On the day that David Beckham was left out of Steve McClaren's first England squad, another famous former Man-chester United and England winger was ducking all invitations to supply an easy quote. "I've got enough to think about," said Steve Coppell, preparing promoted Reading for their first season among the élite. "Anyway, footballers? We are all just ships that pass in the night."
His tone changed when he was asked about Kevin Doyle, the 22-year-old Irish striker who contributed so much to Reading's domination of the Coca-Cola Championship. "I think he did more for us last season than we could have hoped and more than he dreamed of," said Coppell. "He's got what it takes to become a really top player. It's not just about his goals. It's his all-round game." The enthusiasm was genuine.
Coppell spoke at Reading's pre-season media open day at the Madejski Stadium. The pitch shimmered, paintwork shone and the players were all smiles and warm anticipation. Their season starts on Saturday with a home fixture against Middlesbrough. Four days later they visit Aston Villa before an end-of-month trip to Wigan. Reading will learn a lot about their potential by the end of August.
Coppell did not look worried. Nor did Doyle, understandably. The scorer of 18 goals in his first 45 appearances, not to mention as many assists, is relishing the opportunity not only to play in the Premiership, but also to continue his development. He is, he adds, looking forward to a trip to Old Trafford, home of his once-favourite club Manchester United, on 30 December.
"I used to be mad on Manchester United," he admitted. "But when I got to 16 or 17, for some reason, it just went." One of the results of his passion for United, however, was that he grew up admiring two players in particular: Eric Cantona and Andy Cole.
"They were two totally different players, but I liked them both," he said, in explanation of the versatile nature of his interpretation of the striker's arts. "I like the ball over the top, of course, because that is the simplest and you just run straight in on goal, but I also like to turn with the ball and to run at defenders. I think it's best to vary it a bit, otherwise the defenders get to know what you are doing."
Clever running, quick thinking and a high level of technical proficiency have helped Doyle in his rise from virtual unknown to full international. His selection by Steve Staunton for the Republic of Ireland's friendly against Holland is expected to see him win his third cap little more than a year after moving from Cork City, where he scored 23 goals in 21 appearances, following Coppell's persistence to sign him.
"The thing was that he came over himself to watch," said Doyle, who is from Wexford. "A lot of clubs just had scouts watching me, but he took time out himself. When I knew they were interested, I asked around the other lads who had been to England, and they all said Reading was a great club to go to. I was lucky. I got here and it was one of those years for everyone."
He said Coppell had asked him to carry on doing his natural thing. " 'Do what you do, get on the ball and take players on', he told me," said Doyle. "He gives a few words of advice and some pointers before games, too. But nothing too complicated. I don't think he wants to change me."
That could be bad news for defenders. Having missed a year as a teenager because of the knee complaint Osgood-Schlatter Disease, Doyle has been making up for lost time. He played for Adamstown, Wexford, and then St Patrick's Athletic, in Dublin, where the manager was Pat Dolan, whose brother Eamonn runs the Reading academy. When Dolan went to Cork, Doyle followed, and was converted from a right-winger to a striker. Goals and plaudits followed. Now he is relishing another step up.
"If we can get some results early - and it is good to be at home in our first game - then we can build some belief that we are good enough," he said. "And then I think we can spiral up from there. I think the whole of the Reading team is a bit of an unknown quantity to most people, so that is a bit of an advantage. At least, I hope it is."Reuse content