Saturday, February 7 2009 may well have been the most significant day in the modern history of Portsmouth FC when the Portsmouth of Tony Adams had succumbed to a 3-2 defeat at home to Liverpool despite having taken the lead twice. This was the lowest point and the final straw in Adam’s reign as Portsmouth boss, one with only four wins in twenty one games.
The Fratton Park club were in trouble, having been camped in the bottom three for the past few weeks. To words of many, particularly Kevin Ryan (secretary of Portsmouth supporters club), the FA cup holders were “paying the eternal price for chasing the dream”. Eventually leading to December 2008 when owner Alexandre Gaydamak placed the club up for sale, citing the credit crunch as the primary cause. This was inevitable with the lack of transfer funds the primary reason for the defection of Harry Redknapp to Tottenham.
Since the sacking of Tony Adams a new era of realism has dawned. Under Paul Hart results have steadily improved with Pompey looking able to avoid the drop. This would seem a deserving fate for a club who has taken a more considered approach to the fast buck culture of the premiership. Many would deem this move as lacking ambition, however the Paul Hart reign has brought fresh optimism. This positivity has been built on realistic foundations, stabilizing a club which was starring into the abyss of relegation.
This was in stark contrast to the dourness of Tony Adams, a man who as a recovered addict brought a strange psychology and mentality to management. Which to many, including midfielder Richard Hughes, concluded a “stark honesty criticized from some quarters”.
Certainly honesty is an admirable trait in football. However in the light of the Tony Adams sporting chance clinic it may be perceived as being detrimental to team morale. In a situation where admitting everything was the key to his very being, Adams found it difficult to throw in a white lie. This was damaging as motivation was the cornerstone of the Redknapp era. This was also reflected in his behavior in December, where following a defeat it was claimed by an unnamed Portsmouth player that Adams had failed to even visit the changing room.
This is an elaborate claim but seems very useful in explaining Portsmouth’s latest run of good form. In contrast to Adams, Paul Hart seems the right man at the right time for Portsmouth, helping the club move up to fifteenth in the table. Rather than taking a massive risk financially in a big name such as Sven Goran Eriksson, the south coast club promoted from inside. In youth boss Hart they promoted a man they could trust, whom with experience of the lower leagues knows the harsher side of the game, not too dissimilar to a certain Mr Redknapp.
The seasoned approach of Hart and his number two Brian Kidd, (arguably the best assistant in the business, formerly of Premiership trumping Man United and Blackburn teams respectively) has been inspirational to the players of Portsmouth, particularly England international Peter Crouch. This was plainly evident in the manner they put an in-form Everton side to the sword on March 21st, further reinforcing the importance of a realistic but confident approach to run a club in crisis with stability.
It is this focus on confidence, verging on arrogance, that has worked for the Cloughs and the Fergusons in the past at clubs said to be punching above their weight and Hart is wisely following with strong statements of intent:
“The other week I heard a manager say he didn’t expect to beat Manchester United. We haven’t got that luxury, we expect our team to get points out of every game and that includes Manchester United.”
Whilst they probably won’t beat United it illustrates the realistic positivity Hart has brought to the club. Thanks to this, Portsmouth will likely stay up, Crouch is in fine scoring form and the team are playing with real belief. Survival being a deserved reward for a club who have come to terms with reality.
In this they have abandoned costly plans for a new stadium, instead opting to redevelop Fratton Park. Furthermore alongside survival the club looks likely to be sold, with Gaydamak cutting the price to an alleged £35m.
This summer, thanks to Hart and Kidd, signings look to be more conservative than previous years with the focus likely to be on youth development. Despite being rejected academy status in 2008, this would be the right move for a more realistic Portsmouth. A smooth ride through the credit crunch will be the reward for embracing a better attitude. Which from personal experience would certainly be one their youth team could embrace.
Portsmouth’s refusal to give in to the big bucks approach on and off the field may not give the fans or the media the instant news they crave, but what it may just provide this club is something that seems so distant at most football grounds in the modern age; A manager who understands the importance of building a foundation of confidence and self-belief alongside a strong youth set up, before the big money signings come and the fans demand success.
For Hart and Kidd, survival is only the first step on what is beginning to look like an exciting journey and we, the spectators, can only sit back and enjoy the ride.