Short odds on Long moving into top flight

Championship's top scorers traditionally move to Premier League but Reading's striker is still waiting
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The Independent Football

One way or another, players who finish as the top goalscorer in the Championship tend to win promotion to the Premier League the following season. Either they go up by right with their club or are sold to a top-flight team ready to invest in a proven scorer.

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But for Shane Long it has been a different story this summer, and the Reading striker is still waiting for his big-money move. He scored 28 goals last season, more than anyone else in the division. Although he finished one League goal behind Watford's Danny Graham, who scored 24, he also scored twice in the FA Cup, and three times for the Republic of Ireland.

At 24, he was expected to be snapped up when the campaign came to a close. Especially after John Madejski, Reading's millionaire chairman, admitted after his side's play-off final defeat by Swansea that it was "certain" Long would not be at the club next term. However, unlike Graham, who moved to the Swans for £3.5 million weeks after the campaign finished, Long is likely to start Reading's first game of the season at the Madejski Stadium against Millwall on Saturday.

So why has he not gone? Over the past decade, all but two of the top scorers in the second tier have gone on to play in the Premier League the following season. The exceptions are Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, who went up the next year with Wolves anyway, and Peter Whittingham, who no doubt thought last season would be Cardiff City's year after the arrival of Craig Bellamy. Ironically, Cardifflost to Long's Reading in the play-off semi-finals.

Any possible transfer has been dragged out because of his expensive price tag and Reading's business nous. The middle-to-lower Premier League sides have been unwilling to match the £8m valuation.

Unlike many other clubs, Reading are run as a business. Selling the best players is essential to balance the books. They have always operated in this way, and they will continue to do so until Madejski, who declared his intention to sell the club a couple of years ago, finds a buyer.

Reading offered Long a one-year contract extension in November, knowing they were in danger of losing him on a free transfer at the end of the season. Previously, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt both signed new deals when they started generating interest from other clubs. Reading eventually cashed in on both players.

Long is far too good to remain in the Championship and Reading will not risk letting him leave for nothing. Indeed, his former manager at Cork City, Damien Richardson, who sold him to Reading for just £25,000 in 2005, believes he is ready for a move.

"He has wonderful instinct and natural ability but he needs the right tuition from high-quality coaches," Richardson told the Irish Daily Mail back in January. "He now needs to learn how to play in a partnership. He may require more work than othersbut he would repay any club willing to invest the time handsomely. His ratio of scoring against chances is very high and I believe he has what it takes to thrive at the very top."

Playing in the Premier League again is Long's aim after enjoying the experience during Reading's two-year spell in the top flight from 2006-08. But, surprisingly, he might yet consider a move to Championship rivals West Ham, who had a bid rejected last week.

"West Ham are a big club, so it would definitely be something for me to think about," Long told The Independent On Sunday. "But I wouldn't be that disappointed if nothing happened and I stayed at Reading. I'm happy here and I like playing under the manager [Brian McDermott]. I'm not dying to get out."

As for Graham, he admits transfer fees have spiralled out of control, even for players in the Championship, and is happy with what Swansea paid Watford for him. "Transfer fees are crazy these days so I'm not surprised I've become a £3.5m player, if I'm honest," he said. "I've seen Shane linked for £8m so that shows what it's like now.

"But £3.5m doesn't bring pressure – £35m, like Andy Carroll, is pressure. I want to score goals and do it in the Premier League, and Swansea have given me that chance and I want to repay them." Now Long just wants his big chance.

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