Reading’s rising star, Michael Olise, has been named December’s EFL Young Player of the Month. A string of impressive performances have seen the 19-year-old deservedly rewarded with the EFL’s Young Player of the Month.
Two goals and two assists - including a wonder strike against Queens Park Rangers on his 19th birthday - saw the young midfielder make an invaluable contribution to the Royals’ impressive run of form, leaving them fifth in the Sky Bet Championship table.
“It’s very good for me,” Olise said, speaking exclusively to the EFL upon receiving the award. “I feel like I’m in good form at the moment.”
At the time of writing, Reading currently occupy a Play-Off place in the Championship table and, at the half-way stage, are just seven points off top spot. New manager Velijko Paunovic has certainly hit the ground running since his arrival to the Madejski Stadium and there’s no doubt that Olise is blossoming under the Serbian boss.
“It’s definitely been a good first-half of the season for us,” he continued.
“We’ve just been doing what the manager wants us to do and we’ve been playing well so it’s a good position to be in.”
“The new manager has been great for us, he’s bought in new ideas and we’ve always thought with our squad that we’ve got the quality to be up there in the Championship. I think we’re showing that so far this season.”
Hailed as “super talented” by the Reading boss, who has also praised the young midfielder’s development and progression this season, Paunovic is a clear admirer of Olise and the youngster was quick to repay the compliment.
“It’s really nice to hear the manager say the things he’s said about me, he’s helping me a lot with my game both on and off the pitch and is helping me develop as a player. I always try and take what he says on board; he’s definitely been a big part of my progression this season and part of the team’s progression as well.”
Following his debut against Leeds United last season, valuable experience in 2019/20 has no doubt set Olise on his way, but it is his creative and free-spirited performances this season that have seen him grow and flourish into one of the most talked-about footballers outside of the top flight.
“I feel like last season I was just breaking in and finding my feet,” he said.
“I was getting games under my belt and getting some experience, I was just figuring out the league. This season has felt more natural, it’s felt more natural for me and I think felt more natural for the team too.”
One of the Championship’s most promising attacking talents right now, he currently has four goals and eight assists to his name this season - the most of any player in the division.
His first goal came in September 2020 against Barnsley - a proud moment for the teenager, of course, but more than anything, it was a relief.
“It was more relief when I scored my first goal, to be honest,” he revealed.
“I played a lot of games last season, but didn’t score at all so it was nice to get that first goal this season and it was a bit of a weight off my shoulders really.”
Goals aren't the only thing he’s added to his game. His quality of delivery has him leading the Championship assists chart, a more “natural” part of game, he says.
“I think a more natural part of my game is the assists, that’s how I like to play and that’s my game. I’ll play wherever the manager tells me to play; I think we’ve got strength all over the pitch within our squad, but I’m happy with the goals and I want to improve on that and keep getting more goals and assists for the team.”
The son of Nigerian parents, Olise was born in France and represented them at the Toulon Tournament last summer, but as well as being eligible for Nigeria, he is also eligible for England, where he grew up.
Following release from both Chelsea and Manchester City’s respective academies, Olise joined Reading in 2016, with progression a clear objective for the youngster.
“I felt like Reading was a good club and a good fit for me at that level. It’s not too far away from home, and they’ve got a reputation for giving young players like me opportunities so it felt like the right career move for me at the time.
“I wanted to be somewhere I could work my way into the first team and luckily that’s happened for me here.”
Only recently 19, Olise plays with a maturity beyond his years and has lit up the Championship this season. He may be destined for the top, but right now there’s no better place for him than England’s second tier, an experience that will no doubt be vital for years to come.
“There are a lot of games in the Championship, the fixtures come quite quickly so you’ve always got to be in form and be on top of your game.
“It’s really competitive, with so many games it’s important you don’t have too many off days and I’d say that’s the biggest challenge really.
“The games are really important though, it’s important I play as much as possible to keep developing as a player. Right now I feel like I’m getting better every game, I’m understanding more, I know what I need to do and that only comes with more experience so it’s been really good for me so far this season.”
We may still only be at the half-way point of the season, but with the Royals' form catching the eye and making the headlines, promotion is the objective.
“We want to get promoted. If possible we want to win the league as well, I think it’s possible," Olise revealed.
“You’ve always got to set your standards high and I think it’s important we have those standards. So, as a squad and for me personally, promotion and even winning the league has got to be our aim. We’ve got to aim for number one.”