'Would fit perfectly' - the expert verdict on £300,000 rated Portsmouth, Birmingham, Blackpool and Derby linked striker

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Pompey have been linked with a move for 17-goal Larne striker Lee Bonis.

Reports this week suggest the Blues are in a four-way battle with Birmingham, Blackpool and Wigan for the £300,000-rated ex-Northern Ireland under-21 international. Dundee United and Derby are also rumoured to be keen, while Rotherham are well-known admirers as well.

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Well, we reached out to Belfast News Letter sports editor Patrick Van Dort to find out if the 23-year-old has the credentials to make such an important move.

Here’s the reference that followed.

Q Will news of this interest in Lee Bonis come as any surprise to anyone with a knowledge of Irish League football?

No. He was actually linked before, when he was at Portadown, and before he got his move to Larne last year.

There was previous talk because his playing style probably suited the Football League as back then he was very raw but full of energy, full of aggressive, played at a high tempo, closed down, never stopped running, good in the air, but also very quick.

Larne striker Lee Bonis has been linked with a summer move to Pompey.Larne striker Lee Bonis has been linked with a summer move to Pompey.
Larne striker Lee Bonis has been linked with a summer move to Pompey.

His finishing was probably the thing that perhaps let him down a bit, but he had all the raw skills and I think that’s what attracted a lot of scouts initially.

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There was that thought – ‘here’s a player we can really develop and work with’.

Q You mentioned some playing characteristics that certainly tick a lot of boxes as far as Pompey are concerned. I take it he’s still got those key traits now and has taken them to a whole new level?

At his former club, Portadown, Lee would have played a lot as a lone front man. They would have used him a lot and there was never a time when he thought a ball was a lost cause. He would go for everything and never shirk from a challenge.

They actually had to calm him down a bit because he was playing with this bustling energy and a fire in him. He was very much a player who rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in.

We always thought of him as a bit of a street footballer. That made him a real fans’ favourite at Portadown.

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But after moving to Larne – where he’s a full-time player – you can see already that they’ve really refined his game. He's playing a lot smarter now, his finishing has improved massively and at times he’ll play with a partner or as part of a three, depending on how Larne play.

He’s linking up more with other players, his all-round link-up play is very strong now, and you can see how much he’s developed in the space of a year.

He’s developed a lot because of the benefits of full-time training.

Q Is the central striking position his main role or is there a versatility to his game?

You would use him mainly in the middle because of his attributes. But because of his pace, he’s deceptively quick, you could use him in a wider role and he could certainly exploit the channels.

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He’s not a target man, someone who needs to hang around the box and rely on service. He will run all day, run around for loss causes, and win the ball back plenty.

He’s a bit of an all-rounder as a striker – but certainly you’d want to play him through the middle because, especially over the past year, his instincts in the box have developed so much.

Q Are Larne a club that would be willing to part company with their star striker, given the financial backing they’ve had to claim their very first Irish League title?

When he signed for Larne, the widely accepted fee of £100,000 set a new Irish League record, which had stood for years.

He went for big money but part of the appeal was staying in Northern Ireland where he could develop in a full-time set-up – which would then provide him the platform to push on with his career again.

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Larne don’t need to be a feeder club, they’re backed by a multi-millionaire and don’t need to sell. But, at the time, they were very clear – as was he – that it was seen as an opportunity for him to develop and progress, so I wouldn’t imagine Larne would want to hold him back, if the price was right.

Q Is the reported £300,000 valuation sound accurate or would Larne be holding out for more?

It’s hard to tell. Larne have just won their first ever league title and are heading back into European football, which is seen as another opportunity to really push on – and Bonis is a central part of that.

They’re not going to let him go cheaply but if that’s the figure being quoted, it doesn’t surprise me.

His development and progress, plus the potential he still has, makes that figure stack up and it ensures Larne get a good return on their investment.

It’s probably a reasonable figure to be looking at.

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Q Is he a player with ambitions to play for a club this side of the Irish Sea?

Absolutely. He’s very open about his ambitions for senior international football in the future.

He’s been involved in the under-21 international set-up. He was called into that at a pretty young age and that would be the next step.

He’s been very open about his ambitions for his career, he wants to make the most of what he has developed, get as much as he can out of his career and reach as high a level as possible.

That has very much been the strategy behind every move across his career to date.

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Q How would he compare to other recent Northern Ireland exports, such as Gavin Whyte, Mark Sykes and Shayne Lavery?

Everyone keeps saying that Bonis is suited to be transplanted over to that level of football. He would fit into that level of football perfectly.

The technical aspect of the Irish league has improved a lot. Bonis is much more polished now, but because he’s got that as his base, he’s a lot more suited to compete over there.

I would expect him to do really well. That would be my guess. I don’t think he’s going to go over and disappear.

I’d expect him to go over, benefit more from what a club in England would have and really push and develop his career even further.

The level he’s at now, I feel you can just transplant that into that level of English football.