People always ask me what I get up to during an international break. The answer is, quite a lot. Years ago international games would be the preserve of Premiership players only but that’s no longer the case.
At Reading, like many Championship clubs, more than half our first team were called up to represent their countries which is, of course, a great honour for them. It also means there’s no real opportunity for the first team to train as a cohesive unit during this period.
As manager I feel responsible for all our players, whether they’re coming to Hogwood Training Ground to manage their injuries or playing internationally, so I always make sure I watch every international game they are involved in, either live or recorded.
This break was particularly memorable as so many players enjoyed key moments in their careers which I hope will stay with them for some time to come.
Alex Pearce was a sub in the Republic of Ireland’s hard earned 1-1 draw with world champions, Germany, while goalkeeper Adam Federici enjoyed a full 45 minutes for Australia as they lost 1-0 to Qatar.
Oliver Norwood set up the first goal as Northern Ireland were comfortable 2-0 winners over Greece while Hal Robson-Kanu scored for Wales in their crucial 2-1 win over Cyprus which kept them top of Group B.
Perhaps surpassing all of this though were the international debuts of two young Reading players - Hope Akpan, 23, for Nigeria and Jake Taylor for Wales.
Taylor, who’s 22, joined Reading as a wide eyed eight-year-old and has been at the club ever since progressing through the junior ranks, Academy and now into the first team.
Taylor’s rise from aspirational schoolboy to international debutant is testament both to his own ambition and discipline and to the structure of Reading’s Academy which is, undoubtedly, one of the best in the country.
When Taylor returned from international duty he told me it had been the best experience of his young life and training, and playing, alongside Gareth Bale had showed him how hard he needed to work on his own game, and fitness, if he wanted to make it at the very highest level.
He said the experience had left him totally inspired.
I hope they’ll be many more Jake Taylors in Reading’s first team in years to come. In fact the pathway to success is well established and I’d like to see us aim for a 50 per cent transition rate from Academy to first team. That would be a fantastic achievement and one I believe possible.
But all that takes time and commitment as well as an ability to be patient today in order to build and mould teams for tomorrow. Unless I give youngsters a chance to step up and experience life as a first team player the progression will be slower and less successful. That’s why I’ve given seven of the Under 21 squad a first team debut this season.
Away from the pitch the break is also a chance to enjoy the game and share my experiences with others. I was a guest speaker at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, at John Moores University in Liverpool where I gave an insight into professional football and how young students can make themselves more employable in the football sector.
I also managed a trip back to my home town, Birkenhead, and a time honoured tradition of watching Tranmere Rovers play at home to Plymouth with my Dad.
Back in Reading there was a chance to catch up with the wider community through a, ‘Meet the Manager’ question and answer evening, at the Stadium.
The fans are the life blood of any club so it’s important for me not only to interact with them but to hear their concerns, fears and aspirations. I always enjoy these evenings as it’s a chance to explain some of the philosophy behind our work, in a more intimate setting, and to give an insight into what we’re doing. In that way I hope everyone can enjoy, and understand, the club’s vision for the future.
During the break I also get regular updates on our injured players and we use the time to evaluate the fitness and endurance of those players who are not called away on international duty. Every player is tested at Solent University at the beginning of the season and then at various points throughout. The data we get back is invaluable in assessing how players respond to training and what, if anything, needs refining or adapting in the weeks and months ahead.
So, yes, it’s a break but it’s also an opportunity to observe other players within the club which is why I watch both Academy and Under 21 games. It may be a break from two Championship games a week, every week, but it’s never a break from football.