Saturday, April 18, 2015 will be a day that many Reading fans will want to forget quickly. As the sun set over the filled to capacity Wembley Stadium, heartbreak was experienced thanks to Adam Federici spilling Alexis Sanchez’s shot from 15 yards. The FA Cup dream was over for yet another season.
Michael Hector was part of that side on that bright April afternoon in North London and, despite being contracted to Chelsea since September, he returned to the Madejski on loan.
It had to be him who scored one of the winning goals in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion to send the Royals into their fourth FA Cup quarter-final in the past six years. Wembley is, once again, only one game away.
Where did it all start for Hector?
Despite his name being firstly known in Berkshire, the story of Michael Hector began inside the M25 when, in 1992, he was born into the East London district of East Ham. Sport ran in his genes with his father being the former Essex batter, Pat Hector.
Despite possessing an ability at the sport, as well as tennis, cricket was not the sport for young Michael, however, and as a youngster he featured in the Milwall academy. However, Hector had the knowledge to know that he needed to play men’s football as soon as possible and signed for Thurrock United – a small Essex club who currently apply their trade in the Isthmain League. It was at this point when he featured in a friendly against the Berkshire outfit for Barking Abbey. After shining an opportunity arose. Without any thought it seemed a no-brainer and Hector signed scholarship terms at the Madejski Stadium. The dream was about to come a reality.
What happened next?
His maturity at such a young age meant that Hector felt as if he was ready for first team football already. Granted it would not come at Reading, who just years earlier had been relegated from the Premier League, but maybe it would come lower down in the English footballing pyramid. Cue a move to Bracknell Town, and after upsetting the odds and shining at Larges Lane, as well as also impressing at Conference South outfit Havant & Waterlooville, he was rewarded with a professional contract by manager Brian McDermott in May 2010.
Following the euphoria of putting pen-to-paper on a professional contract and having already been a regular in the reserve set up, Hector’s next objective was to make the move into the first team who at the time were still vying for a place back in the Premier League.
Maybe, however, thoughts of featuring in the Royals’ first team were a bit premature (after all he was only 18). But by 2011, and after more successful loan spells at clubs such as Oxford City and League of Ireland Premier Division side Dundalk, he got his chance in to express himself in the Football League when League Two Barnet came calling. It was at this point where people began to understand just how good he was; his performances were merited, so much so that he was voted The Bees’ Young Player of the Year for the 2011-12 season.
How did he get to this point?
At the end of the 2011-12 season, Hector’s Reading deal was up for renewal as it seemed almost inevitable that he would sign for the Royals – now a Premier League club. Or was it? Performances at Barnet had attracted the attention of other, more-established Premier League sides, including Norwich and West Ham.
Nothing materialised however and Hector signed a new deal at the Madejski later on in the summer. But it was back on the road for youngster, this time a trip to Shropshire where he featured for Shrewsbury Town on nine occasions, before being shipped out to Aldershot and Cheltenham. By the 2013-14 season, Hector was good enough to feature for Aberdeen in the newly-reformed Premier Division of the SPFL.
By early 2014, it seemed inevitable that he would feature for the Royals’ first team and made his debut for them in a 7-1 victory over Bolton. He went on to make nine appearances for Nigel Adkins’ side and signed a new contract, keeping him there for another year.
The following season, he became a regular within the Reading defence, making 41 appearances, guiding the Royals to their first FA Cup semi-final since 1927 despite them suffering in the league – they finished 19th in the Championship.
How did the move to Chelsea come about?
It was all going well for Hector, but in the summer of 2015 his life would get a great deal better. It was classed as one of the surprise deals of Deadline Day, when the 23-year-old departed the Royals to Stamford Bridge.
For Hector, it was a dream move to the club he idolised as a child and to play for his favourite manager: Jose Mourinho. Despite the dream of playing under the former Real Madrid manager not becoming a reality due to him being loaned back out to the Madejski until the end of the season, the aspiration of calling himself a player of Chelsea had become a reality.
How big of a shock was his goal against the Baggies?
Despite his aerial threat at 6ft 4in, and therefore his advantage at set-pieces, Hector has never been known really for his goalscoring ability in a blue and white shirt. In fact, so much so, that the goal against the Albion on Saturday was his first since the final day of last season and his first at the Madejski since September 2014. However, his goal illustrated his ability and presence at set pieces with him arriving late at the back post to head it into the back of the net. His pace – remember he is only 23 – allows him to lose his marker and therefore give him the greatest opportunity of firing one into the back of the net.
Why is he so dangerous?
Hector already possesses all of the attributes of a standard British centre-half. His height and strength means that his tackling is most certainly on point, while his height can also make him lethal at set pieces – just as we saw with his goal on Saturday against Tony Pulis’ men. Meanwhile, his off-field persona, and his ability to communicate well off the pitch, make him a leader and make him a likely choice to become captain of one of his future clubs when he develops and matures into the player all expect him to be.
Super Stat: Whenever Michael Hector has scored at the Madejski, Reading have never been defeated.