Yesterday, Reading announced the signing of Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak after he was granted a work permit.
He has joined on a free transfer having after his six month contract at Fulham ended. He couldn’t agree terms in extending his contract, and Reading offered the player better wages and a four-year contract that he wouldn’t get at Craven Cottage, meaning he will turn out for the Berkshire outfit next season.
So who is he? Twenty-eight year-old Pogrebnyak has spent most of his career in Russia, helping Zenit St Petersburg to win the UEFA Cup in 2008 as the tournament’s top scorer. His form in Russia earned him a move to German team Stuttgart, where he played for three years before joining Fulham in January 2012.
Although he only played in twelve games last season for Fulham having joined in January, he scored six goals, including an unprecedented five goals in his first three games.
Having impressed during his short spell in West London, Pogrebnyak is an exciting prospect for the Royals who look to establish themselves in the Premier League after gaining promotion last season.
He had the best chance conversion rate for Fulham last season, scoring with 46% of his chances. To put this into comparison, fellow Fulham forward Clint Dempsey had a conversion rate of 16%, while the two most talked-about January signings, Everton’s Nikica Jelavic and Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse only had rates of 29% and 37% respectively.
This shows that in his short Premier League career he was one of the most productive strikers.
You’d expect Pogrebnyak to start straight away, considering his record and Reading’s lack of efficiency going forward. Both Southampton and West Ham scored more goals than Reading in the Championship last season, and super-sub Adam Le Fondre was the team’s top scorer with just twelve. As we have seen in years before, promoted teams who can’t score enough goals go straight back down, which is why signings such as these are necessary to ensure survival.
Pogrebnyak is heavily left-footed, and his physical frame including his height of 6’2’’ makes him an ideal target man. Should Reading utilise a direct style of play next season, expect him to hold up the ball and spread the play to one of the teams strengths, the wingers. And of course, he will be expected to chip in with some goals himself.
He could line up in a traditional little and large partnership alongside either Noel Hunt or Le Fondre, perhaps even Jordan Rhodes depending on whether the transfer rumours are true.
He could even work in a 4-5-1 formation which he has played in for the Russian national side. On away days against the tougher sides, this sort of formation could give some defensive help should Reading need to park the bus.
The only other Reading striker who could physically compete with some of the bigger centre backs in the division is Jason Roberts, but the 34-year-old can’t be relied upon to consistently perform to a high standard.
That is why Pogrebnyak will be under pressure, because he will be expected to perform straight away, Reading’s top flight survival depends on it. And although no transfer fee was required to bring him to Berkshire, he is most likely the highest earner in the squad having only played a few months of football in the country.
It’s a bold move, and an exciting one from the perspective of a fan.
I just can’t wait to see him start against Stoke in just over six weeks time.