Following the club’s remarkable title win on Saturday, Paul Cook will now turn his attention to his first team squad for next season in League One. 16 players’ contracts are due to expire this summer, and Cook has now met with the squad to tell them who is in his plans for next season. Even those who are tied to the club for another season cannot be 100% sure that their futures remain with the club so everybody will be both excited and nervous to hear who Paul Cook is looking to retain. Don’t get me wrong, Cook is infinitely more knowledgeable about the club than I am, as is Mark Catlin, but here is my player-by-player guide of who I would keep and who I would not.
1 – David Forde
Forde came through some heavy criticism early in the season but has come through it and ended up being one of the players of the season for Pompey. Although his shot-stopping is nothing special, he is very competent when it comes to attacking the ball in his area and is one of the more commanding goalkeepers at this level. Forde was on loan at Pompey from Millwall this season but his contract at the Lions runs out in the summer and the 37 year-old has expressed an interest in signing permanently with the Blues. However, his age makes me feel that a long-term option would be better if one becomes available as Forde will only be able to play at this level for a couple of years at most. If he would be prepared to sign without the guarantee of first team football then I would jump at the chance to retain his experience around the club and challenge the first choice, but I would rather sign a younger player.
2 – Tom Davies
Davies had a run in the side early in the season but found game time hard to come by in the latter stages. When he did start against Newport County in March he looked rusty to say the least and he has found himself below Jack Whatmough in the pecking order for much of the season so I would not be too disappointed to see him leave. Davies signed in the summer from Accrington Stanley and has another year still on his contract but he is unlikely to feature much in League One so, should anybody come in for him, I would let him depart the club if I were Paul Cook.
3 – Enda Stevens
Stevens is, in my view, the best player currently at the football club. He won The News/Sports Mail player of the year award and the left-back has missed just two league matches in the past two seasons. However, the Irishman has aspirations of making the squad for the World Cup in Russia in 2018 so is keen to play at a higher level to increase his chances. Stevens’ contract is up in the summer and Sheffield United look set to offer him a deal, giving him both a pay rise and the offer of Championship football next season. If there is any chance of somehow keeping the left-back I would jump at the chance, but unfortunately I think Stevens is on his way out.
4 – Danny Rose
I have no doubt that Rose will be staying at Pompey ahead of next season. He has another year on his contract and had a good season at the Blues, especially the final third after he came back into the starting eleven for the trip to Crawley. I’m fairly sure Rose would want some stability after changing clubs a few times in the last couple of years so would be unlikely to want to leave, and if any team did come in for him I would be very reluctant to sell him.
5 – Matt Clarke
Clarke was one of the standout players this season and it would be madness to consider offloading one of the starting centre-backs from the best defence in the division. In my opinion the current centre-back pairing is good enough to start in League One so keeping Clarke is an absolute must for Cook.
6 – Christian Burgess
Burgess is another who will surely be staying at the club for next season and should also retain his starting berth unless a really top level centre-half is brought in. He still has a year on his contract so I am not at all concerned that he will be leaving Fratton Park.
7 – Carl Baker
Baker also has a year to run on his contract so I think he will probably stay, although I am not sure he will play as prominent a role next season. He is now 34 and towards the end of the season he was often finding himself substituted soon after the hour-mark so I would not be surprised to see Cook bring in another attacking midfielder and start to phase Baker out of the starting eleven.
8 – Michael Doyle
Although the captain is now 35, he is noticeable one of the fitter players in the team and has a galvanising influence on his teammates. Doyle played every minute of every league game this season and missed just one match last season despite having a broken shin, so he is showing no signs of losing his legs at the twilight of his career. Cook has outlined his intentions to keep the combative midfielder and I would expect him to start the season in the starting eleven, although a younger pair of legs may be needed as well as I cannot see the Irishman being able to sustain his current levels of endurance for much longer. His contract expires this summer but I’m expecting a new deal to be announced any day now.
9 – Michael Smith
Smith spent the second half of this season on loan at Northampton, where he was neither a flop nor an unqualified success. During the first half of the campaign I was impressed with the performances of the striker, but the Pompey fans never took to him and became frustrated with his lack of goals. In the end, he was almost driven out of the club by the fanbase and I would be surprised if he played any part next season, despite having a year left on his contract. Don’t get me wrong, I think he would be a useful squad player in League One and would be happy to see him stay as his height offers the Blues a different option up front, but why should he stay and play for fans who have treated him so appallingly? I hope for his sake that he moves on and that his new supporters are more appreciative of what he brings to the side than the Pompey fans ever were.
10 – Milan Lalković
The Slovakian was a popular character at Fratton Park, but left on loan to Ross County in January at his own request due to getting limited playing during the first half of the season. However, the skilful winger showed glimpses of class and was a key player in Walsall’s League One campaign two seasons ago so I feel he still has a future at the club. He has another year on his deal and I would expect him to be given the opportunity to get back in the first team fold, and could have a better chance of success next season as League One might suit his tricky style better than League Two did.
11 – Gary Roberts
Roberts has another year at the club and there is no chance that he will be leaving the club this summer. The 33 year-old went through a strange season because he seemed to completely lose his pace midway through the year. There can be no denying the commitment or the talent that Roberts puts on display but the attacking midfielder has seemed ineffective at times due to his lack of pace. Towards the end of the season Roberts found himself in the starting lineup far less than he has previously been used to and I would not expect him to be an automatic starter in League One either, although his experience around the club and the occasional moment of magic will mean it is well worth having him around the club next season.
13 – Liam O’Brien
It is difficult for me to comment on O’Brien as the only time I have ever seen him play is in a reserve match. He has never made a league appearance for the club and his contract is up in the summer. He featured for the reserves in the Premier League Cup and also played in the League Cup and Checkatrade Trophy so has some first team experience to his name this season. The backup goalkeeper is never likely to play very much so it is fine to have O’Brien on that front, although if David Forde was to re-sign without guaranteed first team football then I would certainly prefer him to O’Brien. I would hold off entering into negotiations with O’Brien until the goalkeeping situation is clarified, but I wouldn’t have a problem with keeping him if he is not going to be around the first team picture.
14 – Curtis Main
Main actually performed quite well early in the season and scored five goals before being struck down by a series of injuries which ended his season as early as October. Towards the end of the season, Main returned to training and made the bench a couple of times, as well as playing in the Premier League Cup for the reserves, but injury problems made the campaign an unsuccessful one on the whole. Main still has a year left on his deal but I would expect him to leave as the fact that Main failed to make the matchday 18s at the end of the season shows that Cook has lost faith in the striker.
15 – Nicke Kabamba
Paul Cook does like to experiment with non-league players, with Kabamba, Ben Tollitt and Jamal Lowe all having joined from the world of part-time football in the last two years. Kabamba started one game towards the end of last season but was otherwise restricted to late cameos from the bench. I am not expecting Kabamba to leave this summer, but equally do not think he will have a major part to play next term and will probably be shipped out on loan at some point next season.
16 – Jack Whatmough
Whatmough is a homegrown talent and Pompey fans will be very keen to see him stay at the club. His contract expires this summer but I feel that he is good enough to be a worthy backup centre-back in League One next season. He has had major injury problems in the past but, if he can remain fit, he could really take the next step in the development of his career. I think Paul Cook will also be keen to keep Whatmough; the only question is whether he will be prepared to spend another season on the bench or whether he will want to move for guaranteed first team football.
17 – Eoin Doyle
Doyle returns to Preston North End after the expiry of his loan, and he will not be best pleased with how his spell at Pompey went. However, his past record shows that he can be prolific – especially under Paul Cook – and his performance this season were not bad, he just didn’t get the luck in front of goal. I would be keen to sign Doyle permanently this summer, I just hope he hasn’t been put off joining Pompey by the abuse he received from some sections of the crowd at Fratton Park.
18 – Jamal Lowe
It would be suicidal for Paul Cook to offload Lowe this summer after he has become Pompey’s newest legend after scoring the goals which guaranteed promotion away at Notts County. He will definitely be remaining at Fratton Park next season, and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to playing League One football. He joined the Blues in January from Hampton & Richmond Borough and will look to continue his meteoric rise up the English football pyramid with Pompey next season.
19 – Conor Chaplin
Chaplin is arguably the Blues’ prized asset and, although is still under contract, I am expecting him to be leaving the club in the summer. To be honest, as long as Pompey get a decent fee for Chaplin, I would not be too concerned to see him go. Chaplin is a player who is very gifted and I’m sure that he would do a good job in League One next season, but I feel the money that could be raised by selling him to a Championship team could be put to very good use in improving the team and signing a replacement for Chaplin.
20 – Noel Hunt
Hunt found playing time hard to come by this season and had to be content with coming off the bench for the majority of his appearances. He managed to break into the side at the beginning of April for the trip to Hartlepool but had his season ended by dislocating his shoulder during that match. Hunt is 34 and is not getting any younger, although he has been praised for the way he helps the younger players in the squad. His contract is up this summer and it is going to be 50/50 whether he signs for another season. If I were in charge I probably would not offer him a new deal as, although he can be a useful player in League One, realistically he would not play enough to justify his wages.
21 – Aaron Simpson
There is absolutely no chance of Simpson signing with Pompey for next season. For those who can’t remember, he is a right-back who signed on loan for Pompey on transfer deadline day in January from Wolves. This might take some Pompey fans by surprise as, not only has he not made a single matchday squad, but he has not even featured for the reserves, finishing the season back at his parent club. There would be no point in Simpson coming to Pompey next season as he would not play, and I sincerely doubt whether he would be prepared to come back anyway after his wasted loan spell.
22 – Kal Naismith
Naismith was a worthy candidate for player of the season as he recovered from being transfer listed last season to being the club top scorer this season. He scored thirteen goals and assisted six times so there is no chance of Cook letting him go this summer. It is widely known that Cook and Naismith do not get on brilliantly but even cook cannot deny that Naismith’s end of season form was a big reason for Pompey’s late push for the title.
23 – Kyle Bennett
Bennett is another player who finished the season on top form so Pompey will be very keen to keep him. I would give Bennett however much money he demanded to keep him at the club as I feel that he is a player who would have no trouble whatsoever adapting to League One football. There are currently rumours that Bennett will not sign a new club as his current deal expires in the summer but he expressed his intentions to stay at Fratton Park at the weekend. Hopefully he will sign a new deal because Bennett would be a massive loss to the team, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he left on a free transfer, having almost signed for Championship Ipswich in January.
24 – Amine Linganzi
Linganzi is another player who has played most of his football from the bench this season. When he does play he is a popular figure but he has very much played second fiddle to Danny Rose and Michael Doyle and, more recently, to Stanley Aborah. Although he never let the club down, he did seem to struggle with fitness at times and for that reason I would not offer him a new deal. His contract is up in the summer and I would be surprised if he would be willing to stay on the bench for another season.
25 – Drew Talbot
Talbot started the first eight games of the season at right-back but has not made a first team appearance since. He still has a year left on his contract but it is safe to say that he will not be at Fratton Park next season. He is strongly linked with a move back to Chesterfield and I am fairly sure that he will be transfer listed and will be allowed to move to the Spireites on a free transfer this summer.
26 – Gareth Evans
Evans played most of this season at right-back and has excelled in his new position. As well as being the new go-to man in the position, he is now the first choice penalty taker and it is imperative that the Blues keep him next season. His contract is up in the summer but Evans has expressed his desire to stay and I’m sure Cook will be keen to keep him. It is probably only a matter of time before Evans signs a new deal.
29 – Stanley Aborah
Aborah did not play a single minute until the promotion winning visit to Notts County, but since then he has performed fairly well. He only started once, against Cambridge, but he made appearances off the bench in all of the last four games of the season and performed reasonably well. Paul Cook has said he hopes to keep Aborah for next season, and I would expect him to sign a new contract after his current deal runs out in the summer. I expect Aborah to replace Linganzi as the current backup holding midfielder, while a new central midfielder will probably sign to challenge those currently at the club.
31 – Calvin Davies
The homegrown right-back never made an appearance for the first team but has been a regular in the reserves and the youth team over the last couple of years. He has spent the last two seasons on loan at Bognor Regis Town in the Ryman Premier League, which will have gained him invaluable experience. Davies has already revealed that he is being let go by the club on the expiry of his contract, and hopefully he will be able to find a new club – probably in the non-league system – where he can start to rebuild his career.
33 – Ben Close
Close has long been a player who has had a chance of making the step from the academy to being a first team regular, but he seemed to lose ground this season after an injury hampered campaign. He spent the second half of the season on loan at Eastleigh in the National League and I would not expect him to remain at the club beyond this summer. His contract expires next month and I am not expecting it to be renewed, although Close has a good chance of getting a new club which is in the National League at least. He could even secure a contract with another League Two club so Close still has a chance of making it up the English football pyramid, but his development would be better served by moving elsewhere.
38 – Brandon Haunstrup
The left-back has made the odd appearance for the first team but he spent this season on loan at Sutton United and I do not see him being in the first team picture next season. His contract expires this summer and I think the most likely outcome is that Haunstrup will sign for Sutton permanently after being released by the Blues.
I feel bad to an extent for moving on from the historic league title win at the weekend so quickly. But it is important now to consider what the future holds for Pompey’s squad and to prepare for the various scenarios which could happen in the summer ahead of the first campaign back in League One. If I were the Pompey manager I would keep the vast majority of the squad which was so successful this season, and I think that is what Paul Cook will do. However, what I think i neither here nor there, and I will trust Paul Cook no matter what he does with regards to transfers and contracts this summer. At this stage, the most important thing for fans to do is continue to show our gratitude for the success delivered by the current squad, no matter what the future holds for them.