No more easy Pompey pickings for Premier League intruders

The battle lines have been drawn '“ time to retaliate rather than accept the youth-talent drain with a resigned shrug and sigh of inevitability.

Saturday, 10th February 2018, 9:30 am
Pompeys new head of under-21 and academy recruitment, Dave Wright Picture: Dave Wright

Pompey have initiated the fightback.

‘For want of a better word, clubs have wormed their way into the city,’ said new head of under-21 and academy recruitment Dave Wright.

‘Due to the financial situation the club has gone through, it will be fair to say that some sacrifices had to be made – and part of that was the academy’s recruitment structure.

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Dave Wright being welcomed to the club by academy boss Mark Kelly

‘Now you have Chelsea in the city, Bournemouth, Southampton, Brighton, and really they’ve had a bit of an easy time of it because Pompey have not been able to counteract that because they haven’t had the people on the ground to do it.

‘Now we have new owners, a new vision for the future and the academy is going to be a big part of that. It’s time to start having a presence again in the city and local area – we must show we are back and mean business.

‘At Stoke we were surrounded by Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton and Liverpool. It is such a competitive industry and part of that is recruiting players of a young age and getting them into your system early to get that conveyor belt going.

‘It is about having a presence and being competitive. We have to sew up our own patch.

Dave Wright being welcomed to the club by academy boss Mark Kelly

‘We will try our best, you want 99 per cent of the kids coming to their home-town club.’

Formerly Stoke’s academy director, Wright was this week handed the remit of kick-starting the Blues’ dormant youth recruitment process.

The necessity for brutal cost-cutting, prompted by successive administrations from 2010, ensured a previously fluent Premier League youth scouting system was shelved.

It was a set-up which brought the likes of Conor Chaplin, Adam May and Brandon Haunstrup into the club from an early age, later joined by Ben Close, Jack Whatmough and Adam Webster. Before them, Matt Ritchie, Joel Ward and Marlon Pack.

Tornante’s arrival, armed with a vision for self-sufficiency driven by a thriving academy, has seen an increase in youth investment, tangible through Wright’s arrival.

To assist the former Trafalgar School pupil, additional eyes and ears will be assigned to identify talent.

Meanwhile, the shake-up will see Mark Kelly continue as academy boss, albeit with shackles removed to allow more time coaching rather than inhibited by a desk duties.

Kelly added: ‘Dave Wright is to put a strategy in place for the babies – the young group. So let’s get some coordinators back out. It’s stuff which has been absent for a long time.

‘It is broadening the whole base of our recruitment. The fruits of the Premier League is out there today, your Chaplins, Whatmoughs, Haunstrups, they are here because we had spotters out there getting involved.

‘In recent years, going from administration to administration, we’ve had one or two scouts. But now is the time to get those strategies in place because it’s majorly important.

‘The owners have spoken how youth will flourish – and this is part of the strategy and planning moving forward. We are bringing back something massively missed.

‘We still have some really good players and have done the best with what we’ve got, so it’s time to build on it, to get out into the local areas.

‘It’s about getting coordinators back out there and discussions are ongoing. Lots of people want to come back and work for the club.

‘The four-and-a-half years since leaving administration have been a lot of hard work, you’re firefighting a little bit to keep momentum going.

‘If you can find the best players, work with them on a daily basis, help them to grow and develop, then you have half a chance.

‘But you have to keep protecting that productivity rate, which we all know is high. We want to push – and it’s my job to make that happen over however long I am sitting in the post.

‘I want to look back over my time and think “Do you know what, that was good”. I want people to look at Portsmouth Football Club and say “Wow, that is the way to produce kids”.’

Pompey’s permitted catchment area encompasses locations within a hour of Fratton Park, including Basingstoke, Worthing and Guildford.

Wright’s responsibilities also entail recruiting players aged 16-21, thereby dovetailing with Kenny Jackett’s first-team domain.

The Blues boss was involved in the restructuring process which appointed the 37-year-old, along with Kelly and Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin.

Catlin said: ‘This is an area Mark Kelly has identified for ages. There is a massive gap in Academy recruitment because we haven’t had the money to put into it.

‘We are heavily reliant on a team of local scouts and well-meaning Pompey fans who flag up kids to us – but by the time they’re flagged up, other teams scouting them at a very, very young level have already signed them.

‘It is important we address this. There has now been investment – and there’ll be continuing investment – into recruitment so we get the kids before they vanish elsewhere.

‘It is totally fundamental to the Tornante vision. A lot of investment goes into the academy every single year – but there has now been a gradual ramping up of investment.

‘In the previous four years we’ve had other priorities, as such, and it was really about getting out of League Two and balancing the books.

‘Now there’s a change of priority, it is long-term strategic thinking. It’s not the next 2-4 years, but the next 10, 15, 20 years.

‘Over the coming weeks and months, supporters will see some big announcements. They will start to notice the fruits of a lot of work which has gone on behind the scenes – not just in the Academy.’