Why Walker is a must for Pompey

Lomana Lualua divided opinion amongst Pompey fans
Lomana Lualua divided opinion amongst Pompey fans

STEVE CANAVAN: Take note of why I love this country so much

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When you have seen as many players in recent years as Pompey have, there are always going to be a few who will divide opinion.

Some are viewed as idols, while other fans seem to detest the very ground they walk on.

Actually, in a literal sense, that would be hating the Fratton Park pitch itself so perhaps that is going overboard.

Who, in a sound state of mind, would really hate grass?

But while some observers see only the good, others choose a different tint on their spectacles.

So I will make a confession at this point: I didn’t rate former Pompey midfielder Darel Russell.

Chances are, he probably thought I wasn’t much of a journalist – I never asked him.

Then again, it’s doubtful he even knew who I was, even though I did speak to him a couple of times after games.

Had he ever watched my Sunday League side in action, he would have picked the obvious flaws in my game within seconds.

Back in the day, Russell played professional football to a very good standard. I didn’t.

But I never saw what others did. I didn’t see a technician who would pass the ball well or show ability on the ball.

I never saw him score a goal. In fact, I can’t even remember him having a shot at goal in the games I saw him play.

And I didn’t see a lung-busting limited midfielder who would tackle anything all day long and show the kind of heart and fight for the battle.

To me, Russell just never looked that bothered.

I am 100-per-cent certain that some readers of this will disagree.

If Russell should ever read this, I’m sure he would point to the many issues going on behind the scenes at Pompey, which made it impossible to give a true reflection of his skills.

Those who shared a dressing room with him will have seen a different character and perhaps I just never saw the good work he did.

I had similar reservations about Johnny Ertl when he first joined Pompey.

But my opinion of him has changed.

Ertl will readily accept his limitations as a player but now we see him in his favoured position as a holding midfielder, he does a job for the team.

I have never seen him once shirk a challenge or look like he doesn’t care about the club.

For that alone, he won me over. I was wrong about him. Sorry, Johnny.

A mate of mine – and I won’t name him for fear of recriminations – didn’t rate Lomana Lualua very much when the Congolese striker was doing his maverick thing for Pompey.

For many of us, Lualua was brilliant, yet frustrating in equal measure.

Seeing him in full flow was enough to bring excitement to the most dour of games.

Even the sight of him warming up as a substitute would often create a buzz inside Fratton Park.

The thing was, you never knew what he was about to do next – and neither did his Pompey managers Harry Redknapp or Alain Perrin – which eventually saw the former lose patience with the forward and show him the door.

Let’s just say, I was considerably more sad to see Lualua leave than Russell. Yet my pal is not the kind of bloke to be swayed by a trademark body swerve or a nifty bit of skill and footwork to beat an opponent or create an opportunity.

Instead, he would focus on the number of times Lualua would lose possession in a match.

He would focus on the trick that didn’t come off, the tackle he lost or the shot from an impossible angle that was never in danger of troubling the opposition goalkeeper.

Even after his most famous performance in a Pompey shirt – those glorious 27 minutes in the 4-1 demolition derby victory over Southampton back in 2005 – my mate wasn’t happy.

‘He could have had a hat-trick if he hadn’t got himself injured doing his celebration somersault,’ he moaned. I think he was joking.

But there are echoes in the current Pompey team.

Liam Walker is not quite at the level of Lualua in the creativity stakes.

But Walker is the lifeline who can provide a flash of skill or a clever pass to generate excitement and carve out an opening.

Within the inner sanctum of Fratton Park, there are statistics that will show that Walker’s pass completion rate is the worst in the squad.

Basically, he loses possession too frequently.

But attempting to play a 30-yard through ball to split a defence is rather different to a 10-yard backwards pass to a full-back. And statistics rarely differentiate between the two.

Of course, Walker is by no means the finished article and perhaps he doesn’t suit the brand of football that Pompey have been forced to adopt of late.

But for my money, he has to play all the time. And I’d venture that if you were to conduct a poll amongst the Fratton faithful, there would be a big majority in Walker’s favour.

Skill, vision and ability are likely to be at even more of a premium in League Two next season.

And he could yet be a key man so give him some time to get accustomed to dealing with the physical nature of lower league football over here.

There will be those who disagree. It wouldn’t be Pompey if there weren’t.