Yakou Meite is a ball of energy as he bowls up a short flight of steps to the back of a meeting room deep in the bowels of Reading’s Bearwood training ground.

Meite's positive energy and excitement are immediately evident as he sits in a wooden chair barely big enough to contain his 6’1” frame and even larger smile.

But on this Thursday afternoon with Meite, there’s something else that’s immediately noticeable: a series of deep scars on his left knee where surgery was required in late June to repair his ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.

The conversation over the next 25 minutes revolves around those scars but it’s the first set of aforementioned traits that truly dominate the time spent with the Royals’ winger: his spirit and positive energy.

Reading Chronicle: Meite celebrates scoring against Nottingham Forest last March. Image by: PAMeite celebrates scoring against Nottingham Forest last March. Image by: PA

“About that, I think I’ve impressed myself,” Meite says after a moments pause. “Because at the start I was thinking that it would be really tough. I know that I’m strong mentally but it was the first time I had a long injury like this. This is completely different because you know you're not playing (for a long time). But I’m here and since day one I’ve never complained. I’ve come here, I was supposed to go away, but I just stayed for the whole six months working. It’s been tough but it’s been…okay. It’s been okay. I think it could have been worse.

“I’m doing good. I’m happy with the progress I’m making. It’s all good at the moment. As you can see today it’s a bit late, everyone has gone but I’m still here. I’m enjoying it - it's my work, I need to come back fit as soon as I can. I’m happy that I’m working hard and it's starting to pay off for me. But I don’t want to rush it, I want to be in the best shape I can when I come back.”

While Meite has impressed even himself with his mental resilience, he’s happy to admit that it wasn’t easy at first - with both the player and Reading medical staff surprised by the severity of his injury.

“Even the physio wasn’t expecting it," he says. "So when they told me it was this I was very sad, to be honest. It’s the worst (injury I’ve had). It was tough because I didn’t even have time to play a single game. I came back from holiday - one and a half months - and then my injury straightaway.

“The first two weeks were really difficult. I was at home, and I was watching games but it was even more painful to watch football because I knew it was only the start. I remember at the start I didn’t even know if I wanted to do a surgery because I wanted to play as quickly as I can. That was in my head because I didn’t know how to deal with this. But lot of people advised me to do it (surgery) because I’m still young and a career is short. I don’t want to have this same kind of injury again.”

Reading Chronicle: Meite's Instagram post announcing his surgery.Meite's Instagram post announcing his surgery.

Meite still attends most Reading games as a fan but even that was a struggle in the early weeks.

“Now it’s better. Before, at the start, it was tough to watch, to be honest. But I don’t want to stay home doing nothing, it’s better to come and support the team. But yeah, at the start it was difficult to watch knowing that I would be out for a few months.”

Typically a nine to twelve month recovery timeline, Meite still has a long way to go before he’s back out on the pitch scoring goals at the Select Car Leasing Stadium. But the progress he’s already made should not be ignored.

A week ago, Reading boss Veljko Paunovic explained that Meite was far ahead of athletes who go through the normal ACL-tear rehabilitation process.

"Yakou is ahead of most of the people with his kind of injury at this time in his recovery,” Paunovic explaied. “The difference between his left and right leg in terms of the power and balance is only 10% and normally at this point, the difference is between 20% and 30%. He works hard. He works really hard. He sleeps here between his sessions because he wants to come back as soon as possible. He’s a great example of commitment and hard work and resilience.”

Reading’s Bearwood complex is rather quiet as this winter afternoon quickly transitions to another dark December evening. The vast majority of Royals players have already left, but Meite is still hanging around, another of his long long days not quite finished just yet.

As Paunovic points out, Meite’s impressive recovery hasn’t come by accident. It’s been through intense and gruelling hours at the training ground. 

“Now because I’m on the pitch I’m still working in the gym but less," Meite says. "Two or three months ago it was coming in at 9:00, gym session for an hour/hour and a half, thirty minutes of breakfast, then to the physios to do some treatment, then into the gym again and then on the pitch. And then lunch. After lunch treatment for an hour, so I'd finish the day at 4:00, sometimes I go home at 4:30. That was my day every day, 9:00 to 5:00.

“Now it’s different because I’m on the pitch. I still do some gym work but I’m more based on the pitch. It’s still difficult but it’s good because at least I’m outside and I’m starting to touch the ball. I think touching the ball is the most important thing for a footballer - you get excited when you touch the ball even if it's to do just a simple pass!

“I've been working on a lot of things, especially in the gym, working on things I’ve had in the past. A lot of injuries in the past…this break has helped me to work on seriously because it’s hard to work on some things when you have games every three days.”

Reading Chronicle: Meite, the dressing room DJ, blasts some tunes at this summer's kit launch. Image by: JasonPIXMeite, the dressing room DJ, blasts some tunes at this summer's kit launch. Image by: JasonPIX

Meite is a near-obsessive about his rehab, putting in the requisite work every single day in order to come back on time - and healthy. He’s rejected the chance to go away on holiday, instead choosing to stay at Bearwood and continue to rehab. So how about a break for Christmas? Don't count on it.

“It will be the same really. I’ll be in working. Nothing special, nothing special. My mum was here for two weeks, so I’ve been spending time with her. My brother came a few months ago as well. For Christmas with Covid, it will be difficult to travel so I think I will just be focused on my rehab. In my head, because I’ve been working every day, I don’t even want to go somewhere for one or two weeks because I'd feel like I’m losing time before I come back on the pitch. I don’t want to come back (from holiday) and for them to say ‘okay because you’ve been out, we need to go again and start from what we did before you left.’ I’m just here trying to push.

“I wanted to do my rehab somewhere else, but even when I wanted to go away it was for my rehab. But it didn’t happen because of Covid. So I just decided to stay here. But even when I wanted to go somewhere it was for rehab, it wasn’t really for time off. We’ll have time for holiday later, we’ll have time for that.

“Every day I’m counting the days - since day one to be honest. There’s a board here and every day I’m looking at the board to see where I am. Sometimes the time goes fast, sometimes a bit slow but now that I’m on the pitch it’s much better. When I was in the gym it was tough because it was always the same thing and now at least I can change some things and work on the pitch.”

The 25-year old is beyond eager - borderline desperate - to get back in action, but he’s also realistic and responsible. He knows that when he comes back it has to be at a time when he can actually help the team by doing what he does best.

Reading Chronicle: Meite goes to battle against Swansea City in front of a Covid-enforced empty SCL. Image by: PAMeite goes to battle against Swansea City in front of a Covid-enforced empty SCL. Image by: PA

“I feel confident but I don’t feel ready if I’m being honest with you," he admits. "If you ask me if I can train today I will say ‘yeah I can train but I’m not 100%.’ That’s why I want to find a balance between me being ready to play with the team…if the physios are happy with the progress then I can say ‘okay, I can try to push it.’

“I think a lot of people expect us (Meite and Lucas Joao) to change the team offensively but don’t forget that I’ve been injured for a long time, Lucas as well, so I think we will need time to adjust and come back fit. It’s not an excuse, I want to be as fit as I can straight away from the first game, but I know that it will be difficult. That’s why I’m working so hard. Because I don’t want to be too far away from the player I was. I think Lucas is the same. The mentality is the same. I want to come back, I want to help the team score goals, and get my confidence back."

Meite and Joao are just two names on a lengthy list of long-term injury absentees at Reading over the past few months.

"I think the atmosphere is still good even though we’ve got a lot of players injured," Meite continues. "Everyone is trying to push each other. What I like as well is that when players see that someone is close to a return, or when they see me on the pitch they’re happy to see me there and they congratulate me. This boosts my confidence because they know what I’ve been doing every day with the physios. The most important thing is to come back fit to help the team straight away. 

“In my head, I’m thinking about coming back as soon as I can and I know that even from the past, I usually finish the season well. That’s the part of the season when I score a lot of goals - at the end of the season. I didn’t start but if I finish the season scoring goals I think I’ll forget about what happened in the first six months!”

Reading Chronicle: Meite points to the sky after scoring against QPR. Image by: PAMeite points to the sky after scoring against QPR. Image by: PA

When January rolls around, Meite will hopefully be closer to a return but still very much in the midst of his rehab. He most certainly won’t be in Cameroon with the Ivory Coast national team for the African Cup of Nations. The Paris-born Ivorian has earned two caps for his country, most recently in March 2019, but injury robbed him of his chance to stake his claim for this winter’s tournament.

“I had this in my head as well but I knew the most important thing was to play some good games with Reading first. I had the conversation as well in the past with the coach from the Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, I had this injury but I wish them good luck and I will watch for sure."

AFCON is just one of many opportunities Meite is sadly missing out on but the dressing room DJ and character who once sat in the SCL crowd, is unsurprisingly longing for the atmosphere surrounding football more than anything.

“I miss the crowd," he says. "The last game I played was behind closed doors. Since Nottingham Forest last year - and it wasn’t even full it was only part of the stadium - it was the last time I played with fans. So when I see people coming to the stadium…I really miss this feeling. And I don’t like the traffic as well! Because I’m coming to the game like a fan, the traffic is crazy! I prefer to be on the pitch. At least when you’re on the pitch when you go home, everyone is gone!”

So you’ve read all of this but really I know you’re screaming one question…


Well, I'm sorry but the answer is a secret.

“I’m not going to tell you but I’ve got a date in mind,” he laughs. “To be honest I’ve had this date since the start of my injury. Since the start of my injury I was saying I want to be where I am now and thank god with everything that happened I’m on time and I’m happy with this.

“I want to play this season, that’s my target. But I can’t tell you the date because you never know. I think I’m not too too far but I’ve got a lot of work to do.”