Ben Close: My Portsmouth career’s debt to Wigan boss Paul Cook

Among Paul Cook’s final acts was preserving Ben Close’s Pompey future.

Friday, 19th April 2019, 8:00 am
Ben Close this week signed a new Pompey deal - and thanked former boss Paul Cook for his faith. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South

Now the midfielder, who two years ago feared a Fratton Park exit, has prolonged his stay until the summer of 2021.

Close was this week rewarded for his consistency and impressive development under Kenny Jackett with a fresh Blues deal.

Yet as the 2016-17 campaign approached its memorable finale with the League Two title, the Southsea youngster faced being surplus to requirements.

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Having failed to appear for a single minute in the league campaign and loaned to non-league Eastleigh, he nervously awaited news on whether Cook would renew a contract poised to expire.

Then, in May 2017, Close signed a 12-month deal with a club option – and Cook quit for Wigan six days later.

Today, Close has totalled 111 appearances and eight goals for Pompey.

He said: ‘It’s obviously a really good feeling to be signing contracts before they expire. If it’s running out and coming to the end of the season, it can get quite nervy.

‘That’s what it was like a couple of years ago – then Paul Cook gave me a contract days before he left for Wigan.

‘In that tough situation you are trying to focus on your football and let that do the talking, earning you the contract.

‘But there is part of you thinking “I want to know what I’m doing for next year or couple of years”. It’s hard.

‘Then he (Cook) let the season finish and I got the call asking me to come in for talks and it was signed pretty quickly.

‘I am grateful he kept me at the club because he would have known he was off, luckily he gave me the chance to stay.

‘He had faith in me. I was told “You are a good player, I can see you having a future at the club, we’ll give you another contract, but there’s a lot of hard work to be done”.

‘I am so grateful for the club and Paul Cook for sorting that contract out before he left. He didn’t have to do that and could have let me and a couple of the others just fall by the wayside.’

Close’s existing deal was scheduled to expire in the summer of 2020.

Now the first-team regular has signed until the summer of 2021, with the club possessing an option.

The 22-year-old added: ‘I’m really happy that I’ve been able to sort this contract out well before the previous one expired.

‘The bulk of my appearances have arrived in the last two years and I’m really enjoying it.’