Birthday boy knows hard work trumps talent

Jack Whatmough Picture; Joe Pepler
Jack Whatmough Picture; Joe Pepler

It wasn’t the way Jack Whatmough would have pictured spending his 18th birthday.

After starting the first three games of the season and impressing along the way, the Gosport talent found himself on the bench for the Northampton win on Tuesday night.

Pompey boss Andy Awford momentarily considered indulging the teenager before his hard-nosed head kicked in over heart.

‘I felt for him with it being his 18th birthday,’ Awford reflected after the 2-0 win.

‘But then I knew I had to do what was best for the team – and that comes first.’

It’s an approach which has seen the Blues manager play Tinkerman in all of his fixture so far.

Six changes for Peterborough, five for Cambridge and four for Tuesday’s clash with Northampton – all wins.

Craig Westcarr admitted being left out at the weekend led to a Friday night when he was best avoided.

‘You want to play every game,’ the striker admitted. ‘But it makes sense. It’s working.’

Whatmough would have felt that disappointment, of course, but you certainly wouldn’t have found him complaining.

A lot has been made of the central defender’s emergence, and that’s natural when you’ve got a homegrown talent wearing royal blue.

Anyone who has paid their money to watch their club can, in recent months, see the lad has ability.

What they perhaps wouldn’t have noticed, however, is his attitude.

The last time anyone saw a blonde mop like Whatmough’s at Fratton Park, Alan Biley was banging in the goals 12 years before he was born.

With his Fernando Torres-inspired barnet, you’d be forgiven for thinking Whatmough cut a brash and cocky figure. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

It may be a daft haircut, but the former Neville Lovett Community School student is a switched-on kid.

That was seen earlier in the summer at the Five Lakes resort in Essex, where Pompey were gearing up for the campaign.

Whatmough was with the senior set-up for pre-season for the first time, and adjusting to his new surroundings.

It was there a sit-down interview between myself and Ricky Holmes was taking place, when Whatmough decided to plonk himself down within earshot.

Ahead of speaking publicly for the first time, he wanted to see how an experienced player went about the process.

It’s exactly the sort of thing Awford would instruct a young pro to do.

Whatmough did it off his own back.

When it came to Whatmough speaking to my colleague Neil Allen, he talked brightly, engagingly and avoided saying anything which would cause any consternation.

There is a school of thought in some sections of the game, attention on young players can cause unnecessary problems.

It’s a view borne out of concern for a talent’s development, with the game littered with countless examples of exciting footballers who let attention go to their head.

We’ve undoubtedly seen that down at PO4 in recent years, but we’ve also witnessed the likes of Joel Ward and Matt Ritchie remain grounded in the face of their senior emergence.

Ward wasn’t even the best player in his Cosham-based youth East Lodge youth side, yet today finds himself playing Premier League football for Crystal Palace. He underlines the truism that hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.

The good news is Whatmough appears grounded enough, and has the right people around him, to fall into the same category.

That, and not his obvious ability, gives the England under-18 international every chance of fulfilling his potential.