Why it may be too early to write off Portsmouth homecoming for Newcastle United star

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It goes against everything Pompey are putting in place when it comes to their recruitment.

At a time when the club’s stated transfer policy is to land young ‘first-team ready’ talent who can be developed and their market value improved, Matt Ritchie fits about as well into the plan as Rishi Sunak does being an entrant on this year’s Love Island.

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And that has much to do with the muted response which has greeted any suggestion of a homecoming for the Newcastle United man, after his St James’ Park exit was confirmed.

The fact the clear, joined-up thinking of business conducted since Rich Hughes’ arrival in September 2022 has not only underpinned a league title success but development of a raft of young assets, is of course a huge cause for celebration.

It also heralded a move away from a pattern of players often arriving with Championship experience, but not necessarily the drive to deliver the League One promotion we all craved.

Those with longer memories will concur Pompey has often been the stop-off for players hunting one final payday down the years, names with enough allure to entice but not the drive to deliver.

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So no, there’s no surprise the notion of a Ritchie return to the club he, by his own admission has ‘unfinished business’ with, isn’t generating the enthusiasm it would’ve a couple of years ago.

Matt Ritchie in action for PompeyMatt Ritchie in action for Pompey
Matt Ritchie in action for Pompey | The News

But it’s also a consideration which perhaps merits some closer inspection over a one-size-fits-all dismissal for all those over 30. That for a player who deserves the respect not be bandied in with those who took the cash and underwhelmed on the way down in the past.

Ritchie, of course, is a player who has spent the past seven years at football’s top table, making 187 Premier League appearances - with 15 of those arriving last term.

Yes, most of those this season were as late subs, as the Gosport lad was sent on to see out results by trusted ally Eddie Howe, but, when it comes to conditioning, it’s a safe bet Ritchie would leave a lot of John Mousinho’s existing squad in his wake - even at 34.

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That’s after a career of unrelenting commitment to his trade from a player who dodges Instagram and nightclubs, in favour of looking after his sheep in the New Forest and doing his lorry driving licence.

And the impact of that on a young dressing room stepping up to the Championship would be quite a weapon. When it comes to standards, the classy left footer raises the bar.

But at what cost?

For a man whose weekly wage would be many tens of thousands more than Pompey’s lowest earner, there’s no logic to a wage structure being blown apart for someone who would not be a playing asset to be developed.

But what if that wasn’t the case? What if Ritchie was prepared to accept he’d earned his big bucks, and would take a deal that didn’t take a sizeable chunk out of Pompey’s Championship playing budget?

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That then starts to shine a different light on a return which then becomes significantly more appealing.

Without being privy to Ritchie’s wage demands it’s a leap to suggest that’s so, but this would always be a move driven by the challenge of leaving an imprint on his hometown club over finance. That for an academy graduate whose Fratton career to date spans just 10 games.

Perhaps that suggestion has now been heard at PO4 and perhaps it’s now at least a consideration, with the prospect of a deal not being quite as readily dismissed as it was a few weeks ago.

The mind wanders back 22 years to the eve of a never-to-be-forgotten season when a signing was unveiled which changed the game.

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Paul Merson walked under the mock Tudor facade, posed on the hallowed Fratton turf in a Ty shirt and our collective jaws dropped.

Merson then carried Pompey to the Premier League, not only off the back of his own majesty but also getting much more out of those around him - at the age of 34.

It’s not hyperbole to suggest, when considering their respective characters, Ritchie would be an even greater nurturer of this group’s talent if a pathway for a return was found. And if it isn’t, there’s little doubt he’ll be a multi-faceted asset to the club he next calls home.

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