Nuclear spending and the concerning details of where Portsmouth stand as they prepare to go up against Sunderland, Ipswich Town, Wigan Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday and Co this season

Danny Cowley is the type of person more interested in finding solutions than fretting about problems.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 5:15 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 5:47 pm

The Pompey head coach is the kind of clear thinker whose currency is delivering answers over posing interminable questions.

But there’s no hiding from the fact the man charged with injecting life into this club on the pitch, has a lot of problems and unanswered questions to deal with right now.

For a man who energises, the Blues boss is having a tough task radiating an air of positivity at present with the new League One season now just 10 days away.

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Because, on the pitch, this doesn’t look like a club remotely ready for the challenges which lie ahead.

Before we get into that, we should take a moment to be thankful for what we do have.

There’s little doubt that since the Cowleys have come into PO4 they’ve invigorated a stagnant football club, who had seen a toxic malaise take root under Kenny Jackett. Pompey have the right men at the helm.

And, in terms of the business actually conducted this summer, there’s a very sturdy look to the eight new additions to arrive. The likes of Clark Robertson, Shaun Williams, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Kieron Freeman and Gavin Bazunu have impressed in pre-season - and then there is Gassan Ahadme's potential and eight pre-season goals to date.

Danny Cowley. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

But there are a lot of buts.

The first is where things stand inside the building, as we count down to the trip to Fleetwood Town a week on Saturday.

Cowley currently has a squad of 20 players at his disposal.

That in isolation sounds a promising number, but grant some closer inspection and the holes quickly begin to appear.

To begin with, a trio of those players - Haji Mnoga, Liam Vincent and Jayden Reid are viewed as future prospects and were earmarked for potential loans. That, of course, before news of Reid’s serious knee injury broke on Tuesday evening.

In wide areas, two of those in the squad have their futures in doubt, with Ronan Curtis seeking Championship employment and Ipswich Town chasing Michael Jacobs. A third, Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, was part of a side relegated to the National League in his loan with Southend last term.

Then drink in the hugely worrying fact Cowley can call on two central midfielders at present. Yes, two.

At 34, Shaun Williams makes up one of those options along with Ryan Tunnicliffe. It’s a glaringly obvious concern.

Then there’s the attacking roster of Ellis Harrison, John Marquis and Gassan Ahadme: two strikers who’ve failed to fire consistently, and a promising but untried prospect.

By Cowley’s own estimation, Pompey need a keeper, left-back, central defender, two midfielders withdrawn attacker and out-and-out striker.

So, let's not hide from the fact the vast amount of work still to do is now a real and legitimate cause of disquiet.

For such diligent operators, it also has an obvious knock-on effect for the management group in trying to relay very defined game ideas to the team.

With holes to fill, the Cowleys are being forced to use triallists who realistically have little chance of earning long-term deals, and should really be long gone by now. Yet, they are a necessary evil at present.

Then we get on to the thorny issue of finances and the envious glances being cast around the division, as spending reaches levels few would ever have anticipated earlier in the summer.

Even accounting for takeovers among rivals, did we see £500,000 signing-on fees, wages regularly reaching more than £10,000 per week, seven-figure signings and offers of £1.3m tabled by rivals?

The truth is Pompey didn’t, with it catching a man well versed in League One levels of spending in Cowley on the hop.

Talk of the Blues being a top-six budget has now gone quiet as a result. As, crucially, has the transfer trail on a number of players.

Rangers defender George Edmundson was one of them, while The News understands a return loan move for Conor Chaplin has been mooted this summer. Both are now Ipswich Town players.

That’s before we even get on to Ben Thompson, who again has been under consideration. Wages believed to be in the region of £9,000 per week could not be accommodated without some serious help from Millwall, however. At this moment, that doesn’t look on the cards with the Lions having their own bills to balance.

Perhaps Luton can be more accommodating when it comes to Joe Morrell, but, as we've seen, it would only take interest from a certain few to violently change that picture. All the while, Pompey wait for a stagnant Championship market to spring to life, and knock down the opening domino in the recruitment rally they're watching with intent.

So Cowley finds himself in a situation where he has to temper his own chagrin at putting in the miles on deals, only to be ‘blown out of the water’ by those he will vie with for League One supremacy.

He’s in a position that when he talks he doesn’t want to sound bitter about the spending power of his rivals, nor the financial conditions he’s working to - which he is genuinely understanding of. Yet, it’s hard not come up short on both fronts when speaking of the terrain he currently inhabits.

Those moments have bubbled to the surface a couple of times over the past week, for the first time since Cowley’s March arrival.

But then the reset button is pressed and the Londoner’s default setting found again.

That was seen at Kenilworth Road on Saturday, as the reality of transfer difficulties ebbed away in the face of realisation virtually all of Cowley’s career successes have come against foes with superior financial conditions. The brothers found a way to triumph.

Yet, perhaps the time is now to temper expectations and realise where things stand.

For the first time in five League One seasons, Pompey are not being seen as favourites to reach the Championship by the bookies.

The oddsmakers have the Blues as low as sixth behind Ipswich Town, Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton and Wigan to be celebrating promotion next May.

Of course, it’s the birthright of every football fan to enter a new season with hope. Yet, as we stand here today looking at Cowley’s burgeoning to-do list, even that ranking perhaps feels a tad optimistic.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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