If you were to venture onto the Reading FC hashtag when rumours of Nick Blackman’s departure first arose, initially you would have seen hearts breaking and many digs about Reading’s lack of ambition. That is not the whole picture, however, as many spoke up to say that the money being offered for the player was simply too good to turn down.
When the top goalscorer at a club is sold half-way through his last contracted season there is always going to be a multitude of opinions surrounding the issue. As Charles Watts, GetReading’s Reading FC Reporter, discovered these opinions will never be accepted by everyone as fans will always have their specific favourites in a squad.
To summarise, in his article Watts was of the opinion that selling Blackman at this point was a mistake and without him any thoughts of promotion should be tossed aside. Watts is not alone in his hypothesis, with a number of fans seeing no way forward now that Blackman has gone to Derby.
The thing is, football is and always has been a team sport. Yes, having talented individuals is a necessity if you are going to be one of the best sides, but you need to be able to rely on one another and work as a unit. Reading have built themselves a squad of high quality this season but it is a squad that has at times underachieved. As a result, the hopes and dreams of promotion have often relied on Blackman continuing to score goals.
It cannot be denied that Blackman has been an important figure in the Reading squad so far this season. He is the top scorer for the club so far with 13 goals in 28 games, has contributed over a third of Reading’s total goals and pretty much dominated the club’s Player of the Month vote in the first three months of the season. Most recently, it was his late goal against Bristol City at the Madejski that earned Reading the victory and three points in an underwhelming game.
While I am grateful for Blackman’s contributions this season and accept that without his goals Reading would probably be in a worse position in the table, his move in the January transfer window was the right decision in my opinion.
It had been well publicised that Blackman’s contract was going to run out in the summer and consequently Reading and the owners were running the risk of not being able to capitalise on his departure. Reading had tried to negotiate a new deal with the player but failed to make a breakthrough. If Blackman himself had already made the decision to not commit his future to the club, then it was the right choice to sell on at a time when clubs were willing to pay a hefty fee for him.
The benefit of Blackman’s transfer financially is clear for everyone to see, but I also feel that it will be a good move on the pitch. In recent weeks, the team has been somewhat over-reliant on Blackman’s scoring run but it has been nowhere near as prolific as the early stages of the season. When playing on the wing he has disappeared in games, offered little defensively and often made little impact in games. Blackman isn’t a winger, and when he was taking up the place of natural wingers such as Garath McCleary it was hard to see the benefit of playing him out wide.
With Orlando Sa and Matej Vydra in particular in the squad, it was also difficult for Blackman to be handed one of the attacking positions. When he was able to, he also found it difficult to find the space he wanted. While Blackman was scoring goals, however, it was even harder to leave him out of the squad entirely. The reliance on Blackman for goals will have also had a negative effect on the likes of Sa and Vydra. With them coming up with nowhere near the number of goals expected of them, confidence will have been knocked. We know that they are capable of scoring, however, with Vydra’s record with Watford and Sa’s hat-trick earlier in the season. Now that Blackman is gone it could go either way for the duo- they could grow in confidence now that they are the main men up front or they could collapse under the pressure.
What is important to note when discussing Blackman is his previous form at the club. Only last year, fans were calling for him to be sold after scoring just 5 goals in 43 appearances during the 2014/15 season. It was 4 in 31 the season before that and subsequently he has never been prolific during his time at Reading. Blackman has shown this year that he is capable of going on a scoring run and coming up with some spectacular goals but he is lacking in the consistency required to be the man to take Reading to the top division.
With Blackman now gone, Reading have the likes of Sa, Vydra, Rowan Liburd and returnee Simon Cox to rely upon as strikers. One problem with Blackman is that it was difficult to know what his actual position was. With the rumoured £4 million received from his transfer, it will be important to invest it back into the squad by ideally bringing in a new striker who clearly plays in that position.
The Royals have a number of wingers available to them- Garath McCleary, Ola John, Hal Robson-Kanu, the often absent Paolo Hurtado and Tariqe Fosu having returned from his loan being the obvious options. If need be, Brian McDermott also has the likes of Jordan Obita, Stephen Quinn and Lucas Piazon available to him in that position. Blackman has often been deemed selfish in the past and when playing on the wing looked to get through on goal himself rather than find a team-mate- Had he chosen to pick out someone else, how many more goals could the team have had? By now being able to play a natural winger, perhaps Reading will be more effective out wide.
Of course everything revolves around guess work- Would Blackman resume his form if played up front? Will Sa and Vydra get back to scoring ways now he is out the picture? Will McDermott reinvest by bringing a new striker in during the January window? Can Reading make a push for the play-offs? Only time will tell and there are plenty of games left to play this season.
What can be said, however, is that as time went on more focus was being placed on Blackman which was possibly detrimental to the Reading team as a whole. Now he has gone perhaps the focus can go back to squad in its entirety and the opportunity provided to someone else to step forward. While Blackman has been an important figure thus far this season, his transfer is certainly not the end of the world and if anything I feel it could have a positive impact.
It will be important for McDermott to re-invest the money from the Blackman transfer back into the squad and hopefully his Arsenal scouting past will come in handy. With so many players currently in on loan the priority will also be making a permanent addition. The manager has the opportunity to shape the team to his liking so it will be interesting to see what changes he makes over the next month.
Huddersfield away in the FA Cup will be the first opportunity to see what life without Blackman will be like, but I don’t think it will be as bad as some are imagining. If anything, it has the potential to be an improvement.