There was a time when Portsmouth playing for a place in the last 16 of the FA Cup was a regular feature of football’s oldest cup competition. They reached at least the fourth-round stage every year from 2004 until 2010 – peaking with victory in 2008 – but what is most striking about their rebirth is how success is being achieved.
Long gone are the days of an extravagant recruitment policy that ended with administration and the real possibility of extinction. Instead, you now find a club being cited as an example for its development of young footballers and willingness to give them first-team playing time.
Portsmouth, Nottingham Forest and Crewe Alexandra were the three League clubs who gave the most starts last season to English under-21 players and, for manager Kenny Jackett, the benefits of his faith in younger players have become evident this season. As well as tonight’s FA Cup fourth-round replay against Queens Park Rangers, Portsmouth are in the semi-finals of the EFL Checkatrade Trophy and have spent much of the season leading League One.
The most exotic first-team import these days is Ronan Curtis, a 22-year-old forward who was signed from Derry City. The rest of the senior squad is British and, as last season’s stats underlined, largely English players in their late teens and early twenties. Jack Whatmough and Ben Close are regulars direct from a reinvigorated academy.
Recruiting good overseas talent becomes more challenging as you drop down the divisions, but Jackett has huge faith in the quality of young players being developed right the way through the English pyramid.