Since our Academy was set up in the summer of 1999, we have had success stories in abundance. The latest one came on Tuesday evening, when Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson became our first graduate to net a goal at the World Cup finals!
That stat was almost reached earlier in the tournament, but Gylfi’s spot-kick against Nigeria was off target. But, when Dejan Lovren handled in the box for Croatia, he was presented with another chance from 12 yards.
After joining our Academy in 2005, Gylfi would make his mark on youth-level games with nothing but the eyes of family members and coaching staff watching on at Hogwood Park. But, with the world watching, Sigurðsson slammed his spot-kick down the middle to get the Icelanders back on level terms against Croatia!
Unfortunately for Gylfi and his countrymen – which include another Academy graduate in Samúel Friðjónsson and current Royal Jón Daði Böðvarsson – it wasn’t enough. Pushing for a goal that would have given them a chance to progress to the second round, Iceland were caught out and conceded to a late Ivan Perišić winner.
But all at Reading are rightly proud to see one of our own playing and performing on the biggest stage… and making history for our Academy, too!
There are many ways of gauging success of an Academy – put producing players capable of playing international football is certainly one of them.
Two years ago in France, Hal Robson-Kanu became the first graduate of our Academy to score at the European Championship finals; a stunning goal against Belgium, which was later nominated for the FIFA Puskás Award, was a way to announce his presence on the European stage!
Joining him in the team at Euro 2016 was striker Simon Church, who netted five goals in 38 games for Wales; he spent a decade with Reading as an Academy and first-team player in total and was another to play internationally before retiring this summer. Jake Taylor, now at Exeter, has a single cap for Wales too – he replaced Robson-Kanu from the bench against Cyprus during Wales’ Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Shane Long has been part of two European Championship finals tournaments with the Republic of Ireland; an incredible 81 games and counting for the forward for his country is a good return… and a highlight, no doubt, was that match winner against reigning world champions Germany, during the qualification campaign that took his nation to Euro 2016! Fellow Academy graduate striker Simon Cox was one of his teammates during the Euro 2012 campaign too; he has earned 30 caps for the Boys in Green.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Michael Hector was part of a busy but incredible summer with Jamaica in 2015 (alongside then-Royals teammate Garath McCleary). After their involvement in the Copa América, where Hector lined up against Lionel Messi and Argentina (amongst others!), he played a key part in getting the Reggae Boyz to the final the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
They defeated the USA in the semi-final that year – and current Royal Andrija Novakovich is part of the new generation of young American players to break into the USMNT. He received the first of his two senior caps to date when he came off the bench against Paraguay earlier this year.
And the Royals have been represented at youth international level by simply too many to mention!
Our congratulations again to Gylfi on his World Cup goal… another feather in the cap of the Reading Academy!