The men who will decide Pompey’s future return

Pompey boss Michael Appleton welcomes Tal Ben Haim back to training    Picture: Robin Jones
Pompey boss Michael Appleton welcomes Tal Ben Haim back to training Picture: Robin Jones

In a far corner of a field in Eastleigh, the men who hold Pompey’s future in their hands gathered.

There was no fanfare, as a little after 10am yesterday morning the Blues squad returned to work at the Wellington Sports Ground.

Ten senior players will decide whether the club will continue to exist.

Eight of them featured in a group of 20 who were put through their paces by Chris Neville, fresh from his stint away with England at the European Championships.

An unsustainable wage bill of £9.5m is dragging the club to the brink of liquidation.

The man refusing to budge on the £2m he wants to walk out the door, Tal Ben Haim, was present.

He had earlier been in Michael Appleton’s office as the Blues boss staged a host of one-on-one meetings with his senior squad members.

Appleton has made it clear to the players in no uncertain terms they have to go.

But much of the talk on the first day of term was about those men who were absent.

Both Aaron Mokoena and Kanu were nowhere to be seen as the squad went through the first of the double sessions they will undertake all this week.

Mokoena was afforded some slack for his absence, with it understood he is close to concluding a move back to South Africa with Bidvest Wits.

Kanu had no such excuses, however.

The king of 2008 was simply a no-show.

It’s not the first time, either. The Nigerian has called his own tune for when he decides he wants to report back for duty in the past, too.

That got short shrift from Appleton, though, who has promised to dish out suitable punishment for a non-appearance he branded ‘disrespectful’.

Kanu, of course, is showing little desire to compromise on the money he is owed for the last year of his deal, despite no longer being fit for purpose.

Perhaps it was the prospect of facing the hard work he would have had to undertake if he was present that kept him away.

The days of being tortured with marathon pre-season runs is a thing of the past but that doesn’t mean players of today get off lightly.

The heart-rate monitors being worn would have seen a fair amount of activity in the early session.

After a series of warm-ups, footballs were introduced for a lengthy round of dribbling skills.

A good 20-plus minutes of constant running with the ball at pace proved a serious test of cardiovascular fitness.

Many of the bronzed summer tans were a few shades redder by the end of those efforts.

By this stage, Appleton had appeared to keep an eye on proceedings from a distance.

Ben Haim couldn’t resist a few jokey words in his direction, which was humoured by Appy.

Appleton’s eye was trained on two of his triallists as Jon Harley and Mustapha Dumbuya joined the squad.

Goalkeepers Simon Eastwood and Laurie Walker were being put through their paces by coach John Keeley after being recruited at short notice.

There was a youthful air to proceedings, too, as the returning development squad members boosted numbers.

That meant players like Sam Magri, Adam Webster and Ashley Harris, who will form part of the first-team squad, were joined by the likes of Jed Wallace, Dan Thompson, George Colson, Alex Grant and Elliot Wheeler.

That ensured there was a healthier number of bodies involved than in previous pre-seasons.

As Appleton indicated during his press briefing, that number will go down, however, in the coming days and weeks.

That simply has to be the case – otherwise Pompey’s pre-season return yesterday will be irrelevant.

BACK IN TRAINING (THE POMPEY PLAYERS AT EASTLEIGH YESTERDAY): Hayden Mullins, Luke Varney, David Norris,

Tal Ben Haim, Greg Halford, Erik Huseklepp, Liam Lawrence, Dave Kitson, Adam Webster, Ashley Harris, Sam Magri,

Dan Thompson, George Colson, Alex Grant, Elliot Wheeler, Andy Higgins, Jed Wallace, Dan Butler, Mustapha Dumbuya, Jon Harley, Simon Eastwood, Laurie Walker.