Just days after facing Reading for the Red Devils of Crawley, Hope Akpan switches from Red to Blue and White.
So what do we know about Akpan? He's 21, he's tall and he's a graduate of Everton's academy having been a regular in the Under-18s and reserves throughout 2007 and 2008, signing professionally in November 2008. But that's where his "pedigree" ends. He never made a league appearance for Everton (though he was amongst the substitutes in a few of Everton's league games during the 09-10 season), he played a few pre-season games, though he did play 82 minutes of Everton's Europa League game against BATE Borisov in December 2009. However, as Toffeeweb.com says of his performance: "He didn't play a great game unfortunately, looking way out of his depth at this level. He didn't look very assured in the centre-midfield position, his first touch was shocking, his passing was wayward, and he looked off the pace."
He never made another appearance for Everton; he was loaned to newly relegated Hull City during 2010-11 but only started one game and made one sub appearance. When he returned to Everton he was released, being surplus to requirements. In June 2011 he signed for newly promoted back into the Football League Crawley Town, where he has remained until now.
So what of his time at Crawley in the last two seasons? Last season he appeared for the Red Devils 33 times in the League and Cup, scoring twice, however he wasn't played in the latter rounds of Crawley's FA Cup run to the 5th round, coming on as sub twice with barely 5 minutes remaining in the games against Bristol City and Hull City. His season was also marred by the posting of homophobic comments on his Twitter account, and though he denied posting the comments he admitted the charge.
This season he's played in all but 5 of Crawley's League 1 games scoring 4 goals in the process, and scoring twice in three League Cup games, scoring against Millwall and Swansea. He of course played the full 90 minutes against us on Saturday, so the Reading fans got a good look at him, or did they?
Having been at the game I must admit not to noticing him a great deal, he was tall, he passed the ball well, but he didn't do a great deal to "wow" me. Maybe that's the sign of a good midfielder? Go about your job in as efficient and tidy manner as possible, without making too many mistakes along the way. He has age on his side, and with a three year contract he'll have time to integrate into the team, but is he the kind of player that Reading should be signing at the moment?
In my opinion no, what we need to keep us away from relegation is experience, and Akpan just doesn't have this, even at League 1 level, 47 games is hardly enough experience. However am I going to write Akpan off? Also no, he deserves a chance, and there must be a reason (even if it is building for the potential return to the Championship next season) why we've signed him, Nicky Hammond says on the Reading FC website "It is very important we continue to identify and develop young players that we feel can play at this level". McDermott notes that Reading have known about Akpan for a "very long time" and also believes he's a player that can play at Premier League level, of course that remains to be seen. The only problem is we now have no games (bar the almost meaningless U21 games*) to blood him in under "no lose" circumstances as he's cup tied. This transfer doesn't exactly show off our ambition and I hope that he's not another young player who promises so much but never [gets a chance to] delivers.
Briefly let's look at the flipside; he could be a very astute signing. A few players have come to the Premier League from League 1 and performed, for example Anthony Pilkington, who continually puts in impressive performances at Norwich City. Personally I hope McDermott has unearthed another diamond though of course, only time will tell.
So welcome Hope Akpan, good luck for the rest of the season. The question has to be though; will Akpan help to pull Reading away from relegation trouble? We'll see...over to you Akpan!
*As a note, Akpan played in the U21 game against QPR, coming on at half time, playing alongside Daniel Carrico before he was revealed to have signed for the club.