The man who helped turn trio into Pompey goalkeeping giants

Dave Coles. Picture: Joe Pepler
Dave Coles. Picture: Joe Pepler

David James, Asmir Begovic and Jamie Ashdown – towering in stature, giants in ability.

Gazing up from beneath was Dave Coles, or the ‘dwarf’ he chuckles as he feasts upon the memories.

Yet his influence was massive.

Never in Pompey’s history has the club been blessed with a finer pool of goalkeepers on the books at the same time.

Overseeing them was Coles, a qualified social worker with a modest playing career behind him which came to conclusion in the Dr Martens League premier division.

A background which initially blinded the judgement of a deeply unimpressed James during their early encounters on the pitches of the Eastleigh training ground.

A love-hate relationship it may have been, yet the former Liverpool stopper eventually owed his resurrection as England’s number one to Coles.

It’s a fact the 53-time capped James has himself long freely admitted. They are still in touch.

Begovic was the schoolboy keeper who arrived at Fratton Park from Canada and departed for Stoke in a controversial £3.25m deal after just 17 first-team appearances.

As for Ashdown, currently with Leeds, he played 123 times for the Blues, including remarkably being an ever-present in the 50-game 2010-11 campaign.

Their goalkeeping coach was Coles, a man who finished a brief second Pompey stint earlier this week.

And someone who for five years until his summer 2010 departure for West Ham inspired three tremendous talents.

He said: ‘You can imagine me at the training with Jamie Ashdown, who was 6ft 3in, Jamo at 6ft 5in and Asmir at 6ft 7in.

‘I looked like the dwarf between the three wise men!

‘What a group of goalkeepers, though. I remember sitting David down when he joined us from Manchester City and asking: “Where do you see yourself, where do you want to be?”.

‘He told me he wanted his England place back, so I replied: “Let’s try to get it, I will do all I can” – and we did it.

‘Me and David had a love-hate relationship. He would push me all the time, explore boundaries, expect answers, expect everything to be precise because he is a very articulate guy anyway.

‘In fairness, I don’t think he knew an awful lot about me.

‘I don’t think many people do, my career wasn’t illustrious, it was never Premier League or first division, it was one game in the second division, third division, fourth division, conference, non-league football and then I drifted into the coaching side.

‘I had to work hard to get his respect but what I had was knowledge of playing in goal.

‘I felt the same things he felt, had been in the same positions he had, time after time. I think that really helps.

‘I would like to say I improved him but most of it was down to being such a natural athlete and such an unbelievable character and personality around the place.

‘They are things you just can’t give people but you can always improve something.

‘David came here with his own psychologist and another guy who heped him in the gym. I embraced that because it gave me another side to him I needed to learn.

‘His psychologist got him to keep a diary of what went well and what didn’t go well, then he would feed it back to me and we would plan for the next few weeks in advance.

‘We had good days and bad days. I am not saying every day was a smile and roses because David is a highly-complex character but he is one of the best I have worked with.

‘He would test me, he would test the other goalkeepers. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you get the answers you require from him in terms of his training.

‘And he was phenomenal, the most natural I have come across.

‘We also had this young kid with big ears called Begovic, who just appeared on the scene.’

Begovic made his debut in May 2009 during a 3-1 Fratton victory over Sunderland.

Coles had convinced manager Paul Hart to select the rookie ahead of Ashdown in the absence of the injured James.

The following season the Bosnian truly caught the eye during of a run of 11 appearances in 12 matches when James was again ruled out.

On February 1, 2010, he signed a four-year deal with Stoke, having refused to sanction a deal already lined up with Spurs.

Coles added: ‘I knew Asmir was going to be some spectacular player and he has not proven me wrong.

‘He didn’t want to leave here and was horrified they were trying to sell him.

‘I remember watching the youth team at Chelsea trying to speak to the directors about not letting him go.

‘You could have trebled your money at the end of the season because everyone was talking about him.

‘He was such high priority and at the time was keeping the England number one out.

‘I wanted to keep him for Portsmouth, I was greedy, we had three top goalkeepers and you always want to keep them.

‘Asmir is going to be such a great goalkeeper and I remember getting him back from a loan spell in Belgium and spending two weeks with me, working intensely alongside Dean Kiely.

‘We worked so hard and once they both rang me from Nandos and said: “Our arms are so tired we are actually feeding each other”.

‘That was quite a compliment to me, I had done my work that week!

‘Asmir is a natural goalkeeper. I think he is the best in the Premier League and has been for the last two or three years without a doubt.

‘He has grown into the job more than anything else. He works hard at his game and having worked with David James is going to be pedantic, articulate and want things in a certain way.

‘He will get his move to a big club one day, although I know for a fact he is happy where he is just now.’

Finally there was Ashdown, so often overlooked in the Fratton goalkeeping stakes and eventually relegated to third choice.

After being released in the summer of 2010 he was brought back by Steve Cotterill months later to become his number one.

At the end of the 2011-12 season, following relegation, he again wasn’t retained and has been at Elland Road ever since.

Coles said: ‘Jamie is a good goalkeeper, too. He has worked hard and had a really good career.

‘He should be playing regularly in the Championship team without a doubt and it is a shame he isn’t at the moment.

‘He’s got good attributes and certainly did well for Pompey in the Championship the year after I left, when he was consistent.’

Having been brought to Pompey in 2005 by Harry Redknapp, Coles left in the summer of 2010.

Electing to follow Avram Grant to West Ham, it is a decision he regrets to this day, compounded by being removed by new boss Sam Allardyce 12 months later.

In August 2011 he made the leap to Al Jazira in the UAE, where he oversaw two keepers become their country’s first and second choices.

Yet last month he returned to England, without work – then Guy Whittingham rang.

He added: ‘I was desperate to come home so decided to quit my contract at Al Jazira.

‘It was time to come back and when I got off the plane on the Thursday morning within two seconds it was Guy on the phone.

‘He said: “Look, I know you’ve come back, would you come and work for Portsmouth?”.

‘I came in on expenses with no contract, it paid for my petrol, then Guy got the sack and Richie Barker came in.

‘At the moment I’m unemployed, so I don’t really know what is next.

‘I don’t follow anyone and have no agent, I’m just hoping someone will employ me for my CV.’

Let’s hope so, a great man among goalkeeping giants.