‘I told Portsmouth they’d make a fortune out of talented trio - now Brighton’s Adam Webster heading for England call-up’

Tom Craddock foresaw the Academy trio’s frightening potential in the summer of 2015.

By Neil Allen
Friday, 26th February 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Friday, 26th February 2021, 9:29 am
Adam Webster was tipped for the top by former team-mate Tom Craddock in 2015 - now he's backing him for England. Picture: Phil Noble - Pool/Getty Images
Adam Webster was tipped for the top by former team-mate Tom Craddock in 2015 - now he's backing him for England. Picture: Phil Noble - Pool/Getty Images

His parting words in a Fratton Park farewell phone call to Mark Catlin touched upon how Adam Webster, Conor Chaplin and Ben Close would eventually earn Pompey substantial windfalls.

Webster subsequently progressed to Ipswich, Bristol City and then, in August 2019, was bought by Premier League Brighton for £20m.

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Chaplin moved to Coventry, initially on loan, for £500,000 and then to Barnsley, who are presently eighth in the Championship.

As for Close, he remains at Fratton Park, having racked up 177 appearances and 18 goals.

Craddock told The News: ‘When I left Pompey in the summer of 2015, I rang Mark Catlin to thank him for everything he had done for me.

‘I also told him that Adam Webster, Conor Chaplin and Ben Close would make the club a lot of money.

Tom Craddock was impressed by Pompey Academy trio Adam Webster, Conor Chaplin and Ben Close during his two years at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘In one of my first training sessions with the club, we played at Havant. Webbo was at centre-back and I played against him. He was hitting long balls over the top with either foot and I immediately thought what a player.

‘I played at Middlesbrough and trained with Gareth Southgate, Ugo Ehiogu and Jonathan Woodgate, fantastic players, but on the ball Webbo was better than all of them.

‘Brighton played Liverpool earlier this month and I was amazed the Sky pundits didn’t pick him out for more praise. Everything that went into the box he headed out, while he’s immaculate on the ball.

‘The main thing about those three is how dedicated they were, how professional they were. They weren’t out in Pompey drinking all the time, they weren’t living up to that lifestyle, they were really dedicated to their profession.

Adam Webster made 81 appearances and scored five times during his time at Fratton Park

‘Now they are reaping the rewards. Closey has almost 200 games for Pompey, Conor is in the Championship – and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Webbo play for England.

‘If Southgate wants ball-playing centre-backs, he has to be looked at. Whether he gets a move to a bigger club or called up for England, it could happen because he is that good.

‘Brighton played Leicester in the FA Cup the other day and Jamie Vardy tried to outrun Webbo – and couldn’t. He’s got everything.

‘Mark (Catlin) knew that anyway, he’s a great guy who knows his football.’

Craddock played alongside the trio in reserve football during the second half of the 2014-15 campaign.

Yet he had also monitored their development from afar while sidelined during his long-term battle to recover from the knee problem which devastated his career.

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And he insists the youngsters’ mouthwatering potential was obvious.

He added: ‘To be honest, anyone would probably have seen it if you watched training.

‘All the lads knew how good those three were, it was just a case of them getting an opportunity and time to shine.

‘We used to call Closey “Inesta”. If he gets into the right team which plays his style of football, like a Swansea, I think you’d see him flourish. Maybe his style of football doesn’t quite suit this side.

‘In the 2015 pre-season, Conor was the best player in training. He’s such an unbelievable finisher, so explosive and an excellent player.

‘Although really small, his touch is good, he can take players on. He can finish with both feet like Mason Greenwood can. He may not be as dynamic as Mason in running lengths, but Conor was sharper in and around the box.

‘I saw him play for Barnsley against Chelsea the other week and he was playing as a wide striker, which doesn’t suit him. He’s not one of those players who’s going to get up and down, his body isn’t built for that.

‘If you play him as a striker he will score goals and obviously did that for Pompey and Coventry.

‘It’s testament to the Academy to have produced those three and Jack Whatmough as well, who has been unlucky with injuries.

‘Meanwhile, Dan Butler has gone on to have a good career, while Jed Wallace has done excellently. So many good young players.’

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