Opinion: Big sacrifices could be needed to bring Portsmouth long-term success

There is a fine line between ambition and pragmatism which Pompey have to walk on to succeed long-term, writes Freddie Webb.

By Mark McMahon
Friday, 30th April 2021, 4:49 pm
Updated Friday, 30th April 2021, 4:52 pm

Players will come and go no matter what league the Blues end up calling home next season.

If promotion is secured, many of the current crop will not be capable of succeeding at Championship level.

Or, if the supporters’ hearts are broken again, changes will have to be made by default to stop the pla-yoff rot.

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From left: Craig MacGillivray, Ronan Curtis, Jack Whatmough and Tom Naylor

An overhaul will happen.

Financial gaps need to be plugged, though, as Pompey are continuing to lose £700k a month.

Currently, 10 first-team players are out of contract, with only Andy Cannon, Ben Close and Haji Mnoga having club options.

The most talented players may look elsewhere to compete at a higher level.

Danny Cowley’s hand may be forced to let some big names go, but he will be instigating his own changes.

Not everyone suits the Cowleys’ footballing philosophy.

Some sacrifices will be made to make sure round pegs fit in round holes.

But Pompey have to at least make an effort to keep some of their star players.

They cannot simply wave the white flag and concede.

If they do, they’ll be left behind by their more ambitious rivals, who may be tempted to throw caution to the wind.

Sunderland have reshaped their entire recruitment strategy under a new owner.

Ipswich, suddenly flush with cash, are expected to bankroll Paul Cook next summer.

The finances in the Championship are a completely different animal entirely, if the Blues get there, but they still have to be sensible.

Michael Eisner bought the Blues on that very notion, and we’ve seen what happens when no care is taken at all.

But Pompey cannot stand still, and efforts have to be made to be competitive.

Some short-term decisions need to happen, otherwise, the ultimate goal of stabilising in the Championship will be a fantasy.

Out of all the players on expiring contracts, three of them stand out: Jack Whatmough, Tom Naylor, and Craig MacGillivray.

They’re the backbone of this current squad.

All three of them wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship, and a concerted effort has to be made to keep them.

But if I was limited to throwing the money at just one of them in a bid to make them stay, it would have to be Whatmough.

He is a commander of a defensive line who can also drive play into midfield.

Pompey’s best defenders in recent memory – Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess – have been ball-playing centre-backs, and in the lower leagues, they are few and far between.

I don’t care about Whatmough’s injury record.

I also don’t mind his over-exuberant challenges which have got him into trouble in recent weeks.

He has proven time and again that he has the determination to recover and keep pushing against all adversity.

That’s a captain’s mentality.

And given the fact he’s risen through the academy ranks, who better to build a new squad around?

Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if a higher-echelon club comes knocking.

It would be rough to lose both Naylor and MacGillivray.

The duo have worn the star & crescent with such distinction over the years.

But if push comes to shove, they may need to be let go to free up cash for the rest of the squad.

Don’t get me wrong, if re-signing Whatmough is unachievable, the board should look to retain one of them, if not both.

But from weighing the three players up against each other, the Gosport lad will be the hardest to replace.

Losing Naylor’s presence in the dressing room will be gutting, but there are other defensive-midfielders out there capable of stepping in.

And despite his many outstanding attributes, the midfielder’s passing causes concern.

In a possession-based side, that would be red flag moving forward.

MacGillivray has had a standout season.

At one point he was statistically the best keeper in the league for shot-stopping, and his heroics at Wembley were outstanding.

However, his slow distribution is at odds with the Cowleys’ playing style, and Alex Bass has proven his readiness for the first team before.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d hate to lose them, and they would all stay in an ideal world.

But if it meant money was freed up to help revitalise the squad, then they’re the sort of sacrifices that have to be made.

Indeed, the Cowleys deserve a chance to implement their own vision and assemble a squad that reflects their style of play.

Their approach to the transfer market is meticulous.

Pompey have benefitted from this approach before, with the likes of Jamal Lowe, but the tactic is a gamble.

Money still needs to be found, though, to secure talented transfers.

That all-important competitive edge can still be found, even by letting current assets go.

I don’t see a future for Michael Jacobs, Ellis Harrison, Paul Downing or James Bolton – all players who are still under contract and replaceable.

Freeing up those wages would be useful, but they won’t be considered prized possessions by other clubs and demanding significant fees,

The only player who could offer a such an outlay, who I’d be willing to part with, is Ronan Curtis.

The winger has an insatiable drive for success.

If Championship football is off the table with the Blues, I could see the Irishman wanting to test himself at a higher level elsewhere, and nail down an international spot.

His current value is also at its highest, even with a Covid financial climate.

A return of 13 goals and eight assists is excellent, and his hunger to press high and attack defences when dribbling is exactly what a Championship side would want.

But when you look deeper, he’s only scored one goal against the current top-six in League One.

He’s prone to streaky form, and Cowley has stressed work needs to be done on his emotional intelligence.

Curtis has proven the doubters wrong with his talent, but cash raised from a transfer offers so many options in the summer.

Difficult personnel decisions have to be made.

On the one hand, Pompey need to streamline their squad under a new manager and support his tactical inspiration.

But they can’t completely wipe the slate clean.

There is too much talent in this squad to completely gut it, financial implications or otherwise.

A competitive team has to be on the pitch next season.

That is what the fans expect.

A balance between looking at the here and now, and the bigger picture, is difficult to achieve.

But Pompey have to master that principle if they want success.