Jack Whatmough believes Ben Close can kick on and become a ‘really special player’ at Pompey.
The Gosport talent has long predicted his fellow academy graduate would make the grade as a professional – even when they were fighting for silverware on opposite teams.
The pair consistently battled each other for junior accolades when representing Wimbledon Park Tigers and Gosport Falcons respectively, before becoming team-mates at the Blues.
Although Whatmough made his debut as a 16-year-old in 2013, Close had to wait longer to establish himself at Fratton Park.
Last season, the Southsea midfielder nailed down a starting spot in Kenny Jackett’s side.
He made 45 appearances in all competitions and signed a new deal to stay at PO4 until 2020 last December.
Whatmough saluted the recent hurtling progress Close has made.
But the defender has long foreseen the former Priory School pupil progressing into a ‘ridiculous player.’
Whatmough said: ‘With Ben Close, everyone knew from such a young age he was going to be a ridiculous player.
‘He played for Wimbledon Park Tigers and I played for Gosport Falcons.
‘Growing up, it was always my team against his team in the finals.
‘It would usually go that I’d win one, he’d win one, then I’d win one, etc.
‘Then I went to Southampton and he went to Portsmouth.
‘We had two years not playing against each other and then we were playing with each other.
‘Ben has always been a good player but he’s just improved more and more – he’s going to be a really special player.
‘Even in training it’s so hard to get the ball off him and he takes that into a Saturday.’
Close was handed his professional debut by Andy Awford in a 3-1 win at Yeovil in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in September 2014.
He featured eight further times that campaign, while he made 14 appearances under Paul Cook during the 2015-16 season.
Close played just four times on the road to the Blues capturing the League Two title in 2017, spending the second half of the campaign on loan at Eastleigh.
The spell at the National League outfit paid dividends, though, and he established himself as a regular under Jacket last term.
He featured 45 times, keeping the likes of Danny Rose and Stuart O’Keefe out of the team at times.
Whatmough feels his former youth football sparring partner has taken the demands of League One football in his stride.
‘Even in under-18s I was surprised Ben wasn’t in and around the first team,’ the centre-back added.
‘In the league we were in at that age group it was easy for him.
‘Going into first-team football, he’s just taken it in his stride.
‘He’s playing well and enjoying it more and more.’