Another transfer window rolls around, and another teenager is the talk of the town. Michael Olise is a little different however.
Maybe it is the new digital age of football analytics. Or maybe it is that the standard and appreciation of the Championship has risen sharply in recent years. Either way, a young talent cutting their teeth in the second tier is seen as vogue property.
Reading’s Michael Olise is one of the latest to do so. This season he has not only shot to prominence however, but blown the league wide open. At nineteen, his potential is frightening.
‘From the age of nine, Michael has been the best player for his age in the country’ reminisces Sean Conlon, CEO at We Make Footballers.
This kind of sentiment make it unsurprising then that Olise played for two of the most acclaimed academies by fifteen; Chelsea and Manchester City. Yet it was at grassroots level that Sean first came across this unique young talent.
‘He was seven years old, playing for his grassroots team Hayes. I was in charge of the development programme at QPR, and had heard Hayes had a top talent. So I went to the game, and he was outstanding.’
‘On that day there were a lot of players who had been well trained. Michael at that stage had not had much coached football. it was just his raw abilities on display. What stood out was his physical movement, he glides across the pitch. He was so sharp, clean turns with a great technique.’
Olise was training with Arsenal at this point. It is common for young players to sound out the local academies, trying to find the right fit. Sean likens it to choosing a school, and tasting what each environment has to offer. Whilst Michael and his family were gauging his next steps, the We Make Footballers club represented another step.
‘It made sense for Michael to move across from Hayes to us, ahead of the under eights season. He signed for Chelsea as an under nine, up to fourteen. We represented a good step for his development alongside playing at an elite academy.’
There lay a special talent in young Michael Olise. Whoever would harness it would reap extraordinary rewards.
The Next Steps
If Olise’s trajectory at this point had been typical, the next years would work a rerouted nature.
‘Michael left Chelsea by mutual consent, then took a small break from academy football. Then he went into Reading, and really found his feet.’
‘Most English based players start at their clubs at seven or eight. It is very normal to not commit to a club until they find one that fits their family’s needs.’
It might be easy to look at these academy stints as being pressurised, or even harmful. For every Jadon Sancho that rises through an elite academy to the summit, there are countless names that fall through the cracks. However to label these institutions as talent minesweepers is inaccurate, and fails to acknowledge the educational role they play in developing players. Even those that leave their books at tender ages.
‘Coaches are amazing with the young kids, they educate the parents about the process. The education Michael got in his time at Chelsea shaped the player he is today.’
‘They worked and helped him with his technique, to reach his physical potential. He probably doesn’t realise some of these things now. Things like his game understanding would have been shaped at Chelsea.’
‘His journey is nothing against Chelsea. It was just the right time to come out, and find a different way into professional football.’
The final push
During his break from football, Sean continued to work with Michael.
‘It was an opportunity for Michael and other ex-academy players to showcase themselves in front of scouts.’
Yet even in his time out from the game, Olise continued to turn heads wherever he went.
‘I invited him to play in my adult seven-a-side team. It wasn’t the best standard, but there were still twenty eight year old men, semi pros playing. Michael was fourteen and was the best player on the pitch. No one could believe how young he was. The space he would find, the way he would move players around. He was incredible.’
‘He has always played with his brain. Not looking to compete physically, but using his mind to play.’
Olise would join up with the Reading academy that same year. A swift ascension through the youth ranks would see him climb to the under 23s in 2019. That same year, he would make his first team debut against Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United.
Reading fan account The Tilehurst End remembers his introduction fondly.
‘At that time fans had heard of him, but his talent hadn’t gone mainstream in the fanbase. He made a couple more appearances that season, but it was his start at home to Birmingham City on the final day (as a right winger in a 4-3-3) that really announced Olise to Reading fans.’
Reading endured an uninspiring period prior to Olise’s debut in March 2019. A third placed finish in 2016/17 and coming seventh in 2013/14 were highlights having been relegated in 2012/13.
These highs were predicated with finished of nineteenth, seventeenth, twentieth and twentieth in 2014/15, 15/16, 17/18 and 18/19. Olise would make his debut in March of that latter season under Jose Gomes, the club’s sixth manager since the end of the 2013 season.
Olise signed a professional contract in the Summer of 2019, Gomes too would depart in October. It was under Mark Bowen’s management that Olise would get his first run in the senior side. Yet despite flashes of brilliance, he bore the inconsistencies of a young talent in a middling side. One assist in thirteen league starts demonstrates this feet finding period.
However there were signs of a special talent.
‘His potential was certainly clear last season, when he played regularly in the back half of the campaign, leading to some summer speculation that he’d be snapped up by a bigger club. But he was still a pretty raw talent at that stage as his end product was often frustrating; he only managed one assist in the 2019/20 league campaign.’
A 1-1 draw away at Nottingham Forest was the brightest Olise shaped spot for fans that year.
‘Olise had played and started in the league before, but he’d not really had a proper run in the team, despite fans being keen on him getting a chance. This was apparently due to him not working hard enough off the ball. However, when he was finally given an opportunity to start on the right in a 4-2-3-1 at the City Ground, he put in a hard-working, mature shift to keep Reading solid defensively.’
Matching attacking exuberance with defensive dedication is a recipe for fan endearment. This would lay the foundation for the next season, and an explosion that few could have foreseen.
Exploding in 2020
At the time of writing Olise, still just nineteen, leads the Championshipwith eight assists. Second is Harvey Elliott with six, another of Sean’s tutees.
0.73 goals and assists per ninety minutes is a monstrous return, bettered only by five others in the league. Olise is mixing it with big creative guns in Emiliano Buendia and David Brooks. Two creators with proven Premier League pedigree, and similarly attracting the eyes of the elite.
As Sean saw in that young boy twelve years ago, Olise is endearing fans aesthetically too.
‘His close control with the ball at his feet is excellent, as are his shimmies and bursts of pace to find room to work in, not to mention his positivity in possession – he’s always getting his head up and looking for an opening.’ says The Tilehurst End.
Michael Olise possesses the fleet footedness and movement of a traditional winger. Yet his match intelligence and weight of pass make him a threat from anywhere in an attacking midfield capacity.
‘He’s capable of playing as an orthodox right or left winger, inside forward, number 10 or deeper-lying playmaker. This season he’s looked particularly comfortable as a number ten.’
A late winner against QPR was both breathtaking and unsurprising for any that have worked with Olise. With just minutes left, and the game ebbing to a draw, the teenager sets out with the ball. Collecting it by the halfway line, he appears to be veering aimlessly wide, controlled by his marker.
Yetas two defenders encroach, he chops back and feeds a teammate. A smart backheel rolls the ball back into Olise’s stride twenty or so yards from goal. A light touch sets himself before arcing a shot into the far bottom corner. Effortlessly sophisticated, yet also performed under severe pressure. Still just nineteen.
‘People might perceive what he does on the pitch as arrogance. The top players, like Ibrahimovic, also have that swagger to play like that. Yet off the pitch he is a humble guy with strong family values.’ affirms Sean.
Sitting amongst company such as Buendia and Brooks marks a rapid trajectory to Olise. From one goal involvement in the entirety of 2019/20, the teenager is putting up elite creative figures this term. Across the top two tiers of English football, only Harry Kane has recorded more assists. Yet from Sean’s experience, this is unlikely to affect Olise’s mentality.
‘He is a very cool kid. Very likeable, with an inner confidence. Everyone likes him. No footballer has a straightforward journey to success. Whatever setbacks he has faced, he has had the character to overcome.’
He is also contributing to a promising Reading side. After twenty three games the Royals are fifth, and the third highest scorers. That they have made more ‘one on one’ dribbles, and suffered more fouls than any other team, shows a fluid and progressive attacking unit. In Michael Olise and Ovie Ejaria, Reading possess two elite ball carriers, and fitting them into the team together has been integral to their improved form.
‘It gave us a little bit of a tactical headache in the second half of last season as Olise’s rise meant we had three attacking midfielders to fit into the side at the same time – the others being Ovie Ejaria and John Swift. That was often solved by playing Ejaria on the left of a 4-2-3-1 and Swift as the deepest-lying playmaker in the double pivot.’ says The Tilehurst End.
Such structure has afforded Michael Olise license in attacking areas to make impactful runs and passes. A player of Olise’s nature will require structure and competent runners around him, and in Ejaria and Lucas João he has just that. For all the talk of a potential transfer to the Premier League, Olise and co. may just reach the top table by themselves.
The Bigger Picture
Michael Olise represents everything We Make Footballers stands for. Sean’s aim in setting up the company was to contribute to England’s rise to become the world’s best footballing nations. One day to help win a World Cup even.
Olise may have elected to represent France internationally (his mother is French), but his development is part of the company’s national ethos.
‘As well as Michael, Lewis Richards of Wolves, Matthew Dennis of Norwich, Nathan Moriah-Welsh at Bournemouth. All came through that same year as Michael with us.’
An immensely talented crop born after 2000. Like Michael, they too have forged unusual paths to where they are, via academies and academy exits. It is players such as these that both demonstrate the benefits of elite youth ranks, but also the use of forging an individual path.
It is strong testament to the work of people like Sean that these talents are afforded opportunities beyond the academy they were raised in. The ambition of being central to England’s World Cup aspirations seems suddenly more realistic when the likes of these teenagers are being cultivated.
One Step Beyond
This feature will not be the only published analysis of Michael Olise this month. His terrific form and being just a teenager have brought attention, from fan groups to tabloids. Any team deemed to require creative thrust have been linked with his name.
Whether that step is required just yet is uncertain. Technically, Michael Olise possesses all the craft of a Premier League attacker. Whether Reading fans are ready to see him leave is another debate.
‘At this rate of improvement he’ll be ready in the summer to step into the Premier League. He’ll naturally need some bedding-in time – being eased into top-flight football in his first season before having a bigger impact a year or so later.’ says The Tilehurst End.
The nature of transfer speculation means that as long as Olise is a Reading player, talk of the Premier League will follow his every step. Yet this is a young man that has taken bold steps before, and been rewarded for his bravery.
‘I would trust and back whatever Michael wants to do. He has a strong idea of where he wants to be and where he wants to go. He will be focused on getting Reading promoted, and repaying that loyalty they’ve shown in him. ‘ says Sean.
If his story teaches one thing it is bravery. So many could have been discouraged at leaving Chelsea. Reece James, Trent Alexander Arnold and Marcus Rashford are examples of young stars that have shot through the age ranks to play for their senior team.
Michael Olise’s route has been less direct. Much like one of his beautiful dribbles at goal, it has slalomed and jinked through obstacles. He is now bearing down on his goal, the stage for him to go up a level. Don’t expect him to snatch, instead wait for him to caress into his next move, and become a French star.