After five seasons and two pieces of silverware, Christian Burgess will be leaving Portsmouth for Royal Union Saint-Gilloise this summer on a free transfer.
He will be remembered not only as an effective ball-playing centre-back, but as a gentleman and a role-model to the Fratton Faithful, who have watched him for five seasons.
The arrival of the Teesside University graduate in 2015 marked an era of change under then manager Paul Cook. Pompey had struggled in League Two and were nearly relegated in their first two seasons. But Cook aimed to change the Blues misfortunes, with a possession-based attacking football philosophy, and it worked.
When Portsmouth won League Two in 2017, Burgess was instrumental to their success, making 44 appearances primarily alongside Matt Clarke, in a partnership which controlled possession and instigated the brand of football Cookie believed in so much.
Pompey then consolidated their position in League One under Kenny Jackett, with Burgess adjusting his game to a new manager and division.
On New Year’s Day 2019, the team were top of the table by five points. Matt Clarke and Jack Whatmough were the main centre-back partnership for most of that season, until Whatmough suffered his third long-term knee injury in February.
Burgess was then thrown back into side and initially struggled, receiving criticism from the fans as a result. He didn’t give up though; he ironed out his mistakes and weaknesses, reviving his partnership with Clarke and winning the EFL Trophy final at Wembley against Sunderland.
This season, Burgess again reclaimed his position as the main centre-back alongside Sean Raggett, even when Kenny Jackett initially preferred other players.
Quite simply, when Portsmouth avoid using long-balls and attempt to control possession through a high press, Burgess is integral to that system. He recovers the ball quickly and makes progressive forward passes to the midfield and both wings.
Burgess is one of the leading centre-backs for making progressive passes in the league – out of those who made 20 league appearances.
His positional sense and ability to control a defensive unit makes him arguably indispensable to this current Portsmouth side.
But more important than his footballing is his work in the community. Pompey’s players have all contributed to the community, before and during the Covid-19 lockdown, and should all be commended.
Burgess was at the heart of this effort. Speaking to the club’s media about volunteering with PITC, Burgess said: “It wasn’t mandatory, but every member of the squad wanted to contribute.”
Whether it was delivering prescriptions in a Hayling Helpers, campaigning for safer cycling in the city, making meals for people with the charity Hive Portsmouth or supporting young fans with advice, Burgess has done it all.
He has constantly gone beyond what a footballer is expected to do, and that connection to the supporters and the community will be hard to replace, along with his 208 appearances worth of experience.
Burgess is undoubtably a modern-day Portsmouth hero, and he will be sorely missed.
Photos: Joe Pepler