RICHIE BARKER has assured Dan Butler he is part of his Pompey first-team plans.
Butler made a return to action this week, following 14 weeks on the sidelines, after rejoining Aldershot on loan.
The 19-year-old put a testing period out because of a knee injury behind him with a start for the Shots in their 2-0 Skrill Premier win against Chester.
Barker is happy to see the left-back find his feet again and build his fitness with Andy Scott’s side.
But the Blues boss sees Butler returning and vying for a defensive spot in his team next season.
Marcos Painter and Nicky Shorey are his current left full-back options. But with Barker making it clear he plans to operate with a small squad next season, he is unlikely to keep both.
The Pompey boss challenged Butler to work his way into his plans for next season.
‘Dan needed games and had been out for a long period of time,’ said Barker.
‘We haven’t got any reserve or development games coming up, he enjoyed his time at Aldershot and Andy Scott was quickly on the phone for him.
‘Dan wanted to go back there and play some games.
‘He’s got another year left with us so I’ll take the opportunity, whenever I can, to go and watch him play.
‘Dan needs to play and needs some match fitness.
‘He played for Aldershot during the week and did well.
‘They won as well which was great, because he’s gone in and they’ve won after not getting a result for a while.
‘He played a fair bit at the start of this season and last season.
‘He’s someone who, when he comes back in pre-season, will be judged as a first-team player.
‘That shirt will be up for grabs and it’s down to him.’
Butler was left in a brace after damaging medial knee ligaments for Aldershot against Weston-super-Mare at the start of December.
Barker has been won over by the player’s response to that period out and his hunger to play football.
‘His attitude is fantastic,’ said Barker.
‘He’s worked hard during his injury and rehab. He’s so enthusiastic about things and wants to play football.
‘I dare say he’s been champing at the bit for a while. He just wanted to play football.
‘He’s had a fairly serious knee injury.
‘I didn’t realise how serious it was for a while, but it was extremely serious.
‘He trained with the apprentices and he trained with us for a while.
‘He had to build up his confidence, as well as the physical side of it.
‘It was one which could knock your confidence – not that there was ever any threat to his career.
‘But it was something that, if it went again and wasn’t built up properly, he would have had problems.
‘It’s part of his growing up and learning process.
‘He wants to play football – and I like that in kids.’