The man who discovered Brighton's £20m Premier League new boy and how he almost left Portsmouth for nothing

He today stands alone as the most expensive Pompey home-grown talent in history.

Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 2:30 pm
Updated Sunday, 11th August 2019, 11:59 am
Adam Webster in Pompey colours. Picture: Joe Pepler

But the man who discovered Adam Webster is certain the lad from West Wittering’s rise to greatness game has only just begun.

And Paul Hardyman has told the story behind the moment which took the academy graduate from a defender fearing for his Fratton future and placed him on the path which has now taken him to the Premier League.

Webster’s record £20m move to Brighton and the top-flight was confirmed on Saturday, in a headline-grabbing story for the lad who made 81 appearances after his emergence as precocious teenage talent with the Blues.

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It provided a moment for a Fratton stalwart in the shape of Hardyman to quietly reflect on with a sense of pride and satisfaction.

The Baffins boy who served his hometown club as a player, in a community role, academy coach and first-team staff member can still vividly recall the day he first encountered a 10-year-old East Wittering Community Primary School student who made an instant and seismic impact.

‘Even at that age you could tell,’ said Hardyman, who was an assistant youth development officer at that time. ‘He was elegant on the ball, a good defender and leader.

‘Stature-wise he was a little bit bigger, maybe three or four inches bigger than the average boy.

Adam Webster has moved from Bristol City to Brighton for £20m. Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images.

‘But it was just the way he was on the ball and the fact he was a brilliant defender.

‘He came to me via Paul Curran who was my regional Pompey in the Community coach manager in Bognor.

‘As soon as I saw him it was "wow". It hit me right between the eyes. It was clear he was a player.

‘So we recommended him to the centre of excellence, who weren’t quite sure at first.

Paul Hardyman, right, discovered Adam Webster and convinced Gary Waddock, left, to play him centre-back

‘But when I went into the centre of excellent we signed him straightaway and he went from strength to strength.

‘I remember when Paul Hart came to the club in 2007 and he asked me to put my name to one player who would it be?

‘Webbo was only an under-11 at the time, but I said him straightaway without hesitation.

‘I must admit, though, I didn’t expect him to be worth £20m when I saw him at 10 years of age!’

Former Pompey defender Adam Webster

Webster’s progress through the youth ranks was a steady one, although a journey punctuated by the issues caused by growth spurts for young players.

It was Steve Cotterill who brought a timid 16-year-old into the senior fray in 2011, with friendly appearances against the likes of Real Betis and FC Rostov. Then his successor Michael Appleton didn’t hesitate in giving Webster his competitive bow against West Ham in the Championship, days after his 17th birthday.

With concerns about how his still-developing frame would deal with the physicality of League Two football, Webster was shifted to right-back under Andy Awford.

It was his temporary successor Gary Waddock arriving for the final four games of the 2014-15 season which changed the direction of his career, however, after a recommendation from his biggest cheerleader

‘I remember people questioning us when we put Webbo in the team,’ Hardyman recalled.

Adam Webster makes his Pompey debut. Picture: Barry Zee

‘They were asking why were playing him and saying he’s this and that.

‘But we were seeing it in training every day and knew what he was capable of.

‘Then Awfs went. He went on the Monday, we played Stevenage and then went to Bury.

‘He was playing full-back and I said to Wads that Webbo’s best position is centre-half.

‘He felt we had nothing to lose and decided to put him in there.

‘Webbo played there and was excellent.

‘We wanted him to gain experience. He was a bit gangly and not quite strong enough to play centrally in League Two

‘He played right-back but we knew he was a central defender, but he needed time to develop. That’s what a lot of people couldn’t see.

‘But then Wads brought into moving him into the middle at that time - and the rest is history.’

The transfer to Bristol City for £3.5m followed last year before his gradient of ascent sharply increased with a move to the big time.

But for the coach who publicly said three years ago Webster would arrive in the Premier League, it’s an England future at the pinnacle of the game which now lies ahead.

Hardyman said: ‘I joked to him when he went to Ipswich that he’d be in the Premier League in two years. He said six months!

‘The fact is it almost happened though with Everton showing interest - and would’ve if he’d not picked up an injury. Then the next season he went to Bristol City for decent money.

‘I think in the next stage of his career he could move to a top-10 Premier League club.

'International honours? Why not. You look at players like John Stones and you think Webbo could do that type of job for his country.

‘The lad has got a fantastic chance to do that, I really believe that.’

Adam Webster, second left, graduates from high school. Picture: Louise Adams
Adam Webster was spotted at a Pompey in the Community course like this one with Paul Hardyman PICTURE: MICHAEL SCADDAN (061134-0098)