Danny Cowley discusses potential Portsmouth under-23s plans and having 'best Category 3 academy' in country
It’s a set-up that sections of the Fratton faithful have long clamoured for.
But Danny Cowley believes that a permanent under-23s group can only be implemented when the Blues have ‘the best Category Three academy in the country’ – and enough players on the cusp of the first team.
Former manager Kenny Jackett previously cited the club’s Hilsea training ground facilities wouldn’t be able to allow a permanent development side.
Still, portions of fans believe it would provide a crucial buffer that can aid Pompey’s already impressive record of churning out homegrown talent.
In previous seasons, the Blues have entered under-23s teams in the Premier League, Central League and Hampshire cups.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic this term, though, Pompey have managed to organise just two reserve matches.
That’s meant youngsters such as Haji Mnoga, Harry Kavanagh and Alfie Stanley have struggled for regular minutes.
Pompey’s academy currently operates at Category Three level and that’s unlikely to upgrade unless the club relocate their youngsters from Copnor Road.
However, Cowley’s aim is to transform Pompey’s youth set-up as England’s creme de la creme at its current level.
Only then can the Blue start thinking about a permanent under-23s outfit.
Cowley told The News: ‘First and foremost, it's about getting the best academy we can get.
‘We are a Category 3 academy and have got to try to be the best Category 3 academy in the country. That has to be our first ambition.
‘We know it's tough out there with big Category 1 academies at big clubs who have unbelievable facilities and resources. They stockpile all the best players and because of the EPPP rules, are able to take any of the best players off you for a relatively small amount of money.
‘The academy is so crucial to the club and community. Of course, we want an academy where they'll all play for Pompey but we know that's only the one per cent because it's that hard to be a professional football, so all the kids have to leave with good values, a work ethic and transferable skills.
‘Also, a safe exit to continue their football careers somewhere else. If we can do that and maybe produce some players who work for the club in other areas – maybe in the video analysis department, sports science department or business department – we really have a successful academy on our hands.
‘If we get to the stage where we are the best Category 3 academy that are developing players ready to be part of our first team, then we'll have an under-23s and a nice stepping stone to the first team.
‘First and foremost, we have got to get the first bit right. That's not just the academy but the whole club.
‘We've got to find the best model, put real enthusiasm and work into it, we can develop our players and have so many under-18s ready for the next step that we need an under-23s group.’
In recent seasons, Pompey have preferred to send their younger players out on loan to local non-league clubs – mainly Gosport Borough and Bognor.
This term, Kavanagh, Eoin Teggart and Gerard Storey spent time at Borough, while Stanley had a brief spell with the Rocks.
Cowley sees that current pathway is hugely beneficial.
He added: ‘I look at under-23s football and there is a place for it for late developers.
‘As soon as you're ready to play first-team football then you should. There is so much benefit as long as it's with the right coaches, manager and environment.
‘While we haven't got the under-23s, we need to have the right clubs for our players to go and experience first-team football and provide the necessary stepping stones to get into our first team.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
The News has launched a subscription offer which gives you unlimited access to all of our Pompey coverage, starting at less than 14p a day.