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Edwards ready for career-defining move

Ryan Edwards has seen it all, from claims of nepotism at Perth Glory to changing fortunes at Reading. (AAP Image/Matt Roberts)
Expert
27th April, 2015
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For the last 18 months, Ryan Edward’s life has been stuck in fast forward. A loan return to the A-League with Perth set the tone for a whirlwind period that exposed him to the beast behind football’s beauty.

In and out of the Glory team, he became a scapegoat for the club, embroiled in a wave of player unrest with questions of nepotism at its core as father and then-coach Alistair was sent packing.

Edwards would have the last laugh, though. He swiftly returned to parent club Reading and found himself a favourite son of former Royals boss Nigel Adkins, starting every pre-season match and continuing that momentum with his full Championship debut on the opening day of the campaign against Wigan.

Add to that a regular place in the Olyroos line-up and the midfielder would have been out of breath by the time his 21st birthday rolled around in November.

Things won’t be slowing down anytime soon, either. After four seasons at Reading, Edwards has been informed his contract – which expires at season’s end – won’t be renewed.

Though he began the season strongly and quickly established himself in the first team, his run was ended in October as more dyed-in-the-wool players returned to the frame.

It’s left Edwards searching for a new club, perhaps even a new country.

“My main goal is to play first team football, where that takes me I’m not sure,” he told The Roar.

“I’d love to stay in Europe. I’m in England now, so I may as well stay here and stick it out. But that’s not to say that if an A-League club comes in and is going to give me first team football, that I won’t take it.

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“My next move is so important. I’m 21, turning 22 in late November. I can’t be treated as a reserve player or a squad player. I need to be in that squad of 16 where I’m going to be in the team every week.

It’s a big decision where I’ll be next, but my main goal is first team football. Where? I don’t know yet.”

While the A-League may be back in focus for Edwards, the scars of his time in Perth make it an unlikely next destination. But he’s certainly found a silver lining.

“If I went back to the A-League, it wouldn’t be with Perth, not for the time being anyway. It was a difficult time for me and the family, but it was a learning experience and a good thing in a way to see that at such a young age.

“I was in and out of the team as well, so I think it made me stronger coming back to the Championship this season.

“I’m 21 now and I think I’ve seen and experienced what some people go through in their entire career – the political side of it, being in and out of the team, injuries. So it’s definitely made me more mentally strong.”

It’s been far from a routine few months for Reading; from the ecstasy of reaching an FA Cup semi-final to the strain of fending off relegation and a change in manager mid-season.

Saturday marked Edwards’ final visit to the Madejski Stadium as a Reading player and as he prepares to farewell the club where it all started, he’ll spare a moment to reflect on a significant career milestone.

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“I came back on loan from Perth and (Nigel) Adkins threw me straight in there,” Edwards said.

“I started every pre-season game and then we played against Swansea in our last pre-season game and I was playing against Jonjo Shelvey, Gylfi Sigurdsson… Then a week later he started me in the first game of the season in the Championship and I was absolutely buzzing.

“I came back from the loan with a goal to make it into the first team, I didn’t know how soon it was going to happen. Then it happened straight away, I was happy, I kept working hard and I ended up playing a few games.

“I walked out on the pitch at Wigan, first game of the season and I think there were close to 30,000 people there. The first 20 minutes was probably the quickest game of football that I’ve ever been a part of, but you get that first touch, that first pass off and you settle as the game goes on.

“I kind of just suited it straight away, I felt really comfortable and really confident. It’s always nice when the manager starts you in the first game of the season. It gives you that confidence and belief to go out there and play your own game. It was really enjoyable and I loved it.”

Edwards seemed a perfect fit for Adkins’ 4-3-3 approach, settling into a number 10 role. His movement and vision prompted interest from the Socceroos network, though a lack of regular football to end 2014 made the Asian Cup a bridge too far.

Plan B certainly wasn’t a bad one. Edwards was a key member of the Olyroos squad that breezed into next year’s Under-23 AFC Championship, which will double up as a qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Alongside the likes of Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Hoole and Jackson Irvine, it seems Aurelio Vidmar certainly has a talented crop at his disposal.

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“The team’s actually a really good generation of players coming through, we’ve got some Socceroos experience as well,” Edwards said.

“Everyone is buying into the way we want to play with Viddy, which is really good. We’re playing some great football and I’m really enjoying it.

“The games away in March were good. When you’re versing the not so good teams it’s difficult because we’re expected to qualify. But we did a very professional job and made sure we topped the group and played good football. The boys are really confident going into the games in January.

“Most of the boys, or pretty much every player, has played or is playing first team football now, which is really, really good. The boys have been together since we were 15-16 playing against each other in the national championships and then some got into Joeys, some got into Young Socceroos.

“The team is good enough to have four different starting XIs so it’s actually a really good selection of players to pick from.”

The tournament in Chinese Taipei held greater significance for Edwards, who once again donned the captain’s armband in a 4-0 thumping of the hosts.

Pre-match saw the Olyroos kitted out in Dylan Tombides Foundation t-shirts, celebrating the life of Edwards’ former teammate, who lost his battle with cancer a year ago on April 18.

“We were both playing club football and then obviously he went to England at an early age. I was with him in January (2014) for an Olyroos trip and then he passed away two months later, which was crazy because I played 90 minutes with him two months before and then we got the news, so it was pretty heartbreaking.

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“I know the family quite well and a few friends that are working with the foundation, they’ve moved over from Perth to London. I’ve seen the work they’re doing and they’ve just started a children’s book about Dylan’s life that they’re going to bring out. So, everything has gone really well, getting the credit it deserves.”

Edwards has seen it all, both personally and professionally, lately; the ride steeling him for what could be one of the most important decisions of his career in the coming weeks.

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