The 'rubbish' Portsmouth midfielder who's not 'good enough for Bognor' - but has got everyone talking

A sports journalist’s email inbox is usually a treasure trove of the weird, wonderful and often extreme views which exist among a supporter base.

Wednesday, 14th August 2019, 1:00 am
Updated Monday, 19th August 2019, 10:47 am
Pompey's Ben Close has been in excellent form. Picture: Joe Pepler

Sometimes a missive comes your way which offers clarity or a different perspective on a Pompey talking point, one which proves useful and helps inform your work.

And then there’s the moments when trailing through your messages is something akin to a trip to a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! odditorium and a visit to the circus of the bizarre.

Once you’ve clicked and peered inside there's no turning back. And sometimes it's like staring at a ranty, self-righteous Medusa.

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Which brings us to the gentleman who's been contacting me recently to offer his thoughts on Ben Close and, specifically, my assessment of his progress.

Although tempting, the scribe in question will not be unmasked here, though his spelling errors have been amended to protect the innocent.

‘Jordan when are you going to admit your mate Close cannot tackle, close down a player, is slow, cannot head a ball only passes sideways and backwards?’ started one communication last month.

‘He cannot see a pass to save his life, as everyone I speak to in the North Stand agrees. You and Jackett need to open your eyes, all the time he plays for Pompey we will never go up. He’s not good enough to even play for Bognor.’

One of the emails received by Pompey writer Jordan Cross

Some measured analysis from our North Stand expert then, who I'm sure has been tapping into his mine of statistical data to strengthen his argument.

After careful consideration, the email was moved to the what-the-bleedin-hell-is-he-on-about? folder and no more thought afforded it.

Given the message arrived in pre-season, the generous could afford our Sky Sports pundit-in-waiting some leeway, although it still meant he’d overlooked the eight goals since February amid an excellent finish to Close’s season.

Surely, though, after a week in which he’d scaled heights with his performances and hit the headlines with his goals, some humble pie was the order of the day. Or at least skip the serving of savagery.

One of the emails received by Pompey writer Jordan Cross

But, no. Oh, no.

‘How Close got man of the match I will never know,’ spilled forth more words on Sunday lunchtime, really capturing the essence of Pompey’s first league win.

‘He scored a good goal but the other 89 minutes was not at the game, the most negative player i have ever seen. I haven’t yet met anyone who has a different opinion of him. He is rubbish.’

So. Many. Questions.

Ben Close celebrates his goal against Birmingham. Picture: Barry Zee

It’s hard to know where to begin, but the thought who is this gent conversing with to not hear a positive word on a player in the richest of rich veins of form, did spring to mind.

Perhaps a section of the North Stand nod in polite agreement as he canvasses views, before raising eyebrows and shaking heads. Perhaps it’s all a figment of his imagination.

Anyway, maybe safest not to probe too far. Some things are better unseen, although all around the ground Pompey fans are in earshot of the kind of characters who leave us a little perplexed with their loudly-offered observations on a Saturday afternoon.

Suffice to say, the weekend reaction to Close’s man-of-the-match plaudits offered the best insight into the views of most fans over his current form.

The 23-year-old has started the new season how he finished the last. And to do so in the face of the sizeable challenge he faces for his place in the team speaks volumes of his character.

After missing out at Shrewsbury, Close has set a standard which is going to make him very hard to shift if maintained.

There’s little doubt the Southsea lad has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the shift to a 4-3-3 formation, after the opening-day disappointment at New Meadow.

The move has freed him to produce his effective probing further up the pitch and, alongside Andy Cannon, the pair have been at the heart of much of Pompey’s best creative work.

Of course, the goals have caught the eye, but it’s his metronomic play which is valued by coaching staff and players alike in setting the tempo for his team.

True, there are still improvements to be made. But this is a student of the game hungry to improve.

That’s been seen with a valid criticism over a hesitation to shoot and drive at defences being emphatically dealt with in recent months. Some of the footwork against Birmingham, in particular, beguiled.

Similarly, there were moments as Pompey’s season foundered last term where the opposition drove through the middle of the park with too much ease.

But in his side’s ‘point down’ midfield as his manager describes it, Tom Naylor is now tasked with staying firmly put and offering a defensive shield which chimes perfectly with his attributes, allowing his creative partners to promote their team’s forward work.

As Close’s management have stated, people are now starting to bring his name up in conversation. And quite right, too. His team-mates have long spoken of the player’s Championship potential.

It’s early days, but the challenge is to maintain standards and continue the trajectory of his career towards that level - and away from Bognor’s Nyewood Lane.