Awford outlines vision for Pompey youth development

9/7/12_SPORT'The first day back for Pompey pre-season training.'Andy Awford.''Picture: Steve Reid (122332-961)
9/7/12_SPORT'The first day back for Pompey pre-season training.'Andy Awford.''Picture: Steve Reid (122332-961)

Pompey are turning their attentions to talented local footballers aged just seven years old as Andy Awford continues his efforts to revamp the club’s academy.

Awford, who is still combining his Pompey Academy role with the assistant manager’s job, has outlined his vision for the club’s youth development strategy.

And he believes a long-term outlook towards the next decade and beyond will eventually pay dividends.

But while it will require patience to see the fruits of those labours, Awford knows Pompey have to get in early to forge links as they are no longer capable of competing on a financial level.

He explained: ‘If there is a kid and we think he is a good one, we will try to sign him.

‘We don’t get all of the boys we try to sign because the better players have more clubs chasing them.

‘But we are focusing on even younger boys – under-sevens and under-eights – to work with them at an early age and keep them in the system as they develop.

‘They train twice a week and you can see the potential.

‘So we have to create a happy environment where the kids are getting coached properly and looked after properly so they don’t want to go up the road or go to one of the bigger clubs.’

Awford believes that is a key reason why three players have each turned down the chance to move on – despite interest from the Premier League.

He said: ‘Since the end of last season, I’ve had three bids for youth players from Premier League clubs.

‘Each player has been made aware and each of them has turned it down.

‘Some might say it is stupid that we turned it down because it is losing the club money.

‘But I want to keep those boys, get them into the first team and then they might be sold for a good few quid a few years down the line.’

The Blues have seen some top talent go elsewhere in recent times.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Ward-Prowse chose Southampton over Pompey, while the highly-rated Jonathan Swift from Gosport was offered lucrative terms to join Chelsea.

Awford, however, believes Pompey were powerless in those situations.

He said: ‘The fans like nothing more than a local kid coming through. Me too.

‘But if we know about a boy and we offer him the chance to sign for Portsmouth but he chooses to go elsewhere, what can we do about it? Swift and Ward-Prowse were wanted by us but their parents or the boys themselves chose to go elsewhere.

‘We couldn’t match what they offered so what was going to happen?’

While Pompey cannot compete with financial muscle or even offer the best training facilities, Awford knows direct progress to the first team is a big motivational tool.

And he is also looking to tap into a different market.

He said: ‘One area we are definitely going to try to develop is that we will look to take some of the bigger clubs’ players who they don’t think are quite good enough.

‘So, for example, a lad may not be good enough for Arsenal or Chelsea but he could well be good enough for us.

‘We want to try to get ahead of the game on that one so we can have first dibs.

‘In the past, the club might have thought “if they aren’t good enough for them, they aren’t good enough for us”.

‘I don’t see it that way. And these lads might think they have a real chance of making it here.’