14 playing futures to be decided as Barker plots Pompey deals

Jed Wallace is among those out of contract at the end of the season Picture: Joe Pepler
Jed Wallace is among those out of contract at the end of the season Picture: Joe Pepler

The low regard with which Richie Barker holds the abilities of some within his squad has never attempted to be disguised.

There are those who lack the required talent, some cannot mentally cope with appearing at Fratton Park, while others are unable to meet physical requirements.

Pompey’s boss even remains to be convinced he has the desired calibre of central midfielders to effectively field a 4-4-2 system.

The blunt condemnation of his playing ranks has become increasingly frequent.

No single individual pinpointed and criticism is strictly painted in broad strokes, Barker has not kicked out any particular scapegoat blinking into the spotlight.

Nonetheless, his often barbed words have not so much stung but drawn blood.

Possessing a squad of 32 who have played first-team football this season, Barker considers it far too large for a League Two side.

And with 14 of them out of contract at the season’s end, changes will be widespread.

The list contains Nicky Shorey, Marcos Painter, Jake Jervis, Daniel Alfei, Ashley Harris, Jed Wallace, Adam Webster, Yassin Moutaouakil, Phil Smith, Ryan Bird, Trevor Carson, Bondz N’Gala, Thery Racon and Jack Maloney.

Some will stay – but the vast majority will go.

Leading the way through the exit will be Moutaouakil, whose continued first-team absence barely warrants attention these days.

The Frenchman sported the captain’s armband when he netted the winning spot-kick against Torquay in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy back in September.

Afterwards, he boldly declared to the media he wanted to prove himself the best right-back in League Two.

Moutaouakil even started Barker’s first match in charge – a 2-0 home defeat to Newport on December 14.

Relegated to the bench the following match at Bristol Rovers, the ex-Charlton defender would come on for the final 17 minutes for hamstring victim Shaun Cooper.

He has not made a Pompey squad since.

At one stage there was an ankle injury. But the lack of interest in his availability from those among the club is palpable.

To think in the summer former boss Guy Whittingham was keen to recruit Moutaouakil on a two-year deal following a decent short-term stay in the second half of last season.

The former French under-21 skipper turned it down in preference for a 12-month contract with a year’s option, presumably with one eye on swift progression should he impress.

The fate of the remaining 13 whose deals expire is considerably less obvious and can be a source of much debate among supporters.

Take Harris, who burst on to the scene at the tail-end of the last Championship campaign under Michael Appleton.

Last season would see him make 29 appearances – nine of which were starts – and score three times, including the last match of the League One term at Shrewsbury.

This time around he has made only nine match-day squads, with a sole appearance coming off the bench against Southend on January 1.

There have been unsuccessful loan spells at the Hawks and Chelmsford, then he linked-up with Bognor earlier this month.

Pompey fans will wish the 20-year-old well in convincing Barker, yet the overriding feeling is it is all a little too late.

Contrasting futures await Harris’ youth-team contemporaries Wallace and Webster beyond this summer.

Wallace was the subject of various Blues contract talks in the first half of the season, while a bid in the region of £350,000 from Peterborough was rejected during the January transfer window.

He is expected to leave as a free agent this summer, although a tribunal will decide a fee for his destination club to pay.

In contrast, Barker has announced he will take up the 12-month option on Webster’s contract when it expires at the end of the season.

Pompey have more players out of contract in defensive positions than any other, with six in total – including Moutaouakil and Webster.

The loan spell of Alfei is scheduled to end, although with the right-back contracted to Swansea until the summer of 2016, it appears unlikely he will stay permanently.

The future of N’Gala is a curious one, not least because he featured in only three of Barker’s first 13 matches as boss – not making the squad on four occasions.

It looked the end for him, only to reappear and record four clean sheets from four appearances before today’s visit to Fleetwood to spark thoughts he may be worth a fresh deal.

Then there are left-backs Shorey and Painter – the former keeping the latter out of the side of late, having returned from a spell in the centre of midfield.

Both have impressed. But with Dan Butler earmarked as left-back competition next season, at least one must depart.

In terms of keepers, Carson has been a regular since an initial emergency loan deal from Bury and is a highly-reliable performer.

Understudy Smith, who has a 12-month option, has made just five appearances this season – yet is considered a naturally-talented keeper and is popular at the club.

Earlier this season, then-goalkeeping coach Alan Knight was keen to recruit Gosport’s Nathan Ashmore to the Fratton Park ranks, yet the goalkeeping pool was already too large.

It remains to be seen whether Barker would favour an experienced or youthful option as a future number two in his squad.

Next up is Racon, who Barker took up an option on to remain until the end of the season back in January.

Despite that show of confidence, the 29-year-old has been in and out of the team, operating as an unused substitute in the three matches before today’s Highbury Stadium trip.

With the strikers, Jervis is presently regarded as a must-keep following his four goals in 11 matches before today, and the concern is other clubs may instead step in with a long-term deal.

Nonetheless, the club are quietly confident the former Birmingham City man will remain if desired by Barker.

Bird has netted six times during his current two-month loan spell with Cambridge and the Blues must decide whether to activate a 12-month option.

Finally, Maloney is one of five first-year professionals out of contract, but the only member to make a squad this season.

He appeared as an 89th-minute substitute against Southend at home – but is currently on loan at Lewes.

Decisions to be made for Barker.

Then again, his mind is most likely already made up.