Barker makes Pompey talent pledge

Nick Awford in training with the Pompey first team. Picture: Sarah Standing (131975-2396)

Nick Awford in training with the Pompey first team. Picture: Sarah Standing (131975-2396)

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Richie Barker has reassured supporters that youngsters will be given every chance to break into his Pompey first-team.

The Blues boss is currently in the process of improving the club’s infrastructure and has already appointed Martin Hinshelwood as chief scout.

He also intends to revamp the production line from the Academy into the first-team set-up.

That includes the development group, which Barker told The News on Tuesday is not fit for purpose in its current guise.

His words left some fans fearing he would abandon the drive to bring on the club’s home-grown talent.

But Barker today insisted categorically that is not the case.

He simply considers an effective development group should contain 12 players and a specialist coach, a set-up which would cost around £350,000 a year.

As it stands, the current system has just six first-year professionals.

Jack Whatmough, Jack Maloney, Liam Triggs, Nick Awford and George Branford spend every day training with Barker’s first-team.

Another, Josh Warren, has been ruled out for the season with knee ligament damage.

Barker has a history in youth development, having worked in youth departments at Bury, Scunthorpe and Sheffield United in the past, overseeing age groups from the under-13s to the under-18s.

And he has pledged to utilise his background and keep bringing through youngsters at Fratton Park.

He said: ‘At the moment we have five first-year professionals who are clearly part of the first-team squad.

‘They are training with us every day, they are involved in our structure and routines and for me that is a positive.

‘People talk about the development group but that is not a development group.

‘How can it be when they don’t have their own coach or a structured fixture list?

‘They could train here by themselves I suppose but I want them part of the first-team squad – which they are.

‘We had a fixture against Bournemouth the other week which included five contracted players and six from the Academy – some of them 15 and 16 year olds. That is not a development group.

‘Years ago the development group was called the reserve team and full of first, second and third-year professionals. We have just five players.

‘These young lads are all pros as far as I am concerned and that is why they are in my first-team squad. They are not a development group.’

While at Crawley, Barker fought to maintain the youth team, turning down the chance to instead allocate money into the first-team budget.

Some eight weeks after his departure, it is understood the youth set-up will be closed down for next season.

In the meantime, members of Pompey’s Academy are bidding for professional contracts.

And Barker intends to promote from their ranks into next season’s first-team squad.

He added: ‘Some players from the Academy will be given professional contracts. It will be no different from last year.

‘There will be no decision until March or April. A lot depends on how they get on in the next six to eight weeks. People develop at different stages.

‘The Academy have not played two games since the day I came in and were off for two weeks over Christmas. I have seen as much as I can at the moment.’