Pompey Recruitment Rethink?

By Sam Stone

The debate around Pompey’s recruitment has been an area of contention. The tenure of Phil Boardman and the recently departed Roberto Gagliardi could well be viewed as somewhat of a failure thus far. 

Gagliardi has been a notorious figure. Going from goalkeeping coach at Leyton Orient to Welling United and then back to free-falling Orient as head of recruitment. His previous roles at Leyton Orient and Bolton have seen Gagliardi’s departure welcomed by vast swathes of the Fratton faithful.

The words ‘chancer’ and ‘con man’ have been regularly tossed in his direction. So has Gagliardi’s tenure as Pompey’s Head of football operations and European scouting added further mystery into how he continually lands high-profile roles at Football League Clubs.

When asked about Gagliardi’s departure by the Portsmouth News, Cowley praised Gagliardi for ‘structuring last season’s pre-season’ and ‘looking into the possibility of using the Cayman Islands as a pre-season destination in the future’, hardly high praise of the recruitment that he has overseen for the past eight windows and four seasons.

Gagliardi, along with Boardman have overseen eight transfer windows over a four-season period from 2018. Over that period Pompey have recruited 50 players, both loans and permanents. Below is a colour-coded list of all the players Pompey have had on their books over the last four years.

Red = Player who has been/is underperforming
Orange = Player who has performed well (jury still out)
Green = Player who have been excellent signings

Now it must be noted that this is a subjective opinion of how players have performed, and Danny Cowley and Kenny Jackett (especially) are not immune from any criticism. However, the sad reality, is that, under Gagliardi and Boardman’s recruitment stewardship, Ronan Curtis is the only real success story to date.

Photo: Below 2020 Media

Thompson, Harness, and Raggett are a mixture of loans, substantial transfer fees, and being plucked from the higher divisions. Curtis is the sole example of them picking up a young player (for a minimal fee) from a lower standard than League One and developing him into a key asset for the club.

There could be arguments that Harness is also the club’s most valuable asset, but considering his reported £750k transfer fee from Burton, it could well be argued that he has underperformed for his Pompey career, with this season proving somewhat of a ‘breakthrough’ campaign for Harness.

Under Cowley’s tenure, there are certainly some green shoots of recovery. Denver Hume, Jayden Reid, Jay Mingi, and Liam Vincent were all plucked for minimal fees, and all have the potential to be the next ‘upward trajectory’ player after Curtis and Harness. However, Vincent, Mingi, and Reid being out through injury has meant Hume is the only young asset available to Cowley at present.

We have heard in recent weeks from Andrew Cullen (interview with Threeladsinapub) that there needs to be a change in recruitment. Picking up good value players, on an ‘upward trajectory’.

Cullen used the example of Scott Twine and Matt O’Riley at MK Dons. Twine has been on an upward curve since his debut at Swindon and 21-year-old O’Riley was picked up by MK after his release from Fulham’s youth set-up.

O’Riley has since made the move to Scottish giants Celtic, leaving MK with a hefty transfer fee and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Twine earn MK another large fee. This is a style of recruitment that Pompey have not dabbled in enough.

The ’Brentford model’ of signing players on the up for minimal fees and youth products who haven’t quite made it at the top level has had plenty of praise. For a self-sustainable club like Pompey, it is a model that looks extremely appealing, but it needs plenty of work, looking at the current state of the recruitment setup. 

Pompey have had plenty of success in the past. Jamal Lowe is the obvious success story, with Lowe now tantalisingly close to making a fairy tale story from non-league to the Premier League with AFC Bournemouth.

Photo: Joe Pepler

Matt Clarke is the other obvious player that Pompey picked up for free in the Adam Webster transfer to Ipswich. Yet, under Boardman and Gagliardi’s reign, that line of recruitment has somewhat dried up.

Astute signings such as Lowe, Clarke, and Enda Stevens were made with the future in mind. The likes of Tom Naylor, John Marquis, and Paul Downing provided very little sell-on value. Pompey’s loan signing strategy, except for Ben Thompson has been nothing short of abysmal.

There seems a reluctance to look for good value permanent signings from the League’s below and instead rely upon misfiring Championship players or untested Premier League youngsters; Omar Bogle, Lloyd Isgrove, Cameron Pring, David Wheeler, James Vaughan, Joe Mason, Andre Green, Charlie Daniels, Harvey White, Miguel Azeez and George Byers are just a handful of the failed Championship and Premier League signings.

In the case of the Championship players, the reality is, they were available because they were simply not good enough, lacking form, and on a downward trajectory in their careers.

The recent January window has demonstrated that Pompey are far from alone in trying to unearth players on the way up instead of the way down. Bolton Wanderers have enjoyed an upturn in form coinciding with their January signings making an instant impact.

Dion Charles is the prime example of a player on the up. After coming through non-league and then thriving in League One, Charles was out of contract at Accrington, which saw Bolton take fully advantage to acquire his services at a cut-price.

The combination of Boardman, Gagliardi, and Kenny Jackett certainly left a lot to be desired. However, under Cowley, there are certainly signs that he can, with the right help from above, be capable of unearthing players on an upward curve.

Joe Morrell, Denver Hume, Liam Vincent, Jayden Reid, and Jay Mingi are all good examples of players, who have the potential to progress further up the Leagues.

Pompey’s next appointment in the recruitment department will be one of the most crucial in the club’s recent history. Cowley and Cullen certainly have a vision and that must be aligned meticulously with whoever takes Gagliardi’s role at Fratton Park.

Main photo: Daniel Chesterton

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