‘The only source of knowledge is experience’.  So said Einstein, anyway.

That’s the thing with experience.  Everybody needs it, people are reluctant to give it, therefore it’s hard to get it.

Reading’s squad is undoubtedly inexperienced, but interestingly the 11 players that took to the field against Shrewsbury on Saturday had 1,760 combined league appearances under their belt.

For comparison, Portsmouth, who currently lead the League One table, started their match against Charlton with only slightly more at 1,924.  And Oxford United who sit one place behind Pompey lined up away to Leyton Orient with just 1,721.  39 appearances less than Reading.

So on the face of it, there’s very little to separate a lot of the clubs in League One based solely on the total number of appearances in the starting eleven.

It’s only when we delve into which players make up the bulk of those appearances that we begin to see where that experience counts, and how teams and squads are put together.  All of the top teams have the majority of their total appearances in the back five.  All of them hover around the 1,000 mark.  In contrast, three of Reading’s back four on Saturday have less than 100 appearances between them.

Some managers will tell you that it’s best to come up with a style dependent on what you have in the dressing room.  The idea is that you put as many round pegs into the round holes as you possibly can, no matter what stage the game is at.  If you’re 2-1 up away from home, for example, it’s probably better not to disrupt the team by attempting to hammer in a load of square pegs.

Building a team is the first step to achieving anything in football.  And there are a great many ways to go about it depending on thousands of variations of the same theme: we have to score goals and we have to keep them out.

Try to imagine what you might do with your budget.  You won’t be able to buy every player you need in League One, you’ll need free transfers for sure.  And you’ll need some youth team players to flesh out the squad, maybe even to start in a couple of cases.  It won’t take long before you come to the conclusion that it will be extremely tough to build what you want to build in one summer, not least because your targets are also the targets of other clubs.

So, with that in mind, you compromise, you give yourself a foundation on which to go forward.  You get an experienced defence together and make yourselves tough to beat.  These players are generally cheaper and more experienced than the attackers so defence is an easier place to start.

In the next transfer window you try to pick up a better midfielder than you have, a better attacking player than you have, and maybe a little further down the line you decide that the goals you need to go from a team nudging the play-offs to a team that can compete for the title lies in that 25 goal a season striker you’ve been after.

And all the while a manager has to hope he shows enough improvement to demonstrate that the squad he’s building will ultimately become successful before the owner gets itchy.

None of the above is available to Reading.  In an ideal world, the three players with less than 100 league appearances between them would either be going on loan or sneaking in some cup games or sub appearances and learning from the senior defenders at the club until it was their time to step into the first team.  Instead, they are forced into starting berths.

In a few years, these bruising encounters could well be the best thing that ever happened to them, but for now, it’s a tough baptism.

For the record, Shrewsbury began the match on Saturday with more than 2,500 first-team appearances spread across the team.  Who knows, maybe that extra bit of know-how made the difference as the hosts scored in the 92nd and 96th minutes to win the game 3-2.

Or maybe the difference lies in the dugout.  Shrewsbury’s manager, Matty Taylor, played 658 times in a 20-year career.  His contemporary, Ruben Selles, has never kicked a single ball in anger.

Ultimately the difference probably lies in the boardroom where Dai Yongge’s experience of running clubs into the ground and out of existence is second to none.  You don’t need Einstein to figure that one out.

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