Time right for Portsmouth’s adopted son to leave home

Conor Chaplin lifts the League Two title. Picture: Joe Pepler
Conor Chaplin lifts the League Two title. Picture: Joe Pepler
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There it was, the sobering sight brilliantly piercing the engulfing angst.

It was a reminder of the real Conor Chaplin, the footballer idolised by younger fans and glorified in song by their elders.

That self-inflicted Keepmoat Stadium absence dictated that his standing during those final few days as a Pompey player had taken a public pounding.

Yet upon the occasion of Tuesday’s Fratton Park open training session, Chaplin reverted to type.

At the event’s culmination, he flanked team-mates during 40 minutes spent greeting supporters gathered at the front of the North Stand, dutifully signing autographs and posing for photos.

Except for the 21-year-old, mingling with fans has never been a chore. It’s a responsibility he relished with that customary winning smile and warm patter.

And so, during the height of the monsoon spawned through his Doncaster abstention, Chaplin re-emerged from his shelter to connect with the Fratton faithful.

Men of lesser character would have hidden, ducked out of view following a few token gesture scrawls with the pen. Others would have clutched a mobile to their cranium and faked a phonecall, believe me.

Not Conor Chaplin.

That infamous Thursday afternoon post-training conversation with Kenny Jackett may have been ill-conceived, yet shouldn’t detract from what has been a great Fratton love affair.

The six-year-old from Worthing matured into a Pompey fan and Blues hero, scoring 25 goals, racking up a century of appearances and collecting the League Two title.

He still treasures the photograph taken alongside Gary O’Neil upon signing a first schoolboy contract at the age of nine. He may not have been born on Portsea Island, but will forever belong.

Sadly, though, it was time for a parting of the ways, an inevitable conclusion following two months of wrangling, chiefly with his employers.

The notion that Chaplin’s desire to stay would have strengthened had Pompey tabled a fresh long-term contract is naive.

He recognised a continuing condemnation as an impact player off the bench, a role he had grown to loathe – while his resolve for regular first-team football escalated.

Of the youngster’s 125 appearances, just 36 were starts, with the longest run in the side stretching four matches.

Meanwhile, his tally of 86 substitute outings trail Kanu’s Pompey haul by just three. The Nigerian of indeterminable age established himself as a bench regular while winding down his career at Fratton Park.

Chaplin is a youngster who burst onto the scene at an early age and craves more football.

Substitute duty on a weekly basis is no longer palatable.

Hence his determination to leave, with Coventry the long-time preference.

There can be no criticising his finishing ability, yet successive managers of the calibre of Paul Cook and now Kenny Jackett have struggled to find accommodation within their 4-2-3-1 systems.

Instead an impact role beckoned – and ultimately ushered Chaplin out of the Fratton exit.

It was November 2014 during an FA Youth Cup tie at Plymouth when he came to the attention of many, netting twice in a 4-0 victory.

The following month he was granted a first-team debut as a substitute against Accrington and, before the season was out, had opened his goal account at Morecambe – Andy Awford’s final match as manager.

He now signs off with 25 goals in 122 first-team appearances, in addition to 15 goals in 21 friendlies and 22 goals in 34 reserve fixtures.

Outstanding statistics to warm the heart of any Coventry supporter.

Meanwhile, off the pitch, Chaplin was one of the Pompey dressing room’s most endearing and popular presences, without ego and a mischievous presence to lighten any mood.

The smile is genuine, the amiability natural. A grounded character who has retained modesty within that steely determination to succeed, much to the respect of his footballing peers.

The dancing spark had dulled of late, yet not through any ebbing of affection for his club.

Time to leave home – and thousands of parents are proudly watching his progress.