Academy out to unearth next Chaplin
The journey from Pompey Academy to first team begins at under-nines level.
That means somebody is responsible for making a decision on whether or not an eight-year-old has the potential to become a professional footballer.
That person is foundation lead coach Hugh Lewis, who oversees the development of the Blues’ youngest prospects up to the age of 12.
The dream is to unearth the next Conor Chaplin.
And while the 52-year-old joked he will be in his sixties before his latest batch of recruits can follow in Chaplin’s footsteps, he is happy to offer them a platform to fulfil their potential.
Lewis said: ‘Conor has done it already.
‘For the boys to follow in his footsteps is the dream.
‘I will be an old man in my sixties when that happens!
‘But it would be great to see – I just do what I do to the best of my ability to try to get the right players in and get them taught the right things.
‘As long as the environment is right then players wil learn, develop and flourish.
‘There is everything here for a young player to grow into a professional.’
With so much riding on Lewis’ decisions, he has admitted the selection process is the toughest part of his job and that without a crystal ball, there is no guarantee of success.
He said: ‘At the end of every season we have to decide who we want to retain and push on to the next age group or release.
‘I am just coming into that period now – I have got to choose which under-eights can make the leap from development centre football to sign for the Academy.
‘We have had 200 under-eights training with us this season and I have got it down to around about eight kids who may or may not be signed for the Academy next season.
‘That gives you an idea of the amount we look at.
‘I also have to decide which under-nines, 10s, 11s and 12s to keep and who to release.
‘It is the hardest part of the job, and certainly the most emotionally difficult.
‘It can be difficult when you think you have got to let a boy go and then you change your mind and it tos and fros.
‘It is hard, you are looking at an eight year old and thinking is he good enough?
‘None of us can look into a crystal ball and be absolutely spot on.’
Lewis, though, is not alone in the process with other members of the club’s Academy able to assist him.
He added: ‘I tend to be left to have the last say but there are a lot of coaches who work with the kids who offer views.
‘Academy boss Mark Kelly and head of education and welfare John Slater also have their say which is discussed in regular meetings.
‘In the end, though, you listen to your gut feeling.’
– JEFF MARSHMAN