Strange as it may seem but Ellis Harrison’s legacy at Bristol Rovers extended into the summer after he left the Mem as his friendship with Wael Al-Qadi helped lead to the famous picture of the Gas president alongside Will Smith bearing a blue and white quarters jersey.
Wael Al-Qadi was attending the Middle Eastern premiere of the Aladdin remake in Amman, with the 2019 film starring British actor Naomi Scott playing the role of Princess Jasmine, who happens to be married to former Ipswich full-back Jordan Spence.
After some customary small talk came the revelation that they share a mutual friend in Harrison – then of Ipswich and a popular teammate of Spence’s – and Scott was then able to make further introductions with her cast mates and later on that day the Rovers owner frantically had a Gas shirt printed up bearing ‘Will 25’ to present to the megastar.
Two years on and it could be Harrison once again in blue and white, with Rovers among several clubs interesting in signing the 27-year-old who Portsmouth would dearly like to move on.
However, Bristol Live understands the chance of bringing Harrison back to BS7 is possible but not necessarily probable, given the level of League One interest, whether the player himself definitively wants to return to Rovers and if an agreement can be reached over his wages.
Sheffield Wednesday, Fleetwood Town, Cheltenham Town and Oxford United – who he so nearly joined earlier in the window – have all been named as potential suitors but there are varying degrees of interest across that quartet.
Fleetwood could well now be out of the reckoning after signing Joe Garner following his release at APOEL, while Cheltenham are not thought to be actively pursuing a move for Harrison, at least not yet. Sheffield Wednesday could be the most likely destination with Darren Moore having had the striker on his radar for several weeks now.
In short, and it doesn’t need spelling out, Rovers would find it nigh-on impossible to compete with Wednesday, should an offer be forthcoming and agreeable to both Pompey and Harrison.
As one of the club’s highest earners providing limited goal return and into the last 12 months of his contract, Portsmouth want Harrison’s wages off their books and would prefer a sale.
Although such is the state of the market and the size of his salary relative to current League One budgets, let alone in League Two, the best they may well get is a team simply agreeing to take his contract on.
He was left out of the Pompey squad that travelled to Wigan on Saturday with Danny Cowley admitting after the game he had trained back on the south coast, in what increasingly appears in preparation for a transfer away from Fratton Park.
Pompey appear to be holding out as long as possible for a semblance of a transfer fee, and if that isn’t forthcoming could then agree to a termination of his contract, to help save on 11 months of salary; a scenario that could then potentially bring more clubs into the equation.
It’s also unclear at this stage whether or not Harrison would be open to a move back to a club where he has nothing to prove, at least not himself.
Hypothetically-speaking, a loan with Rovers paying a proportion of his wages could be a last resort considered by Pompey, but that seems a scenario that would only occur late into the window, when all other options have been explored.
As Harrison’s future is in the balance, what’s almost certain is that Rovers will conclude multiple deals both in and out of the club as a busy summer in the market for the Gas concludes.
Bristol Live understands that Harrison is not the only attacking player being pursued and Rovers have at least one other offensive player as an option, although that individual is wanted by a number of other clubs.
The loan market is also being explored but, like so many in the EFL, Rovers are waiting on clubs higher up the food chain to conclude their business before the release players.
Tuesday night’s Papa John’s Trophy encounter with Cheltenham Town slightly complicates matters, and cuts the time frame needed, but Barton remains confident of deals being concluded.
“I think I’m down the track with at least four of them, and the fifth one would be a real bonus if we can get it done, but there’s a bit of work to do on that one just yet,” he said on Saturday.
Bristol Live understands that a left-sided defender is expected to arrive, capable of operating as a wing-back to provide both cover and competition for Trevor Clarke.
The summer signing from Rotherham has been injured, forcing Harry Anderson to play out of position. And although the 24-year-old has performed encouraging in that auxiliary role it has the duel effect of limiting his own impact on the game in the attacking sense, and not having a specialist in such a key position in Barton’s system.
The futures of veterans Glenn Whelan and Leon Clarke should also be decided with the expectation that providing talks have progressed positively they will be added to the squad.
Former Stoke City midfielder Whelan, who played under Barton for a year at Fleetwood, and striker Clarke have been training at The Quarters for the last couple of weeks.
Barton admitted on Saturday that Rovers were negotiating with the 37-year-old and 36-year-old and it appears they will sign, given the time invested in them and their respective talks.
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To make any of these deals happen, of course, the Gas need to move players out as they’re at the limit of the EFL restrictions on squad sizes with 20 permitted in League Two, outside of those aged 21 and under.
Jack Baldwin, Hanlan and Ben Liddle’s departures last week could be followed by Zain Westbrooke, who Barton has admitted is free to move on, Josh Barrett and potentially the versatile Cam Hargreaves.
Westbrooke still retains a strong reputation around the EFL but his salary at the Gas is a challenge with the 24-year-old the highest earner at the club and whose post-pandemic deal looks unpalatable for a lot of teams forced to cut budgets rather than raise them.
Other individuals whose Rovers future could be under threat are Cian Harries and Alfie Kilgour as Barton could potentially afford to lose one more centre-back, if a left-sided defender is forthcoming, to join Connor Taylor, Nick Anderton and Mark Hughes in the middle of the backline.
Josh Grant and Pablo Martinez can also theoretically deputise in that position and if the manager wants to sufficiently boost his attacking options, he may have to sacrifice a defender in the process.
At the risk of stating the obvious, with so many plates spinning and so much work to be done before Cheltenham arrive, Barton’s transfer wishes exceed far more than the three the genie granted Aladdin.
He may well need a magic lamp to pull it all off.