The career crossroads looming for Portsmouth favourite Christian Burgess
With Paul Cook allowed to reap the benefits of a rejuvenated Pompey playing budget designed to bankroll promotion, he paid fees for three players in the summer of 2015.
Chesterfield playmaker Gary Roberts totalled 20 goals and 20 assists during his two seasons on the south coast, before jettisoned under new management.
Kal Naismith arrived from Accrington and proved to be the talisman and top goalscorer during the League Two title success following difficult beginnings.
The third was Christian Burgess.
This summer marks the fifth anniversary of the central defender’s recruitment from Peterborough for an undisclosed fee.
It could also signal the end of his Fratton Park playing days, for Burgess is among nine players whose contracts expire at the season’s end.
Some possess the safety net of a 12-month club option to extend their stay, albeit arrangements not always offering significantly-improved wage terms.
In the case of the 28-year-old first-team regular, as it stands he will become a free agent on July 1, left to seek alternative employment.
There will surely be interest in a player of his calibre soon to be up for grabs, particularly at League One level. Undoubtedly, it represents a gamble by the Blues.
Burgess has proven himself to be a magnificent signing by Cook, whose player recruitment during the first few months following his managerial arrival from Chesterfield was largely faultless.
In addition to the trio secured for transfer fees ahead of the 2015-16 campaign, he snapped up Enda Stevens, Michael Doyle, Gareth Evans, Kyle Bennett, Ben Davies and Brian Murphy on frees, with Matt Clarke obtained on loan from Ipswich.
Granted, the enigmatic Adam McGurk was not such a triumph, Adam Barton was later sold to Partick Thistle for an undisclosed fee, representing a profit, and, while goalkeeper Murphy had his detractors, he was reliable enough.
Nonetheless, Cook’s business upon his appointment was remarkable, with Burgess and Evans still at Fratton Park – their longevity testament to ability and consistency.
Burgess’ substitute entrance against Scunthorpe in the week represented his 197th outing for the club, while last weekend’s winner at Bolton was his ninth goal in that period.
The likelihood is next month he will become only the fourth Pompey player during the 21st Century to reach 200 matches for the club.
Evans, who is currently on 211, arrived at the landmark in November. The others are Matt Taylor (December 2007 against Liverpool) and Linvoy Primus (December 2006 against Bolton).
Considering Burgess was informed at the start of the campaign he would be third choice, this term has been something of a renaissance, re-emerging to become the Blues’ pivotal defender and player-of-the-season contender.
Nobody has started more League One matches than the former Middlesbrough player during the current campaign. The man earmarked to deputise for either Sean Raggett or Paul Downing has long since outstripped them.
Yet Burgess’ Fratton Park career now stands at a crossroads, as the club stick by their stance not to discuss new deals until Pompey’s league destiny is clear.
He remains highly regarded by the Blues’ management and hierarchy, certainly the defender’s contributions are far from underestimated, while his excellent rapport with supporters and embracing of community involvement is also recognised.
The current situation is not influenced by a lack of appreciation towards what Burgess offers the team on and off the pitch. However, the contract policy remains in force, without exceptions.
Pompey’s desire for players to focus on winning promotion rather than distracted by lengthy contract negotiations with agents by their side is understandable. Similarly, they presently cannot predict what division they will operate in next term, thereby impacted upon squad planning.
The policy has been in place for the full duration of the present run of two defeats in 20 matches which have elevated the Blues into seventh spot, six points off the summit with a game in hand.
Clearly it hasn’t affected a dressing room which has turned this season around superbly since languishing in 17th by mid-October, amid calls for the manager’s dismissal by some supporters.
Of the nine whose futures are uncertain, Burgess and Ronan Curtis are presently the only regulars in Jackett’s side – although Curtis possesses a club option for another 12 months.
Others whose deals expire in the summer are Luke McGee, Brett Pitman, Oli Hawkins, Lee Brown, Adam May, Brandon Haunstrup and Matt Casey, opening up the opportunity for the initiating of a post-season clear-out.
The club are concerned if one fresh contract is agreed, it will spark a procession of knocks at the door demanding to follow suit, potentially unsettling the dressing room.
Of course, in the specific case of Burgess, he is armed with a strong claim for a new contract, while others possess rather less persuasive arguments. Nonetheless, there will be no jumping of the queue.
Still, it is understood Burgess is eager to remain on the south-coast which has been five home for approaching five years, settling into old Portsmouth and becoming a regular presence among the community, particularly landmark events.
However, at the age of 28, there remains uncertainty, thereby opening the door for a possible departure, irrespective of whether the club should eventually decide to get back to him over a deal.
In football, situations can alter, the reduction of wage bills through January exits of high earners can conceivably create the budgetary space to then permit upgraded contracts. Hypothetically, it is plausible.
Pompey may well be in a position to act on player deals as the season progresses, as they did with recent agreements for promising pair Haji Mnoga and Alex Bass to secure their long-term presence.
In the meantime, Burgess must wait – and continue performing to the best of his ability.
The defender has admirably fought his way back into Pompey’s first-team on occasions during his lengthy association, without a whinge or grumble, certainly not within public earshot.
With winners medals for League Two and the Checkatrade Trophy, plus two play-off semi-final involvements, Burgess has been an outstanding servant to the Blues.
Arguably, he is presently producing the finest football of his career at League One standing.
Let’s hope he is not at this level next season – but in the Championship with Pompey.