certain players that others don’t. He can make a player thrive, who then falls away once he departs. Aurtenetxe at Athletic Bilbao a prime example. From playing in the Europa League final and being on the verge of the Spanish national team, to being released by Dundee.

Another player who fits this bill is French central defender Stephane Sparagna.

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Bielsa plucked him from the reserves back in 2014 just as his Marseille career appeared to be dwindling away. Bielsa quickly turned him into a squad regular and soon Arsenal were snooping. When Bielsa left, Sparagna fell out of favour – with injuries also a contributing factor.

But Bielsa’s influence cannot be understated. Sparagna said so himself, telling Europe1 Sports that the Argentine was the ‘only one who believed in him.’

Nowadays the 23-year-old is impressing in Portuguese football with Boavista but Leeds need a new central defender. They need players Bielsa can trust, especially if a three at the back formation is implemented at Elland Road.

The former French youth international underwent corrective knee surgery in May but is expected back for the new season.

Considering he would be an affordable, trustworthy former Bielsa product in a position that Leeds need reinforcements, Sparagna would be a welcome recruit.

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