The early success of Gosport Borough's centre of excellence - and plans for expansion from this summer
Chairman Iain McInnes had been eager to put the building blocks in place for a clear pathway to the first team at Gosport Borough for top young talent in the area.
He openly admitted the club's centre of excellence, launched last July, had taken him longer than he would have liked to get up and running.
Ultimately, other areas within the Borough set up became a priority as the former Pompey chairman took on his next footballing project and swapped Fratton Park for Privett Park in December 2017.
But after meeting with Pat Suraci and Joe Lea in the early part of the summer, the centre of excellence idea became a reality.
Joint managers of the brand new under-18s for the 2019-20 season, best mates Suraci and Lea would now head up the club project, manage both under-18 and under-23 sides as well as be part of Shaun Gale’s first team squad.
A busy workload for the pair with lofty ambitions, but the centre of excellence initiative was a move that worked for all parties and Gosport now have under-16s, under-17s, under-18s and under-23s teams under their banner.
Suraci, who also oversees the coaching side of things with Lea on an academic football programme run in partnership with nearby St Vincent College, has been pleasantly surprised how things have gone since the launch.
And when you consider the centre of excellence has been operating in the midst of a pandemic, the Brazilian-born Borough midfielder feels a new beginning for the club has been a bright one.
‘In terms of the quality, especially with the under-23s, you could say we’ve been quite surprised,' said Suraci, the head of the centre of excellence.
‘To be fair, it’s been a pleasure to work with them because, apart from their quality, their personalities have been really good and enjoyable to work with.
‘We really believe that some of the boys in there have got the potential to play at least the level of Gosport, if not higher than that.
‘I can’t speak highly enough of the players that have come in and those that were already there.
‘The groups of under-18s and 23s have gelled really well and there is a nice family feel there between the whole centre of excellence.'
Ultimately, Suraci realises that the primary role for himself and Lea is to promote as many players from the centre of excellence into Gale's first team, or move onto play elsewhere at a higher level as senior players.
Borough's under-23s might be sitting top of the Wyvern League Division East table and remain unbeaten, having won six of seven matches in all competitions.
But, for Suraci, what's more satisfying is the fact a centre of excellence quintet of Callum Smith, Marcus Pavlou, Josh Rose, Ryan Mackney and Harry Yoxall, who was just 16 at the time, have already trained with the first team.
'The main objective for us, for the coaching staff at the centre of excellence, is can we develop young players to be good enough to go into the first team?
‘Results might come with that, they might not. Usually, if you’ve got players improving, developing, then the whole team improves and the results come anyway.
‘We don’t really look at results, we’d rather get five, six, however many players, into the first team rather than win games with the under-23s.
'You can see a clear pathway now and that’s what we’re trying to get out to people.
‘If you come to Gosport there is a pathway, we’ve got the under-16s now and we’re hoping that they’ll push into the under-18, 23s and it goes from there.'
Both Suraci and Lea are helped by Tino Chizande and Aaron Haggard, who lead the under-16 and under-17 teams respectively.
But such has been the success of the project there are now plans to increase the amount of age group teams from September.
Suraci says it's a move the club had always anticipated to make and is hoping can still be the case despite the pandemic.
He believes it would be a beneficial move for the club to make.
'With everything going on, it’s not perfect in any world for anyone, but the idea is to get under-nines up to under-23s in the centre of excellence,' added Suraci.
‘We’re hoping to start in September, we haven’t advertised it yet, but we’re putting plans in place to get ourselves prepared and organised.
'I know there’s a lot of potential in Gosport and surrounding areas where we feel we can get players in and hopefully, through our coaching staff, through me and Joe, we can help them improve and develop as players.
‘In the long term, in five or 10 years, can we get these players into the first team.
‘If they can progress all the way from under-10s, 11s, 12s up to the under-18s and have that pathway where it becomes then a long-term project.
‘The reason the chairman wants to do it is so the club can become sustainable.
‘If we can have more players coming through from local areas, rather than bringing people in and having to pay for them to travel.
‘The club can be built on a foundation then of youth players rather than having to spend too much money on getting other players from elsewhere.
‘It’s something we’re getting started now but we’ll really see come to fruition in five or 10 years.'