Young guns pen pro deals

The trickle has become a steady stream.

Now Paul Smalley is gunning for home-grown talent to flood Fratton Park.

Four of his starlets this week penned their maiden first-year professional contracts after climbing the youth ranks.

For academy youngsters Perry Ryan, Ellis Martin, Peter Gregory and Billy Goddard, it's recognition of outstanding progress under the head of development's watchful eye.

The quartet represent the Blues' drive to become more self sufficient by creating their own first-team players.

Having splashed out millions upon millions in transfer fees in recent times – ultimately to the club's detriment – it's a crucial change of focus.

Sure enough, Ryan, Martin, Gregory and Goddard were today training alongside the senior squad for the very first time.

Their emergence displays the strength of an academy system which was given significant investment under Paul Hart initially and then Smalley.

Admittedly, youth staffing levels have been slashed and costs cut during the past 10 months due the financial meltdown.

Regardless, the procession of talent emerging remains encouragingly strong.

And Smalley believes this is just the start.

He said: 'What we have done is look at the whole structure and we are planning now three or four years in advance.

'It's something we have got to do as a club now – the development of young players and young talent is critical.

'Self-sufficient is a broad term but the development of players into the senior team is key and the priority is producing home-grown talent.

'Everything is geared towards bringing through our own players.

'Sometimes the industry does not give players the time they need to develop because of the pressures. Not us.

'These players need more time to mature and to be given the right experiences at the right time that will help them in terms of education and general development.

'We try to push through players into reserve football at a young age to see how they cope at that level.

'The four lads who have this week been given their first-year professional contracts have all been playing reserve-team football and done well.

'It's about bringing through your own players and there is enough quality in and around the area to find, group and then invest in.

'We are trying to do as much as we can.

'We need to bring through that home-grown talent.'

The current crop includes Ryan, a central defender who comes from Milton. Another local lad is Martin, a left-sided player from Buck-land.

Gregory hails from Eastbourne and can play at right-back or on the right side of midfield.

And completing the quartet is Goddard, from Basingstoke.

The local theme doesn't stop there either.

The Blues' new scholars are inducted into the academy next month – with an emphasis on talent from the area.

Smalley added: 'Of the 14 the club are taking on, 60 per cent are youngsters from the area.

'Others include Chinedu Vine from Home Farm and another Irish youngster in Matthew Gledhill.

'In addition, some are coming over from an academy in Australia we have links with, although their parents are English.'