Awford outlines Academy vision

Pompey boss Andy Awford Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey boss Andy Awford Picture: Joe Pepler

Having fought tooth and nail to save the Pompey Academy from closure during the club’s darkest days of administration, it’s understandable that Andy Awford admits it will be something of a struggle to hand over the reins to someone else.

So after he has a big influence in the forthcoming appointment of his successor, the new Blues boss will also now establish closer links between the youth and first teams, including a move to pool the budget between them.

With Paul Hardyman now looking increasingly likely to remain in the first-team coaching set-up, Mark Kelly, Martin Hinshelwood and John Slater will lead the list of internal candidates to succeed Awford in due course.

But while the Blues boss has not ruled out looking outside the club for the next figurehead, he insists he will let the new person put their own stamp on the job.

Awford said: ‘The Academy is still my baby!

‘The priority will be the first team but will I be cutting all ties with the Academy? Of course not.

‘To the staff in there, I am still Awfs and that’s how it will be.

‘They know where I am when they need me and I will have a major say in the appointment of the new Academy manager.

‘We will get that right and make sure it’s done properly because it’s a very important decision.

‘But, at the same time, I don’t want to be perched on that person’s shoulder after they have been appointed.

‘I will give as much help and support as I can but the new person has got to be able to come in and work in their own way.

‘It wouldn’t be fair for me to say “I want you to do it like this” all the time.

‘But we have to select that person very, very carefully and make sure we get the right person.

‘If there is someone internal, then we will do it. If we don’t think there is, we will look outside.

‘But we haven’t got to that point yet.’

One of the benefits of Awford’s appointment is his view on rebuilding the club as a whole, rather than simply concentrating on the first team and ignoring the development of young players – a far cry from some previous regimes.

And he has certainly stuck to his word on that front with his plan to merge the financial outlay for the first team and youth development.

‘There won’t be a first-team budget and an Academy budget – there will be a football budget,’ said Awford.

‘We will have our budget and then we will spend it wisely.

‘Where we plonk the money is down to the football people and I will be one of those people who decides where it is spent.’

It says much for Awford’s role in restoring the Academy’s success in producing players that some Blues fans were wary of his promotion to manager for fear of losing him from the youth set-up.

And the former Pompey skipper, who came through the Fratton Park ranks himself 25 years ago, recalled how the Academy so nearly was forced to close in a bid to cut costs to keep the club alive.

Awford said: ‘As we’ve seen, it’s thriving at the moment.

‘There are some good kids who have come out of it and into the first team and we believe there are plenty in there who can make that step up again.

‘We’ve got to make sure that it continues to get the care and attention that it has had.

‘That’s one of the things I spoke about to the board, obviously.

‘But first and foremost, it was about keeping it alive through administration.

‘It was nobody’s fault and nobody wanted to get rid of it. They didn’t.

‘Not one person actually wanted to can it. But because of the financial troubles, it was definitely an option that was discussed.

‘Thankfully, I managed to convince them not to do that and we are now seeing Adam Webster, Jed Wallace, Jack Whatmough, Dan Butler and Ashley Harris come through.

‘The investment that has been put into it has started to bear fruit.

‘That now needs to continue.

‘We are comfortable that the Academy will continue and we will try to nudge the standards that little bit higher as well.’

There was another potential glimpse of the future when Academy midfielder Ben Close was on the bench for the 3-3 draw with Plymouth – although he didn’t get the opportunity to make his debut.

The 17-year-old from Fratton has impressed in the under-18s this term and has been tipped for a bright future.

Awford said: ‘He’s a good, young player and I’m sure he will get his chance.’