A club in search of a football identity - the biggest challenge Danny Cowley faces to turn Portsmouth into a force

We all know about the size of the Pompey overhaul Danny Cowley faces this summer.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 6:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 6:14 pm

And we’ve all heard plenty about the new financial landscape and the challenges it presents to the man tasked with rejuvenating this club’s fortunes.

It’s a mountain for the new head coach to climb, as he takes on the task of getting the Blues out of stagnant League One waters at the fifth time of asking.

But it’s not his Everest.

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That assignment runs a lot deeper than just player recruitment. It’s a lot more all-encompassing than working on sticking to a budget.

It’s a test which the Essex man admits excites, but he could also be afforded a frisson of trepidation at the vastness of the mission.

For too long now, Pompey have operated without the structures in place in the football operation to give a clear, considered identity of what this club stands for and how it wants to be seen.

That now has to change.

Danny Cowley

Off the pitch, of course, the boundaries are defined - those proud values there for all to see.

This club is now one which stands on it’s own two feet, and due the will of its people has won a fight for survival to become beacon of sustainability, in a business which refuses to heed its own cautionary tales. Admirable and worthy stuff.

Yet on it, there continues to be a lack of joined-up thinking about where Pompey are headed. Where are the ideologies and defined principles about where we're going on the pitch?

In many ways, the fact they aren’t there is understandable.

Danny Cowley. Pic: Barrington Coombs/PA Wire.

Eight years ago this club emerged from a battle against liquidation to become the nation’s biggest community-owned football operation.

Pompey was being built from the ground up and needed to walk before it could run.

When Guy Whittingham was handed a budget of around £1m to get his team out of League Two in 2013, the club’s long-term ideas for their football identity probably wasn’t foremost in his mind.

But through the managers who tried and failed before Paul Cook’s eventual success and into Kenny Jackett’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to deliver Championship football, the scenario has remained that with each change has come a complete shift in managerial direction.

It’s something we’re once more witnessing as Cowley rips up the first-team squad, with little argument over the necessity to do so.

This, however, has to be the last time it happens without due consideration.

Four years into Michael Eisner’s ownership there are now no excuses for there not to be the proper processes put in place to see a long-term identity achieved - one not wholly dependent on the manager.

It’s criminal that through seven years of Premier League millions nothing was achieved on that front.

Yet, it was always clear to those close to the story that if Harry Redknapp’s influence or the millions of Milan Mandaric or Sacha Gaydamak disappeared, the Pompey house built on sand would collapse. And so it proved.

There can be no repeat now.

So the task then becomes about formalising what Portsmouth Football Club should stand for on the green stuff.

Ask any Pompey fan what they want to see from their team and it’s a near unanimous response.

The first and only demand from the Fratton faithful is to witness their players perform with the kind of total commitment which is buried deep in the fabric of this city’s identity.

There is no rich history of flashy entertainment at PO4, yet there is a long narrative of heralding the great grafters who wore royal blue.

The notion of a Pompey Way, like when virtually all clubs use such a turn of phrase, is vague and nebulous. A notion born in a marketing brainstorming session rather than the hearts of supporters.

Yet, if fans were to see a high-tempo, counter-pressing style of play, an approach which vows to recover the ball within seconds of conceding it and relentless hard running both in and out of possession, you are beginning to see a footballing personification of the people of Portsmouth.

So this has to be the way.

Then comes the lengthy and intensive process of permeating a philosophy through the club from top to bottom - and finding the right people to implement the plan.

It's one thing saying we will have a winning Pompey identity, but the next and most pressing question is how?

Much will rest on the shoulders of incoming chief executive Andy Cullen and likewise new academy head Greg Miller, who so impressed Cowley as he came in on the latter stages of the search.

We hear the process of naming a new sporting director has been paused. The consideration given to the appointment is of paramount importance.

There’s enough about Roberto Gagliardi’s history to have concerns about his long-term suitability for a role, which is now arguably the most significant in a football operation.

Likewise, the identification of talent which can fill the remit being implemented by Cowley in terms of philosophy while having the profitability and resale value to serve the business, will prove critical.

Pompey’s recruitment in recent seasons has quite rightly faced criticism, although the notion outgoing chief executive Mark Catlin is responsible is completely misguided.

But head of recruitment Phil Boardman will now find his position under the microscope after four years at the club, in a period when Cowley is reshaping the department.

And at this moment it's the 42-year-old who will have the greatest influence in the form Pompey take on the pitch. The promise is to be tireless in his pursuit of reshaping the star and crescent.

Such work behind the scenes is tacit acceptance that sweeping change is required to modernise.

A glance around sees the work being put in by rivals reaping dividends - Blackpool, Peterborough and Lincoln in League One along with Brentford, Barnsley and Luton in the Championship - often with clear thinking over big backing.

The days of cutting off the hydra’s head without another growing back has to be consigned to the past.

Pompey now find themselves at a crossroads in their football pathway - they have to find a way from the League One woods or face being left there for good.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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