Tough call was the right one for Awfs

Andy Awford is determined to finish off the job he started at Pompey's Academy
Andy Awford is determined to finish off the job he started at Pompey's Academy

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Andy Awford last week made one of the toughest calls of his football career.

The Pompey hero opted to leave the cut and thrust of first-team football for a return to the game at Academy level.

It was a decision Awford agonised long and hard over – but it was the right one.

The man who made 361 appearances for his one-and-only league club made his Blues return – after a period out of the game – two years ago with a vision.

His remit was to reinvent a youth set-up which had become an institution of financial extravagances and waste.

Within months, the backing he had been promised had disappeared amid the Convers Sports Initiative meltdown.

But as the investment dried up through his club’s tumble down the divisions, so Awford’s job became more significant.

And now, with Pompey preaching a long overdue mantra of prudence and austerity, the Academy becomes more crucial than ever.

Awford puts its position of significance at the same level as the senior set-up. It’s easy to see why.

Leaving what he started with the Academy would have been like an artist working on a labour of love – and then standing back to watch someone else add the final brush strokes.

His words last week after making his decision were heartfelt.

There would have been plenty of periods in the six months with the first team where Awfs would have undoubtedly felt the most alive since his playing days.

Footballers often struggle to replicate the buzz of their careers in retirement, but close proximity to the business end of a football club usually comes closest.

The 40-year-old tasted that again after Michael Appleton departed and he linked up with caretaker boss Guy Whittingham in November as assistant. No doubt it was intoxicating.

Even through the tough winter and a 23-game winless run, Awford enjoyed the day-to-day involvement of the senior set-up.

He’d be the man keeping the mood up with his (not always very funny) banter.

And he could be as satisfied as anyone as the worst winless run in the club’s history made way for end-of-season form which provides real hope for the future.

Whittingham was the man who became the figurehead in that run.

The reality is it was a job share between the pair, with some able support from their backroom team.

Awford was the man who ripped into players as they threw in the towel in the first-half against Leyton Orient in the duo’s third game in charge.

That was something someone of Awfs’ background simply couldn’t comprehend. Fergie’s hairdryer was borrowed from Old Trafford.

But the veteran of that famous FA Cup run of 1992 is also very much his own man.

It would have been natural for Awford to have an eye on the manager’s post, given his driven nature.

And perhaps someone with a personality and forceful presence like his isn’t the most natural fit for a number-two role.

In the political world of football, it would be easy for Awford to now return to his Academy role and undermine Whittingham.

That’s not his style, though, and the one thing Pompey’s manager can be rest assured of is he has someone who will stand squarely with him in his mate.

Awford understands Portsmouth Football Club, what makes it tick and its quirks and nuances better than most.

It makes him the perfect man to see through the Academy job he started out.

And the feeling is, one day, it will make him the ideal man for the top job.