LATEST: Where Danny Cowley’s rebuild stands today as man with meat cleaver carves up Portsmouth set-up in new era
Here’s to new Pompey beginnings.
It’s a turn of phrase which conservatively reached double figures in usage, across an epic two-hour briefing in Fratton Park’s Jimmy Dickinson Lounge on Monday afternoon.
After 60 days, Danny Cowley was conducting his first press conference outside of a matchday without the aid of a laptop and Zoom.
And such was the breadth of questioning over events since his last engagement with the local media fraternity, Pompey’s new head coach departed in zombified state with the parting shot he’d never known a presser like it.
But even after a grilling over his players’ conduct after a student was left unconscious outside Astoria nightclub, signings and the player and staff exodus, Cowley by his own admission, has had much more difficult conversations to deal with in recent days.
In fact, the meetings with every single player and staff member has stretched to 30 hours, as talks centred on what lies ahead at PO4 in the coming weeks.
‘We feel it’s new beginnings,’ Cowley said off the back of those talks. ‘There’s been changes at pretty much every level of the club.’
Elsewhere, it’s been coined everything from a reboot to a revolution as the former teacher takes a meat cleaver to the Pompey squad and support network.
There were many who thought some artistic licence was being applied when previewing what was being billed as a ‘brutal’ clearout.
The publication of the Blues’ retained list on Saturday hardly told a tale of the axe being wielded on a squad who have continued to fall short of their demands, and subsequently lost the backing of their fan base.
Andy Cannon’s exit was worthy of a slight raising of an eyebrow in some quarters, but that development didn’t truly shine a light on how things stood.
The context only arrived with the breaking news of an impending exit for player of the season Craig MacGillivray and captain Tom Naylor in the ensuing days.
Then came the reality that what’s on the table for Ben Close and Ryan Williams will amount to a paycut in the post-Covid world we’re heading into.
After haemorrhaging £700,000 a month for a year there is to be a budgetary realignmement for Pompey moving forward, as they attempt to get back on to a path of self-sustainability - billionaire owner or not.
That evidently means a downturn in the £4m-plus budget Kenny Jackett was given - and his successor has absolutely no issue with that.
‘There’s no way I will moan about money in this environment, the board has done brilliantly,’ Cowley said of his kitty in a glowing tribute to the Eisners’ approach and business model.
So the deadline has been set for a couple of men to decide whether their Fratton journeys will continue, and there is currently much for them to mull over.
The same can certainly be said for Jack Whatmough, who, it is fair to say, is the new management team’s clear priority to retain.
For all the talk of Championship interest, mention of Bristol City does seem a tad flimsy at this stage while we wait to see if more substantial talk of Millwall develops.
In any case, it appears the Gosport’s lad’s preference would be to stay. That means a deal which works for all parties in giving Whatmough financial security and the club protection against injury recurrences, is the challenge in the coming days.
The staff has been shaken up with good men departing in Joe Gallen, Jake Wigley and particularly John Keeley, who has served the club loyally in two stints.
The reality, however, is it’s the on-pitch assets at the club who offer the flexibility for Cowley get stuck into the key areas for improvement this summer.
Ronan Curtis has made no secret of his Championship ambition, and with each passing day it feels as if he’s moving closer to achieving that aim, most likely with Blackburn or possibly Cardiff at this stage.
Marcus Harness and John Marquis then become the most bankable assets, albeit a world away from the £5m or so pocketed by the exits of Matt Clarke and Jamal Lowe in years gone by.
We wait to see if overcoming Sunderland’s wealth is a challenge Cowley must rise to, but with Sheffield Wednesday coming into the equation joined by Paul Cook’s cash-flush Ipswich, there are again clubs with greater financial muscle to overcome.
A position in the top-six pack is probably where Pompey will once again find themselves in terms of the monetary hierarchy, once the dust settles in this new world.
And they are conditions Cowley believes will allow this club to begin looking forward once again.
‘Since I’ve been here, a lot of people associated with this club look back,’ Cowley observed.
‘I understand why you would look back when you look to the Premier League and FA Cup-winning teams.
‘I want people to look forward now, though. If I’m to get people to look forward I have to create something which is really exciting they can look forward to. That’s what we’re going to work relentlessly hard towards achieving.’
So here’s to new beginnings, Danny, from a fan base who are desperate to remember what it’s like to be raised from their seats when they return again in August.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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