According to our recent Twitter poll, only 25% of the 251 Benfica fans surveyed feel that Ola John has a first-team future at the Estádio da Luz. So how has he been doing during his loan spell with Championship club Reading? We asked Dan Wimbush, editor of The Tilehurst End, the leading Reading FC fansite.
John was never a regular starter for Benfica. How much game-time has he had at Reading?
Under Steve Clarke, Ola found his opportunities limited, and it was only once Brian McDermott replaced him that John began to find a regular place in the starting lineup. That being said, once our league status was secured and our FA cup run was over, Ola has once again been relegated to the substitutes' bench. Overall, a return of just 8 league starts with only 2 games remaining is something that both clubs will probably be a little disappointed with.
Overall, how would you assess John's performances this season?
I like Ola and it is possible to see why Benfica paid such a large fee to bring him to Portugal in the not-so-distant past. He has got that excitement factor, and is one of those players who gets you on the edge of your seat when he is on the ball. However, when he is not on the ball he is a bit of a passenger, which is something that you cannot really get away with in the Championship. He certainly got better when McDermott arrived and gave him more of a chance, but he never really reached a level where you thought: ‘Wow, this guy can take on the world!'
Did the mid-season managerial change affect John? Did Steve Clarke or Brian McDermott trust him more?
McDermott has certainly given him more chances to impress, but both managers have said that John's fitness levels are a worry, and that is one of the big reasons why he has rarely started. When John starts you know that he is almost certainly going to fade after an hour and will need to be replaced, effectively burning a substitute option before you have even started. So he has been used more as an impact sub by both Clarke and McDermott.
John mainly played on the left wing at Benfica. Where has he been deployed at Reading, and where does he look most comfortable?
He has been used almost exclusively on the left-hand side, although he did have 30 minutes or so in central midfield a couple of games ago. He has been great at coming in from the left and either getting a shot away or cutting the ball back. I would certainly say that the wing is his best position, as he has not really got the fitness to last elsewhere.
Which of John's attributes have impressed you the most?
He is a very skilful player who is capable of beating his man and getting a ball in. He can also finish when given the chance, as shown by his goals at Charlton and Bolton. He is not overly quick but he is not slow either, and he is a bit stronger than your typical winger.
At Benfica, John was criticised for his poor decision-making in the final third. Any evidence of that at Reading?
Sadly so. There have been moments when you have thought: ‘What on Earth are you doing Ola?!’ That feeling peaked in the FA cup quarter-final with Crystal Palace when he missed our best chance in the first-half, which could have sent us to Wembley. He has been known to over-think things when in good positions, but he has been playing in a struggling team, so I cannot pin all of the blame on him!
John has a languid running style that led to accusations of laziness from some Benfica fans. How would you assess his workrate this season?
He has not been as bad as another Dutch winger that we have just said goodbye to in Royston Drenthe, but he is also not the dynamic all-round winger that we love around here. Calling him lazy would be unfair, but his fitness has not been good enough really, and that has impacted on his ability to help out defensively at times. He is a well-liked presence around the club though, so there is no ill feeling towards him.
The Reading supporters have given John his own song, something that is rare in Portugal. Is he popular among the fans?
Absolutely, he is one of the few players that has been able to get us off our seats in a poor season. His song is a combined one for him and Lucas Piazon, and it is probably the chant of the season in my book! The fans would love to see him stick around, but we realise that probably will not be viable.
John has stated publicly that he would be open to staying at the Madejski Stadium. Do Reading have the financial resources to sign him permanently?
Based on what we have seen and heard from our owners, probably not. I doubt we would be willing to fork out on the transfer fee that Benfica are after, or on the generous wages that he is bound to be on. Our Premier League parachute payments run out after this season, so a 2-3 year deal for John would seem very risky, especially given that while he has shown potential, we have only got 8 starts out of him. Never say never, but I would be surprised to see him return.
Has John found his level in the Championship, or could he impress at Benfica or a Premier League club?
If he sorts out his fitness levels, he could certainly be a good option for a top Championship club or even a lower Premier League team. I would say that he is not really of European quality right now. At 23, he has still got time, but unless he gets himself into better shape then he is destined to be a squad player, either in England or abroad. I would love to see him succeed as he is a very likeable guy, but the clock is ticking.