Keeper’s fighting for his football life at Pompey

Liam O'Brien. Picture: Joe Pepler
Liam O'Brien. Picture: Joe Pepler
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LIAM O’BRIEN admitted he’s fighting for his football life at Pompey.

And the keeper has told of the fears engulfing players on the breadline of the professional game.

O’Brien has given an insight into the riches lavished on young players making their way at the top level.

And the 24-year-old has told how that can impact a talent’s hunger as they are afforded spoils early in their careers.

It’s a situation O’Brien found himself in when he was handed a lucrative three-year deal at Fratton Park as a highly-regarded 16-year-old.

Despite his talent, the Ruislip-born man failed to make a competitive senior appearance before being released in 2010, months after Pompey fell out of the Premier League.

O’Brien faced a culture shock from that moment as he dropped down the divisions to Barnet in search of another club.

The former England under-19 man feels his story is one young players can learn from.

O’Brien said: ‘When you’re in the Prem at 16 and getting paid your first decent wage, you don’t look ahead.

‘You just think you’ve got it for life and things are fine.

‘You don’t realise until you get it taken away from you.

‘I’ve had it when I’ve been at the top when I was young. Then you drop and you realise.

‘Now, I’m trying to build my way back up.’

O’Brien feels the type of person he is now is a very different one to who arrived at Pompey as a teenager.

In an honest assessment, he admitted he can see how the situation he found himself in affected his desire.

The jarring switch of searching for a living in the lower leagues while providing for his young family changed all that, however.

A year with Brentford and two years at Dagenham & Redbridge preceded his Blues return on an initial month’s agreement.

Now the concern is about making more sure he’s providing for those closest to him.

‘It maybe affects your hunger because you’ve got it easy,’ O’Brien said of his experience at Pompey in the Premier League.

‘Maybe I thought I was young and in the first-team squad but not going to play for the first team.

‘I had it easy, so maybe, without meaning to, it could have had an effect. It could naturally happen.

‘Then I’m signing for Barnet and taking almost an 80-per-cent cut.

‘That’s when it hit home. It was horrible because I had a baby on the way and everything which comes with it.

‘It was like, oh no, what am I going to do now?

‘That’s the point when you really start working because you don’t realise how easy you had it.

‘It’s all changed now, though. I’m fighting for my life in football really.

‘If I leave Pompey and drop down again it’s a case of how many times can I drop down before I have to drop out completely?’

O’Brien’s experiences in the game have clearly given him a sense of perspective.

And when he sees the huge deals being handed to youngsters yet to make the grade, he can see history repeating itself.

‘There should be a rule brought in,’ he said.

‘If a club wants to give a young player lots of money, that’s fine.

‘But it should be a certain percentage and put the rest away.

‘I see 18-year-olds at Chelsea on £6,000 or £7,000 a week. They are probably never going to play for the first team but they get all big time.’

A moment which was eight years in the making arrived for O’Brien as he made his competitive Pompey bow at Yeovil in the Checkatrade Trophy.

That occasion and being back at Pompey is something for the former Acdaemy man to cherish.

It was one he savoured with a very different focus to the teenage O’Brien.

He said: ‘I’ve always played in the league and didn’t want to drop out.

‘I told my agent I wanted to hold out and the phone call came.

‘It does feel like fate. John (Keeley) said come in and train and I think I surprised him.

‘That hunger is there. I’m not just fighting for myself – I’m fighting for my family as well.’