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Ever since the financial chaos began back in 2009, Portsmouth FC have been on a torturous path from genuine European contenders to League Two yo-yo. On the way, the club has seen a conveyor belt of footballing talent pass through the walls of Fratton Park, and only recently seem to have established some continuity and structure. Portsmouth fans can finally put names on the back of their shirts with a great sense of safety, but let’s hope there’s not too many wearing the name of today’s scout pick – Jed Wallace.
Now, as an avid Southampton fan, you could be forgiven for calling me bias when I say that watching Portsmouth these days can be a trying task. Aside from the odd 6-2 away day victory or 3-0 pasting of strugglers Carlisle United, the team aren’t exactly sparkling. However, no matter which Portsmouth FC turns up come 3 o’clock on Saturday, Jed Wallace always does.
Indeed, the little firefly shines in his newly established role behind the strikers, and there’s not a pundit, journalist or fan in the land that has watched Portsmouth in the last year and come away not singing Wallace’s praises. So now it’s time to cast the “Outside of the Boot” microscope upon the English youngster, and see just what the fuss is all about.
It was never exactly a harmonious marriage between Wallace and Portsmouth. The Reading-born attacking midfielder spent the early years of his career hopping from youth and non-league sides, from Potley & Darby Green to Farnborough. It was 2011, at the age of 16, before Wallace finally signed at Fratton Park, regularly turning out for the youth side. It wasn’t long before Farnborough came calling for a month loan deal, which Wallace completed without a goal in six appearances. His loan spell at Whitehawk was much more productive – eight goals in eleven games isn’t a record to sniff at any level.
It was January 1st 2013 when Jed Wallace finally pulled on blue and gold of Portsmouth, debuting from the bench against Swindon Town in League One. Just 25 days later, he was making his full debut in a 3-1 home defeat to Hartlepool United, scoring the only Pompey goal of the game. His next goal came within five minutes of his introduction against Colchester United, unfortunately in another losing effort. However, his next goal would finally earn his side a share of the spoils, scoring in the 71st minute against Doncaster to tie the game at 1-1. A few more goals later, and Portsmouth were extending his contract for a further year. Jed Wallace was starting to shine.
It wasn’t long before clubs started taking an interest in the youngster. Team-mate David Connolly rather candidly revealed as much back in November 2013, with rumours of Brighton, Peterborough and Wolves running rampant at the time. Fans became jittery as Wallace repeatedly turned down offers of a contract extension, but finally, in June 2014, Wallace put pen to paper on a new three year deal. Almost one year on, the decision seems a shrewd one.
As mentioned previously, it’s impossible to watch Portsmouth these days without coming away with Jed Wallace’s name on the tip of your tongue. The kid is exciting. His runs and movement are something unlike any other player currently tying his laces in League Two; a refreshing nepenthe from the otherwise questionable and sometimes even lacklustre team performances.
Back in my Harrison Reed scout report, I mused over the peculiar determination of the British media to throw comparisons, sometimes glibly, upon any young English talent that starts to show potential. Indeed, to quote myself, with Luke Shaw, it was Ashley Cole. With Ross Barkley, it was Paul Gascoigne. I now gladly accept the title of hypocrite when I say that Jed Wallace reminds me of a young Adam Lallana.
The first thing you notice when Jed Wallace gets on the ball is his alertness, his sharpness. It’s almost second nature for the youngster to receive the ball to feet, and turn so swiftly the old adage of “turning on a dime” seems almost facile in the face of his speed. The second is his running style. It’s mazy and direct all at once, leaving defenders starry eyed and pensive. The third depends entirely on what he decides to do next – shoot, or pass. For your sake, I hope he passes – not because his shooting is particularly poor, but because the truly intriguing trait is Jed’s vision. It seems the game plays out in his head in some picturesque, FIFA-style purity. You jink through that silly gap there, slip past a defender or two, then dink a back heel through that little opening or chip that ball just over to where that striker will no doubt be running in a second or two. It doesn’t always come off, but oh my, when it does, you can’t help but get excited.
Wallace’s shooting isn’t anything to sniff at, of course. Not only does the youngster have 24 goals in 98 appearances – a fine record for a 20 year old attacking midfielder – and the range of those 24 is impressively vast. Right foot, left foot, outside of the boot (if you’ll pardon the pun), inside of the boot, off the header, inside the area, outside the area, left side, right side – Wallace has scored a wider range of goals than some Premier League strikers. Indeed, there are some rather enjoyable Jed Wallace video packages available on YouTube if you’d like to see the proof.
I’ve watched Wallace on a handful of occasions now, and each time I’ve seen something extra. His ability to play on the shoulder of his defenders, his crossing from deep, his persistent pressure (from minute one to minute ninety), his range of passing and most encouragingly, his attitude on the field. While questions could be raised after his peculiar game of contract tennis, on the turf, he’s as motivational as he can be, pushing his strikers back towards the opponent’s goal as he races back to collect the ball on their behalf.
Through all his qualities, Wallace’s weaknesses seem clear. The attractive vision that allows Wallace to play the game in his head is sometimes a little blinkered, with passes going astray, balls bouncing in to areas where no blue shirt awaits, promising and pacey counter attacks breaking down because no-one else was on his wavelength. Perhaps you could argue it’s the lack of quality around him – perhaps it’s youth and naivety. However you explain it, far too often does Wallace see and play a game that no-one else can. His movement and shooting is crisp and revitalising, but it needs refinement – something I’ve no doubt will come in time, of course, but for now, it must be seen as a weakness.
Earlier in this piece, I compared Jed Wallace to a young Adam Lallana. Clearly, Lallana is a player that I’ve had the fortune of following the progress of over the last few years, so the comparison is not without foundation. The Adam Lallana that broke on to the scene in 2008/2009 was a tricky and sharp young attacker, untamed and unpolished. If you read over this scout report again, you’d be hard pressed to deny that those terms can’t as easily be applied to young Jed Wallace. The talent is there. All it needs is a little bit of work.
The difference between Wallace and Lallana is the quality of his surroundings. And I don’t say this out of some pathetic, petty sense of “getting one over on the old rival”, but Jed Wallace is a talent that’s crying out for a move away from the South Coast. Portsmouth have allowed Wallace the stage to display his talents and for that, they should be thanked. But if Jed Wallace wants to develop and realise his potential, he needs better facilities, better pitches, more quality to learn from and compete against. That’s what Lallana got, and look where he is now.
Don’t get it misconstrued; Jed Wallace shouldn’t be fast tracked for the Premier League. What Wallace requires right now is a team like Nottingham Forest, like Derby County, like Watford or Brighton. A team that plays the style of football the man can see in his head, with players that can show him what the next level looks like. He won’t be a regular starter, and he may even be sent out on loan from time to time. But I don’t doubt for a minute that with the right manager, the right team, the right style, Jed Wallace is a talent capable of making the big time.
Only time will tell if my comparison was fair. But certainly, a talent like Jed Wallace should not be darting through defenders in League Two for too much longer. For my sake, however, let’s hope Wallace doesn’t take my words to heart – if Portsmouth lose Jed Wallace, I lose the only entertaining part of watching Portsmouth.
Written by Ross Bramble