When you ask most Reading fans of a certain generation who the best player they’ve seen play for the club is, most will respond with ‘Gylfi Sigurdsson’, without hesitation.

As a 16-year-old who came to the club in 2005 - two loan spells and four years later - he scored 20 goals for the Royals in the 2009-10 campaign, including a last-minute equaliser at Anfield in an FA Cup win over Liverpool.

So why, when you hear the way people eulogise about the Icelandic midfielder’s time at the Madjeski Stadium, did the club receive an initial fee of just over £5.5m for him - less than they sold Matt Mills for, a year later.

Hoffenheim Director of Football Ernst Tanner was the man to prise him away from Berkshire and he explains how and why the transfer came about, including the bizarre circumstances that convinced the German side to bring Sigurdsson to the Bundesliga in 2010.


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“I was going to watch the German under-21 team to watch a few of their players. I was watching Andre Schurrle and Sebastian Rudy because we were interested in signing them, but they didn’t play,” Tanner said.

“I came back and Ralf Rangnick, who was Hoffenheim manager at the time, was asking me about any of the other players.

“Germany had lost against Iceland in an under-21 European qualifier and I told Ralf that the Icelandic team had a few really good players. I told him that their best player was Gylfi Sigurdsson but that he was contracted to Reading in the English second division.

“Ralf said, ‘Reading? That’s where my son goes to school! Let’s ask him, he can find out more about the player.’

“His son asked his friends and they said that Gylfi was one of the best prospects that Reading have had for quite a long time.”

Kevin Rangnick, Ralf's son, was attending Bradfield College at the time and managed to find out more information about Sigurdsson’s character and personality, which was all positive, of course.

This was then passed back to the Hoffenheim transfer committee, reassuring them that a move for the midfielder was a wise idea.

Tanner added: “We spoke to his agent and he said that it could be done, because the Reading owner was desperate to sell a player.

“We went into negotiations but we didn’t have a lot of time. The transfer window was almost closing, and I think we did the transfer a couple of minutes before the window closed.

“At that time, Reading were in the Championship and they didn’t have access to the TMS [Transfer Matching System, used by FIFA to administer transfers] and the English FA needed to finalise the transfer.

“We were working the whole day, going back-and-forth and back-and forth. I think we finalised the deal ten minutes before midnight!”

Tanner revealed that there was no sell-on-clause involved in the German club’s deal to sign Sigurdsson, meaning the Royals received nothing from his subsequent £9m move to Tottenham in 2012.

He was one of the Tanner’s first signings as Hoffenheim Director of Football and, thanks to some exceptional incomings alongside the Icelandic international, it was voted as the club’s best ever transfer window by the fans.

David Alaba joined Sigurdsson at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena on loan from Bayern Munich, along with former and current Liverpool forwards Ryan Babel and Roberto Firmino, with the latter signing from Brazilian second division side Figueirense.

Sigurdsson finished his debut campaign in Germany with ten goals and two assists, winning the fans' Player of the Season despite starting just 13 matches.

Tanner said: “We had a specific style at Hoffenheim and Gylfi really suited that. He’s a hard worker. I remember one game where he ran 14km and we had to explain to him that he had to keep his position and not to run all over the pitch!

“He has one big problem - he’s not a sprinter. Technically, he’s exceptional. He has a good view of the game and he knows how to score. His free-kicks are amazing, they’re a real weapon. His ability to shoot, in general, with both feet is amazing.

“I just don’t think he’s a player for a top, top club because of that lack of speed.”

That could have been the reason Sigurdsson fell out of favour after Rangnick left the club, failing to impress new head coach Marco Pezzaiuoli.

He made a loan switch back to the UK with Swansea in January 2012 in a bid to get more game time, teaming up with a former Reading boss to help bring the best out of him once again.

“I loaned him out to Swansea and I got all the blame! But the manager at that time didn’t want to play him,” Tanner explained.

“I knew he would work perfectly with Brendan Rodgers because he worked with him at Reading. I knew Brendan would play him and once you’re playing in the Premier League, you’re in the shop window. I think they then sold him to Tottenham for almost double the money we bought him for.”

It is well publicised that Brian McDermott attempted to bring him back to Reading, with the Royals struggling - and later failing - to remain in the Premier League in 2013.

"We tried to bring him back. We had spoken to Spurs and we made three offers," McDermott said at the time.

"I thought at one stage we had a real chance of doing a deal, but unfortunately, we couldn't manage to do it.”

Instead, Sigurdsson returned to Swansea in 2014 and, after another three years in South Wales, he then made the £45m move to Everton, where he is currently working under three-time Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti.

He has failed to make the same impact at Goodison Park in the same way he has at other clubs and, despite scoring 13 league goals last season, there are still doubts that he is of the required standard to play for the Toffees.

At 30, Sigurdsson isn’t getting any younger. But even though his lack of speed came under scrutiny by the Hoffenheim hierarchy, you’d imagine his ability to play at the top level without it will help prolong his career. Who knows where that may be, but there’s no doubt he’d be welcomed back to the Madjeski with open arms by Reading fans.