We’ve got a lot of talent throughout our Academy age-groups right now. And they are on a path well-trodden.
If any of them needed role-models to aspire to, what better place to look than all of those that have gone before them?
In the past 12 months, boys who learned their trade under the watchful eye of our Academy have gone on to earn some big achievements. Here’s half a dozen of them…
The world’s oldest cup competition keeps delivering its charm, year on year. And that was certainly the case for Daniel Spence’s Sutton United and Sean Long’s Lincoln City.
Both sides were eliminated by eventual champions Arsenal, but not before dishing out some stunning results that smacked of the competition’s ‘magic’. Both entered the competition at the fourth qualifying round… Sutton dispensed with teams including AFC Wimbledon and Leeds en route to the fifth round, while Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley were all knocked out by Lincoln on their pathway to the quarter-final.
No mean feat for those two former Royals and their teammates!
Michael Hector’s first loan move saw him make four appearances for Bracknell Town. His most recent one, where he spent the season with Eintracht Frankfurt as a Chelsea loanee, handed him the opportunity to play in front of 74,322 people in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, competing against Borussia Dortmund for the DFB-Pokal.
On home soil, Shane Long netted at Anfield to seal an aggregate win in the semi-final of the EFL Cup, which earned him a chance to play against Manchester United at Wembley for the prize.
Sadly, both were on the losing side in the finals against their much-favoured opponents. But brilliant achievements nevertheless.
Four boys from our Academy added promotion to their CV this summer. The first of which was Craig Tanner, who made 36 appearances in his second spell on loan with Plymouth, and settled the score after missing out in the play-off final the previous year. This time they went up automatically with three games to spare.
And then Bolton – with the help of Jem Karacan and James Henry, who had first played together as 14-year-olds in our Academy – earned promotion on the final day of the League 1 campaign. No better time for Jem to step up with his maiden goal for the Trotters than by getting the ball rolling in that 3-0 win over Peterborough! Finally, Jake Cooper’s loan club Millwall were able to see off the threat of Bradford in their play-off final, booking a place in the Championship.
Three more missed out narrowly – Jake Taylor, Pierce Sweeney and Jack Stacey all featured at Wembley for Exeter, only to miss out to Blackpool in their League 2 play-off final. Lawson D’Ath and Stuart Moore had also lost to the Tangerines over two legs in the semis with Luton.
For the second year running, Icelander Gylfi Sigurdsson has been voted by Swansea City supporters as their Player of the Season.
It hasn’t been an easy couple of years in South Wales; the Swans have been battling against the drop. But when the chips are down, that’s when you need a big personality to step up – which is precisely what Gylfi has done. An ever-present, he contributed 11 goals and 13 assists (the latter stat being the third-highest in the Premier League).
And, according to the Swans’ Twitter account in mid-March, he had covered 318.2km in league action at that point… more than any other player in the top tier! Not a blade of grass hadn’t seen the underside of Gylfi’s boots.
It wasn’t just domestically that Sigurdsson impressed. Across June and July last summer, he was an architect of Iceland’s stunning run to the quarter-final of Euro 2016 on their first ever international tournament finals… (not that England supporters will thank us for reminding them!)
Meanwhile, Wales were also ripping up the history books. Making their first appearance at a major tournament since 1958, the Dragons were broadly tipped to exit at the group stage. But with Hal Robson-Kanu and Simon Church offering options in attack, they earned a place in the semi-final where they finally fell to eventual winners Portugal.
Robson-Kanu’s remarkable goal in the quarter-final – about which our skipper Paul McShane said he had ‘just sent 3 Belgians for a burger’ – was listed on the shortlist for the prestigious Puskas Award at the end of the year.
Last, but by no means least, we had another great year here at Madejski Stadium for our Academy’s involvement in our first team. No less than 185 appearances in senior squads were made by youngsters who had been developed right here.
The biggest beneficiary was Liam Kelly, who impressed incoming gaffer Jaap Stam sufficiently to become a regular in the senior squad throughout the campaign. His first league start didn’t come until December, but he made a total of 34 appearances before the end of the campaign! And in January, he secured the supporters’ Player of the Month vote.
Jordan Obita passed the 150 mark for appearances in Reading colours, while Jake Cooper, Dominic Samuel, Tennai Watson, Zak Jules, Craig Tanner, Stuart Moore and George Legg were all involved in first-team matchdays.
Read more about all of our Academy graduates who have made first team appearances below...