He played for them too: Chelsea - Courtney Pitt
You don't have to pick up too many newspapers or sports magazines to find an article claiming that one of the 'Big Fours' new recruits is going be the next Ronaldo, Torres, Fabregas or for those of us with grey hair; George Best.
Truth is, that it very rarely happens and for each column inch dedicated to an up and coming starlet there are generally three or four more containing stories of players that would have made it had circumstances been different. Perhaps they never realized their potential, perhaps they never developed the way it was anticipated or perhaps, just perhaps the kid in question was never really good enough to make it.
Newspaper speculation is one thing but when top European clubs start to show an interest in a player you tend to sit up and take a little notice. Top European clubs like in this case Barcelona and Monaco do not normally enquire about or in Monaco's case make an offer for players unless they are beginning to actually show their potential and it was such an interest back in June 2001, which led me to believe that Pompey had signed a star of the future. Boy was I wrong.
Along with the likes of Carlton Cole, Jody Morris and John Terry, Paddington born Courtney Pitt started his career as a trainee at Chelsea. Despite the interest from the Nou Camp talent scouts and after giving some impressive performances for the reserves whilst progressing through the ranks, the 19 year old saw his first team prospects limited by Chelsea's increasing 'Foreign Legion' and never really got his career off the ground at Stamford Bridge.
Pompey Sign a Starlet
Enter Graham Rix. Rix had been Ruud Gullits & Gianluca Vialli's Assistant Manager whilst Pitt was at Chelsea and following the demotion of Pompey player/manager Steve Claridge found himself in charge at Fratton Park. Just how Rix got the Fratton job is a story in itself, but in June 2001 I thought he had pulled off a masterstroke when he signed Pitt on a three year deal for a tribunal set fee of £200,000.
Pitt made his Pompey debut at Molineux on the opening day of the 2001-02 season by coming off the bench in a 2-2 draw and went on to become a regular member of the squad. Goals against Millwall, Birmingham and Manchester City towards the end of the campaign in which he featured 39 times meant that his first season had been O.K. (even though Rix had been sacked and replaced by Redknapp) and although he had kind of made a good impression I think we all expected a little more - It appears so did Harry.
If Your Face Does No Fit!
Whether Harry decided Pitt could not make the grade and actively looked for a replacement or whether a certain new recruit (Matt Taylor)forced his way ahead of him we don't really know, but whatever the reason Courtney failed to make an single appearance the following season (2002-03) and as Redknapp brought in a more and more new faces and took Pompey to the brink of the Premiership, Pitt became the forgotten man.
If Courtney harboured any hopes of playing at Old Trafford, Highbury or Anfield by forcing his way back into the team as Pompey prepared for 'the big time' they were surely dashed as just the day before the start of the season Luton Town's new Manager Mike Newell enquired about a loaning a player they'd had on trial towards the end of the previous season. Within the blink of an eye Courtney's bags were packed and labelled 'Second Division, c/o Kenilworth Road'
Pitt hoped that a spell with the Hatters would enable him to regain the form that saw him earn a regular place for Pompey and with Luton desperate for a left-winger the opportunity was there for him to make the position his own.
Making his debut on the opening day of the season once again, the Londoner helped Luton to a 3-1 victory over Rushden & Diamonds. His pace and trickery seemed to be what Newell's side lacked as he fitted straight into Luton's side and their style of play. Courtney went on to feature in a further 5 matches for the Kenilworth Road side, scoring his first, and only goal with a free-kick in a 4-1 win over Yeovil in the League Cup.
Having made an impressive start it was unfortunate that he then sustained an Achilles injury that meant he would be forced to sit out the remainder of his loan spell. Once again Courtney's bags were packed but this time labelled 'Damaged Goods - Return to Sender'
Despite the set-back Pitt worked hard upon his return to Fratton Park and within a few weeks had recovered from the injury and regained full fitness. Ready for action once more Mike Newell re-signed Courtney on loan for a second month.
Courtney's second loan spell with the Hatters was not quite as successful as the first, but he regained his first team place and was doing ok until a keeper crisis hit Luton and Newell was informed that he could not sign any cover unless he allowed one of his two loan players (Courtney or Gary McSheffrey) to return to their respective clubs. Needing a goalkeeper more than a winger and obviously thinking that McSheffrey would offer him more, Newell took the decision to allow Pitt once again to return to Fratton Park.
More Loans Than Natwest
It wasn't long however before Courtney was on his travels again. A Boxing Day deal in 2003 took him to Coventry for a month, but he was restricted to just one start and a substitute appearance and although Coventry Manager Eric Black was "delighted he took the time to come up" those words were followed by "Courtney didn't get the opportunity he was looking for" and "we won't be extending his loan"
On transfer deadline day in March 2004 with the loans to Luton and Coventry not bearing any fruit, Courtney accepted a lifeline by way of a free transfer from his old gaffer Graham Rix, at the time manager at Oxford United. However, Courtney failed to make an impact at The Kassam Stadium, and after just 8 games, he was released at the end of the season. This time he was unable to return to the relative comfort of Fratton Park but once again began the search for a new club
The new club this time was Boston where he made 20 starts, and scored 4 times but alas again he left at the end of the season. Next up was Conference side Cambridge United and all of a sudden Pitt found his level.
During the next three seasons Pitt made over 100 appearances for Cambridge and became something of a fans favourite but in May last year, 8 years after being on Chelsea's books, being watched by Barcelona and being wanted by Monaco he was once again getting used to the idea of being without club as he was one of 5 players released by manager Jimmy Quinn following the Blue Square Play Off Final loss to Exeter City.
And so it was, that Courtney was once again 'without club' but once again another lifeline was thrown his way when in July Quinn parted company with Cambridge and his successor Gary Brabin, offered him a contract and took him back to Cambridge where he is to this day.
Stop and Think
There are many who will have an opinion of Courtney Pitt, me included, but whatever we think we can not knock the guy for picking himself up and dusting himself down so many times he must have wondered whether he had any ability at all.
Based on his career to date there is little doubt Courtney would not have been good enough for Chelsea, let alone Barcelona or Monaco. But before we judge perhaps we should ask ourselves why?
Courtney Pitt either never developed as he should, never had the opportunities others had or he just was not as good as we or indeed he was told - but if that is the case who has been short changed? us the fans for expecting so much that was never in all honesty going to be delivered, or the 19 year old kid who for a couple of years was told he was good enough for Chelsea and dare I say it Barcelona.
Football can be a cruel game.