Departure will devastate lad with a Pompey heart

Sam Magri skippers Pompey against Brighton. Picture: Paul Hazelwood

Sam Magri skippers Pompey against Brighton. Picture: Paul Hazelwood

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sam Magri could be found on a bench away from the harsh glare of the Benahavis sunshine.

While his Academy contemporaries were playing table tennis, the 18-year-old sought his own company for a moment of quiet reflection.

He was chewing over the experiences of 24 hours earlier.

Pompey had begun their pre-season campaign at Gibraltar, a fixture which ended in a 4-0 defeat.

Yet for Magri, it was a match to treasure.

Named as skipper by Blues boss Michael Appleton, this Pompey born-and-bred teenager was leading the club he supported onto the field of play.

It was a gesture which genuinely choked the Fratton youngster, irrespective of the tremendously disappointing final score.

Nobody in the Blues line-up played well.

Yet Magri and his central defensive partner Adam Webster in particular struggled on the Gibraltar Astrotuf.

Appleton himself afterwards referred to the duo’s below-par showing at the Victoria Stadium.

Most players would have shrugged off such an anti-climatic event, refocusing ahead and gunning to make amends in training.

Not Magri, though – somebody with Pompey’s badge embroidered on his heart and a lifelong pledge to serve them with distinction. He couldn’t possibly allow that display to wash over him.

He had waited too long, dreamed of it too many times.

From the relative anonymity of those shadows at the Benahavis hotel, the defender replayed the occasion in his mind.

Having witnessed such a reaction at first hand, having sat next to him in that spot and joined in with his analysis, it was clear to see how much Portsmouth Football Club meant to this particular player.

And that is why his subsequent departure on Thursday for QPR will, in many ways, have devastated him.

Granted, it represents a switch to a Premier League club, clearly equipped with immense finance and ambition.

For Magri, however, it is not Pompey.

That is why we should all view his departure with a tinge of sadness.

The local lad long earmarked to be a local hero, yet unfortunately fate dictated otherwise.

The sight of him leading out the Blues in Gibraltar on that July night amid such on-going torrid times meant much to supporters.

Too many people in recent times have served at the heart of the club without having the club at their heart.

Not Sam Magri. He was a fan who later – at Plymouth in the Capital One Cup – would represent his club in a competitive fixture.

It would turn out to be his first and last competitive appearance.

After all, until the age of 15 he occupied a spot in the north stand with his father, Graham, as long-time season-ticket holders.

When Pedro Mendes conjured up his iconic goal to kick-start the Great Escape, Magri was present at Fratton Park.

When Paul Merson was carried off shoulder high after promotion to the Premier League was clinched against Burnley, Magri was among the masses celebrating on the pitch.

When Southampton were defeated 4-1 at Fratton, when AC Milan visited, Magri was present for them all.

There was only ever one football club for the lad from Fratton – and he was on its books.

From the moment he turned out for England under-16s three years ago, Pompey fans have closely followed his progress.

This was the bright young thing destined to be a Blues star, an outstanding defender to spearhead the next generation.

His continued progress with England applied immense pressure to a teenager still growing, still developing and learning the game.

Ultimately, the likes of Adam Webster would come from nowhere to firstly catch him up and then streak ahead.

The emergence of Webster came while Magri was out for two-and-a-half months with shin splints at the start of last season.

But according to Appleton, by the time he left on Thursday, Alex Grant had also edged ahead, along with Jed Wallace and, of course, Ashley Harris.

Suddenly Magri had gone from leading actor in the Academy system to support act, such is the nature of youth football. Others have undergone similar transitions.

No fault of Magri, it certainly wasn’t through lack of heart or desire.

Appleton and former Academy manager Andy Awford have regularly praised his attitude and work-rate.

From personal experience; he is a grounded lad, personable, polite, no hint of an ego, with an unquenchable passion for the profession he is in.

His family can certainly be proud of the young man he is turning into.

Unfortunately for him, in football terms, in the end Appleton just didn’t fancy him.

The Blues manager was not convinced Magri would break into his first-team set-up this season, irrespective of the size of his squad.

Besides, his wage could be used elsewhere to fund the arrival of players more in tune with his plans.

Coupled with the fact Magri is in the final year of his existing deal, QPR’s approach represented a chance for the youngster to make his mark elsewhere.

Let’s also not forget, at the tail-end of last season the youngster was sent for a week’s trial at Liverpool.

Kicking and screaming by all accounts but he went anyway.

Failure to come to an agreement over a transfer ensured Magri – much to his delight – remained with his home-town club.

He may have continued to have knuckled down upon his return but in the end, opinions could not be swayed.

Appleton harboured doubts and ultimately that is the reason why Pompey has lost one of its bright, young players.

Entirely down to a manager’s opinion on one of his players. Part and parcel of the game.

We all move on and Magri is now at QPR on a two-year deal with the option for another 12 months.

He has his long-term security, he has a set-up which clearly rates him highly as a footballer, he has a new challenge to get his teeth into.

But, perhaps most precious of all, he has a Pompey appearance to his name.

The local lad has represented the club he watched from the stands for the majority of his life.

Remember, Sam, not many people can ever claimed to have achieved such an accomplishment.

All the best.

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