The long-serving ex-Portsmouth, Sunderland and Bristol Rovers man enjoying Stateside glory after landing role with Scottish giants Rangers

He was the long-serving Pompey stalwart sacked just as he was about to reach a quarter of century of service to the club he loves.

By Jordan Cross
Monday, 13th December 2021, 5:30 pm
Updated Monday, 13th December 2021, 5:50 pm

‘I joked that most people get a gold watch for 25 years of service - I got the boot!’ Paul Hardyman joked of his exit in 2015, after 136 senior appearances across six years and later roles in the community department, academy and eventually first team.

But the man from Copnor whose own wife calls him ‘Pompey Paul’ has used that hurt and since bounced back in academy jobs at the likes of Watford, before landing a position which would take him on an unlikely Stateside voyage of discovery in March.

Hardyman was offered a role with Scottish giants Rangers working at one of their feeder outfits - California’s Orange County SC - honing and identifying young talent.

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But a mid-season shake-up at the USL Championship club led to the former Great Salterns student being flung back into the first-team picture, along with former Burnley defender Richard Chaplow.

And what followed few would’ve anticipated, as the pair revitalised their side’s fortunes - guiding them all the way to a USL Championship victory in a final win against Tampa Bay Rowdies at the end of last month.

‘I don’t think I could have ever seen what happened coming when I went out there,’ Hardyman said of his experience.

‘The job was to work with the young players to make sure they are ready for USL Soccer and get them to the European market, so they can be sold.

Paul Hardyman, right, celebrates his USL Championship win with Orange County SC assistant first-team coach Didier Crettanand.

‘But after I went over they sacked the manager and appointed me and Richard Chaplow, who was first-team coach.

‘So Richard was made manager and me first-team coach and we managed to get them to the play-offs and win three games to face Tampa Bay Rowdies in the final.

'They had walked their league and cruised through to the final - but we managed to beat them 3-1.

‘To get the USL Championship, well things couldn’t have gone any better. I’m really pleased with the whole thing. It’s something I never thought would happen.

Paul Hardyman in his time with the Pompey first team.

‘The whole experience has been great working with adult first-team players.

‘I took from my experience at Portsmouth with the first team and we went from strength to strength.

‘We went from a team who were losing and conceding late goals to a team winning and scoring late goals.

'So to then top it off with going all the way and winning the championship was just superb.'

Hardyman has now returned to these shores, but is expecting to go back to California next month to continue in his role after earning another year’s deal with Rangers and Orange County.

The 57-year-old who is credited with unearthing Brighton’s Adam Webster and aiding the development of a conveyor belt of Pompey talent such as Jed Wallace, Conor Chaplin and Jack Whatmough, will be looking to to find some more gems moving forward.

That’s after finding a teenage hope who is already making waves and looks set for a bright future on this continent.

Hardyman added: ‘I’ve been employed as a link between Rangers and Orange County, as a first-team and Individual Development Plan coach, while working to set up an academy to get the best players from around California.

‘That’s gone well and we have one kid who’s 17, Kobi Henry, who I went over to help develop.

‘He wasn’t really getting into the first team before I went, but by the end of the season had played 18 games and got a call-up into the USA under-20 side.

‘He played against Colombia and Mexico and did that well he’s now been called up into the full international team at 17.

‘The USL is like the Championship of American soccer, and it’s unusual for anyone to get called up into the national team from that league, let alone a 17-year-old. He’s got a big future.

‘I've always felt I would like to go to America and work at some point. Living and coaching has been a really pleasing and I’m looking forward to going back for the new season.’