Kelly: Kid Mnoga can perform like a man for Portsmouth

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Haji Mnoga has yet to come of age – but physically he’s already a man.

That’s the verdict of Mark Kelly, who has overseen the defender’s rapid emergence through Pompey’s ranks.

Haji Mnoga in the thick of the action against Crawley on Tuesday night. Picture: Joe Pepler

Haji Mnoga in the thick of the action against Crawley on Tuesday night. Picture: Joe Pepler

The player aged 16 years, five months and 24 days upon his Blues bow remains the second youngest of the Academy’s intake of eight in June 2018.

Yet that did not prevent him forcing his way into Kenny Jackett’s first team at Crawley on Tuesday night.

Starting at right-back, Mnoga featured for 65 minutes before replaced by Tom Naylor in the 1-0 Checkatrade Trophy victory.

That outing established him as the second-youngest debutant in Pompey post-war history – behind current second-year scholar Joe Hancott.

And Academy boss Kelly is convinced the former Trafalgar School pupil is physically up to the challenge of
first-team football.

He said: ‘Haji’s a quiet boy, albeit confident within himself, big, strong and a good athlete.

‘He quietly goes about his work. He’s not loud, he’s not brash, he’s physically well developed and a good kid. He’ll just get his head down – and he wants to work.

‘Physically he won’t give much away. He looks like a man already, although technically we are working on him quite hard and on his understanding of the game.

‘We’ve had him a long time and he’s a funny one because he is so big and strong and been through a lot of growth spurts. From 14-16 he went through some crazy growth spurts.

‘His coordination went, he was all over the place, so we had to be patient and wait for that to get through. Now he is starting to manage his body a little bit better.

‘There is a lot of development to go, but from a physical point of view he is probably more advanced than anyone in his group – you can see that.

‘He has physicality and pace, he can get up and down, he sorts things out. He joined in with quite a few games in pre-season and caught the eye from that moment.’

Mnoga, who can also operate as a central defender, has made seven appearances for the Academy this season.

Kelly added: ‘It’s a nice little step in for him, the first on a bit of a journey. He has to go out and enjoy the opportunity and enjoy where he is.

‘He’s not the finished article by a long, long way.’