Who's the player with the best football brain in Portsmouth's history?
The quest to construct the perfect Pompey footballer continues.
Like Cyberdyne Systems from the Terminator series, we are building an unstoppable footballing machine from a burgeoning catalogue of quality players who’ve worn royal blue in the club’s history.
Now we move on to look at the footballing brain and those wonderful talents who’ve entertained us with their amazing ability to read the game
Sometimes a player arrives who just appear blessed with a sixth sense tuned to the football pitch.
There’s the midfielder who knows where the ball is going before he receives it and can see passes our measly brains simply cannot compute.
Or what about the number 10 with a radar operating and finely-tuned sense of spatial awareness, which allows him to open doors all others believed were locked shut?
We’ve seen others, too, who could spot danger lurking long before the rest and snuff out moves with their football IQ which would’ve exposed the less gifted.
So here is a, by no means exhaustive, list of Pompey favourites in contention with feedback welcome via email ([email protected]), Twitter (@pn_jordan_cross) or over a pint...
Pompey’s ‘quarterback’ and the architect of the rise to the Premier League. Jaws dropped as Harry Redknapp brought in Merson on the eve of the 2002-03 season and he orchestrated the most glorious campaign with a breathtaking range of passing. Delivered possibly the best performance I’ve seen from a Blues player, as he was given a standing ovation by the home fans at Millwall in his side’s 5-0 win in 2003.
When someone uses the football truism ‘the first few yards are in your head’ there’s a very good chance they are talking about Teddy Sheringham. Arrived at Fratton Park at the age of 37 with professionalism and levels of fitness which made him fundamental to Pompey’s maiden Premier League season. It was his movement and passing ability which shone, though, and allowed the likes of Yakubu to wreak havoc on top-flight defences.
When you can make your opponent end up on his backside simply with a twist of your heaps and slow-motion drag back you must have a pretty special understanding for how the game is unfolding in close proximity. But it was the Croatia great’s eye for a defence-splitting pass which delighted those who idolised him for that special season 2001-02 season, which really underlined his football IQ.
The only and only. The fact Pompey’s greatest was never booked or sent off in 845 appearances for his only club along with 48 England caps is testament to his ability to read the game. Perhaps there were more eye-catching and explosive players than Gentleman Jim but his unassuming defensive work when his club were the best in England and across 20 years until the age of 40 tell of his footballing brain and greatness.
The best Pompey defender these eyes have ever witnessed. Distin possessed electrifying pace and athleticism married with an innate sense of threat, which allowed him to close doors other defenders would never have been able to. The physics-defying goal-line clearance at Manchester United in 2008 was crucial in allowing his team to pull off a miraculous win and epitomised Distin’s qualities.
You have to be a bit special to be named Pompey’s player of the season in the same campaign your strike partner has rewritten the goalscoring record books. But that’s what happened as in 1993 as Jim Smith’s side narrowly missed out on Premier League football. Guy Whittingham’s partnership with Walsh was a thing of beauty as the little striker married graft and craft in a way rarely witnessed at Fratton before or since.
The French midfielder could do it all and is the choice of many when it comes to the best Pompey player of the modern era. Defensively could smell danger and snuff out attacks before they had the chance to build and could then power forward and create opportunities with his passing and drive. No surprise Real Madrid came calling, because Diarra had the lot.
Out of a period in the club’s history which was often low on quality and creativity burst the technical class of Kevin Dillon, as he joined Pompey in 1983 and the side went on to win the Division Three title under Bobby Campbell. Dead-eye Dillon as he was christened in the press became a central figure in Alan Ball’s Gremlins with his passing ability singing in one of the great Pompey midfields.
The King may have been, shall we say, in the Indian summer of his football career when he arrived at Fratton Park in 2006 but there were still many memorable days ahead across the next six years. He body may not have been as willing, but the mind was alive and well for the man who won the FA Cup in 2008 and led countless defenders a merry dance in royal blue.
The Pompey hall of famer was understandably near the head of the queue when it came to earning a place among the Fratton greats after the event's inception. It was the forward’s ability to read the game which made him a Blues legend in the back-to-back title teams of 1948-49 and 49-50. Phillips’ creativity arguably shone even more when he moved from a ‘number 10’ position to a ‘number four’ role midfield. ‘Len could read the game better than anyone I’ve ever seen,’ said Pompey stalwart Barry Harris of Phillips.