Steve Claridge has high hopes for his first crop of new students after seeing them make excellent progress in just a few weeks.
The former Pompey striker has 23 teenagers under his wing at the Steve Claridge Football Academy.
They have all signed up to join the new course to receive coaching and guidance from a player who enjoyed an illustrious career, with more than 1,000 games to his name.
And while the youngsters may not go on to carve out a career in the professional game, Claridge believes they now have a sense of direction.
He said: ‘Too many young people leave school and don’t know what they want to do. They can become lost.
‘The aim is not to produce the next best thing as a footballer – that’s not going to happen.
‘My aim is to improve them as people, to improve their education and to give them something to focus on.
‘We’ve taken them on because they need a sense of direction and they want to enjoy the environment they are working in. I think they do.
‘One of two have been at clubs in the past but, really, we are starting from scratch.
‘Some of them have come to me and said “I play centre-forward” and you see him and never in a million years is he a striker.
‘They play with their mates down the park and decide that is their best position.
‘So it is exciting to start with a blank canvas like that.
‘It is very rewarding to see the progress but it can be frustrating as well when you see the indiscipline.
‘But some of these lads don’t have that organisation in their lives.’
While the football side of the project is a big incentive to the youngsters, Claridge warned their education will not be forgotten as they study for a Btec in sport, which can eventually be used for entry to university.
Claridge said: ‘The objective is to give them a little bit of structure to their lives.
‘Now they understand what it takes to have a job every day, to turn up on time and have that bit of discipline.
‘Some people don’t understand how disciplined the life of a footballer should be, if they do it properly.
‘That’s what I’m trying to impress upon them.
‘Those who don’t turn up to their education, won’t play. They know that and it is massively important.
‘But in a few weeks, we have already seen a massive difference in these young men. They are growing up and learning fast.
‘They listen to me and they understand what is required of them.
‘The standard as footballers is about what I expected.
‘But what we have got is players with a capacity to learn and improve.
‘They have got a lot of courage and heart, and with some organisation and fitness, they will improve even more.’
And Claridge believes the Moneyfields FC-based two-year course will continue to thrive.
He said: ‘Considering we have only had them with us for a few weeks, it’s been really good.
‘Attendance records have been good and we couldn’t have asked for more.’
For more information on the course, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07579 803833.