Portsmouth were too late to the negotiating table - Christian Burgess has made his choice

Pompey’s suspicions were correct, albeit confirmed during the most dramatic of circumstances.

After the play-offs, Christian Burgess will leave after five years at Fratton Park to test himself in Belgium. Picture: Kieran Cleeves
After the play-offs, Christian Burgess will leave after five years at Fratton Park to test himself in Belgium. Picture: Kieran Cleeves

Christian Burgess had agreed a deal elsewhere – now this would be his final Fratton Park season.

As it turned out, the 28-year-old is heading to the second tier of Belgium football, namely Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.

Pompey followers may throw around average attendances of 3,000 when questioning the reasoning. Nonetheless, it is Burgess’ decision.

This represents his final opportunity to earn a big contract – a pay hike and three-year deal with an option clearly sufficiently alluring.

Besides, with no family dependent on him, it signifies the ideal opportunity for the central defender to test himself abroad.

Belgium may not appeal to some of the Fratton faithful, but it excites Burgess. It’s his preference which matters most, of course.

Still, when it came to the Blues securing a one month extension beyond his June 30 contract expiry to assure play-off participation, complexities emerged.

Burgess had agreed a move to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise – suddenly his future club had to grant Pompey permission to keep him a while longer.

Kenny Jackett and Mark Catlin had long publicly voiced belief Burgess had another club lined up.

Certainly, his purported lack of urgency to pursue Pompey contract talks since the turn of the year provided tell-tale signs to a club which grew increasingly more interested in retaining him.

Ultimately, it was too late.

Earlier in the season, Burgess would have signed a fresh Fratton Park deal, yet club policy to shelve all contract discussions proved decisive in this instance.

With his stock soaring following the best Blues season of his five years with the club, there were suitors – at home and abroad.

Similarly, they were offering deals longer than he anticipated receiving at Fratton Park. Following a scintillating season, the potential of a 12-month contract was deeply unpalatable.

Unquestionably, Pompey can be criticised for failing to bring Burgess to the negotiating table far earlier, particularly before his head was turned.

Yet lambasting them for failing to match a Royale Union Saint-Gilloise deal for potentially four years is harsh.

A 28-year-old handed such a contract length by his existing club is largely unheard of in League One. The brutal truth is, there is no resale value.

In the decade since tumbling out of the Premier League, Pompey have, on numerous occasions, used three-year deals to lure players to Fratton Park, some for transfer fees.

The many include Paul Jones, Andy Barcham, Luke McGee, Oli Hawkins, Tom Naylor, Kal Naismith, Matt Clarke and Paul Downing.

In the competitive transfer market, those moving clubs will inevitably be handed better contracts than long-serving players and home-grown products already on the books.

Incidentally, on just six occasions in 10 years has a Pompey player already at the club been presented with a deal for at least three years.

The oldest of these was 26-year-old Kyle Bennett in May 2017. Others consist of Ronan Curtis (23), Alex Bass (21), Conor Chaplin (18), Jack Whatmough (17) and Jed Wallace (20).

At the age of 28, it was unrealistic for Burgess to earn a similar Fratton Park deal. Certainly in the post-coronavirus era.

Let’s also not forget that, in February 2019, the former Peterborough man was largely vilified following a costly mistake after replacing the injured Jack Whatmough against Doncaster.

Then, six months later, with Sean Raggett and Paul Downing also in the building for pre-season, he was third choice.

His selection odds lengthened when Tom Naylor overtook him to operate at centre-half in several friendlies. Previously, when fit, Whatmough had also been preferred ahead of Burgess.

Certainly in August there was no clamour for any long-term deal to be handed out to Burgess, irrespective of his overall popularity with the Fratton faithful.

Then his performances grew – and we witnessed a remarkable transformation.

Suddenly, a player seemingly not part of Jackett’s plans had prompted a shift in club policy to sound him out for a new Pompey deal.

It was, of course, too late. And, in comparison to the Belgian club offer, too little.

After July 13 at the latest, Burgess will bid farewell to Fratton Park – his contract expiry having entitled him to freedom of choice.

And, unfortunately for Pompey, that choice is Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.

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