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End in sight for Pompey's blues?

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Matt Slater | 01:30 UK time, Friday, 21 August 2009

When Sulley Muntari slotted a penalty past Manchester United's stand-in goalkeeper Rio Ferdinand in a FA Cup quarter-final on 8 March, 2008, he was taking Portsmouth supporters to heights they had not experienced for half a century.

OK, there had been cup runs in the '90s but Harry Redknapp's talented side was also chasing a top-six finish in the league. These were the best of chimes for Pompey fans.

They could be forgiven, then, for missing the muffled ringing of alarm bells. Because that team, which two months later beat Cardiff in the FA Cup final, was living way beyond its means.

The fans didn't know it at the time (how could they?) but those months in the spring of 2008 were as good it gets. The question now is will they be as good as it's going to get for a very long time?

Sulaiman Al Fahim, Paul Hart and Peter StorrieUntil the last 48 hours the sensible answer to that question would have been yes.

But Wednesday's announcement that a consortium led by current chief executive Peter Storrie is in talks with owner Alexandre "Sacha" Gaydamak about buying the club was perhaps the first ray of sunshine in a miserable summer for the Hampshire club.

I say perhaps because while the talks are said to be "progressing" they are also perplexing - details are as thin on the ground as reinforcements for manager Paul Hart's threadbare side.

What we do know is that Storrie, who has been a popular presence at Fratton Park since 2002, has lost faith in proposed new owner Sulaiman Al Fahim's ability to close a deal fast enough to give the team a fighting chance of Premier League survival (which they still have).

Given the numerous conversations I have had with the Dubai-based property developer's camp, I would say this is a reasonable conclusion for him to have reached. As the de facto boss at Portsmouth, Storrie is understandably more focused on the here and now than his would-be employer (whose constant refrain is of a "long-term vision").

Storrie, a former director at West Ham, Southend and Notts County, will have known any chance of Al Fahim's takeover being completed in time to release funds for this transfer window has passed. He was probably starting to worry about the next transfer window, too.

Al Fahim has been Pompey's sugar daddy-in-waiting since May, when he first announced his intention to buy the club from Gaydamak (who has spent most of 2009 vying with Newcastle's Mike Ashley for the 'I'm a club owner...get me out of here' prize) for a fee believed to be in the region of £60m.

His status got a little sweeter in July when his accountants finished their forensic exploration of Portsmouth's finances, which must have been grisly work, and he became the club's non-executive chairman. He also passed the Premier League's new and improved "fit and proper person test".

And then, well...nothing. The last three weeks have seen only claim and counter-claim about his readiness to proceed, further speculation about Pompey's finances and more talk of player sales. They also witnessed the team lose its first two games of the Premier League season.Sacha Gaydamak and Harry Redknapp hold aloft the FA Cup

Only last week Storrie told fans "there's been enough talk...if (Al Fahim) is going to take over the club it is about time he do so".

So how on earth, to echo goalkeeper David James's weekend newspaper column, did Portsmouth get into this mess?

It is actually very simple and the clues were there that spring day at Old Trafford.

As friendly neighbours Southampton know, teams that live the dream often don't wake up until League One. And Pompey's current plight was more predictable than most as it is a Premier League outfit already playing in a League One stadium.

Harry's expensively assembled heroes might have delivered European football but they were gobbling up 78% of Portsmouth's annual revenue. The good news was that this was down from 92% the year before; the bad news was that Pompey was still losing nearly £1.5m a month.

The only real surprise here, however, is that this should be a surprise. A stadium with only 20,000 seats - none of them the warm and comfy types free-spending corporate customers like - cannot pay for players as good as Muntari, Lassana Diarra, Glen Johnson, Pedro Mendes and Jermain Defoe, who was cup-tied during Pompey's Wembley run.

What was actually paying for these guys (and many more) were IOUs to two banks and Gaydamak himself. The French-Israeli businessman first pitched up on the south coast in January 2006 with a £20m loan to prop up the previous owner Milan Mandaric's regime.

Six months and some Redknapp-inspired escapology later, Gaydamak bought out Mandaric for a reported £32m. Determined to consolidate his team's top-flight position, the 33-year-old then borrowed £44m from South African bank Standard and British institution Barclays and handed most of it over to his manager for players.

These loans were secured against Portsmouth's future TV revenues and scheduled for repayment this summer. Any takeover at Pompey now, be it Al Fahim's or Storrie's, will need the banks' approval.

The plan, of course, was to make all this red ink disappear with revenue from a shiny new stadium. Unfortunately, various Pompey owners have been trying this ever since the city's old airfield was suggested as a site for a new ground in the 1960s. Since then there have been numerous schemes that have run into problems ranging from protected birds to dodgy transport links.

The last five years alone have witnessed four different ideas, my favourite being the one to build a 36,000-capacity ground on reclaimed land in Portsmouth Harbour. It took a while but somebody finally pointed out the lunacy of doing this in a city that is already an incredibly cramped island. The Royal Navy also said the new island might get in the way of its aircraft carriers.

The club has now committed to redeveloping Fratton Park, which was built in 1898, by turning the pitch 90 degrees and building bigger stands. This is supposed to add 5,000 seats by next season and another 5,000 the season after.

The banks, particularly Standard, want their money back before that, hence the fire sale that started last summer with the departures of Muntari and Mendes, gathered pace this January with the exits of Defoe and Diarra, and continued this summer with Johnson and Peter Crouch also leaving.

That little lot brought in nearly £80m. Sadly, it has gone straight out the door again to service those debts, as has the first tranche of Portsmouth's TV money this season.

But not only have stars been sold to balance the books, squad players have been released to get the wage bill down. And with the veteran Antti Niemi recently becoming the fourth goalkeeper in a tiny first-team squad rumours abound that England's James might be on his way, too.

It goes almost without saying that Redknapp has moved on as well.

Predicting what happens next is guesswork. Storrie and Gaydamak are saying nothing until next week.

Al Fahim's spokesman Ivo Ilic Gabara has issued a face-saving statement on his boss's behalf about the move "to forego full ownership" being "a step in the right direction" whilst pledging his commitment to the "takeover, club and supporters".

It's brave stuff from a natural showman but having been removed from the Manchester City limelight by his Abu Dhabi-based bosses last year, a second failure to see a deal through to its conclusion would seriously damage the 32-year-old Al Fahim's chances of ever owning a Premier League club.

Hart, who has to get his players ready for a daunting trip to Arsenal on Saturday, told reporters on Wednesday: "We're all keeping our fingers crossed - I think it is imminent."

Let's hope so, because one thing is certain in all this, Pompey's fans deserve better fare than the farcical scenes they've been served up of late.

* As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about on Twitter

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good blog, especially the bit about where all the player sales cash is going. Some of my Portsmouth supporting friends are quite stumped about that. One thing I will say is, will Storrie provide the necessary transfer funds for them to buy replacements? If not, Portsmouth are in a lot of trouble unfortunately. I really like them because of their wonder escape a few seasons ago, starting with a 2-0 win against us.

  • Comment number 2.

    "End in sight for Pompey's blues?"

    No.

  • Comment number 3.

    Pompey will never be a big club the local council will never allow it to happen, they prefer to spend stupid amounts of money on a massive tower and a carp shopping centre at gun wharf

  • Comment number 4.

    The debt was clearly more than had been realised by the fans.

    With income from player sales gobbled up servicing the debts, there was only one thing left to do and Peter Storrie / Directors had to make the difficult choice of going to the wall or selling the playing assets...

    There will only be an end in sight when funds are made available for players of sufficient quality to keep Portsmouth in the Premier league and a finite plan put in place, with sufficient funding to service them, for the new training ground, Fratton Park refurbishment and new stadium commencement.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Is Al Fahim just a broker who has run out of investors and investment, or, never had any and is now trying to raise money from the people (Storrie & co.) whom they had hoped would give THEM money in the first place?

    Newspapers are full of ads offering "help" to desperate business people trying to raise capital: "I'll get you $10m if you can give me $50,000!" Give 'em the money and its "goodnight Vienna."

    Is Al Fahim just a slightly more high profile version of this ilk. If it works, he gets a piece of the club. If it doesen't, he might end up with a fat fee!!!

    If Storrie and company are really desperate, Pompey will end-up paying
    Al Fahim to raise capital that it will never see and the waiting will
    pressurise Pompey into accepting any deal thrown at it.

    If the deal peters-out, the club will go into receivership like the
    our friends down the M27 and Al Fahim will go on to pastures new with a nice little divvy!!!!!!!!!

    Is Al Fahim and his connections a Fifth Column for a property group who would benefit from the demise of Fratton Park as a football venue? The land must be worth a fortune as was The Dell and look what eventually happened there, new stadium and all!!

    If true, its too depressing for words, especially added to what's happening on the pitch.

    What sort of motivating does a team need before a trip to The Emirates with a depleted squad and all this uncertainty.

    20,000 people go into Fratton every other Saturday. There must many thousands more who would support a fans' buyout. 20,000 fans paying GBP5,000 each would raise GBP100,000,000, enough to buy the club, bring in new players and improve the stadium. The fans payments could be spread over a number of years, thereby reducing their repayments to very little. The fans would then own the club and would be safe from all the fly by night cowboys preying on EPL clubs.

    Future revenues from Internet TV will dwarf the shared broadcast fees currently being paid to the clubs.The fans would also share in this.

    Pie in the sky? Maybe. But its better than the alternative.

  • Comment number 7.

    Only one word for it: Relegation. Very sad as well as my favourite game last season was the 2-2 draw with Milan. Pompey City Council need to sort their priorities out. Very sad indeed.

  • Comment number 8.

    "20,000 people go into Fratton every other Saturday"

    Ahem, Portsmouth V Fulham Att: 17510 (Inc 1,500 Fulham fans)

  • Comment number 9.

    Does whackercarthy really think that the 20,000 who regularly attend Fratton Park have all got a spare £5 grand knocking about? And even if they did would they invest it in Pompey? I think not!

    There seems to be a view that Gaydamak, Al Fahim, Storrie et al are financing the club. Let's not forget that the 20,000 also finance it and, in my view, have been pretty shabbily treated. Having invested so much time, money and commitment over the years they deserve to at least get some information about the progress of these deals, not masses of rumours and months of "no comment whilst we're going through due diligence".

    No wonder season ticket sales have dropped and no wonder the 20,000 slipped to under 18,000 for the Fulham game.

    A bit more consideration for the fans is needed from the club and the council, who could also put their hands in their pockets.

  • Comment number 10.

    20,000 do go most weeks!- but as with the start to every season people are on holiday, unnerved by the antics internally (crazy takeover) and in case you hadn't noticed ChocolateBoxKid - we are in a recession which strangely has an impact on peoples finances! and obviously has affected gate receipts throughout the weekends matches if you bothered to have a proper look!
    Its too soon to write off Pompey but I accept they will be down if further funds are not released to sign 5/7 players they need. However, the reported backers involved in storrie's consortium involve Richard Li, Hong Kongs second Richest man who was in attendance in the directors box for the game against Fulham. Li is reportedly worth 17 billion and with three other potential investors of reportly similar wealth everything can change very quickly.
    We all know players dont play for a club because they love the club - the aquisition of players like Muntari, Diarra, Defoe etc highlighted that if you have the dollar then convincing players is pretty easy.
    January presents another opportunity for Portsmouth to dip into the transder market and you must re-call that in virtually every season there are teams in the bottom who pull away - look at Tottenham last year - bottom at christmas and nearly finished in Europe. Anyone writing teams of at the moment is very foolish as so much can change between now and May next year!

  • Comment number 11.

    Just hope Rupert Lowe doesn't get any ideas about "helping out"

  • Comment number 12.

    1939 - 1950 was as good as it gets.
    Lack of investment from all the fly-by-night ownership operators since then have caused everything about PFC to stagnate, if not implode.
    Sure Redknapp bought promotion and lucked into the Cup.
    But there's been no solid foundation for sixty years.
    It would be nice to believe that Peter Storrie has the best interests of the club at heart, but alas that seems to be outweighed (literally as well as figuratively) by his own self-interest.
    Meanwhile, Pompey are in mid-season form a touch early and things will surely get worse before they can ever get better.
    Unless I win Powerball.

  • Comment number 13.

    another story of clubs imploding trying to keep up with the big boys. The fa need to get some rules in place about sustainability ok they got a cup run and abit of european foot ball but at what price! Mangagers and players can move, on fans cant. How can we have a reasoned argument about things such as spending and whinge about champions league money and foreign billions when at the drop of a hat clubs risk over a century of heritage on a punt of some european football with debts they can hardly afford.

  • Comment number 14.

    a club of Portsmouth's size with a 20k stadium has been punching well above its weight for past few years, there are clubs with larger stadiums/bigger fanbase in the Championship. They need to find a sugar daddy to bankroll the club as it won't be sustainable on its own any time soon.

  • Comment number 15.

    Great blog... the one thing I would disagree with is you calling Storrie a popular figure at the club. Certainly in my opinion and that of quite a few other pompey fans is that he is a dodgy dealer to say the least. You mention all the crazy and unsustainable finances at the club, and despite this last year he took a £2m salary (the highest of any chief exec in the prem) which is mad when the turnover was £60m!! He's been investigated and arrested for these dodgy transfers with 'Arry, i think its only a matter of time until that all becomes uncovered - he surely can't pass this new fit and proper persons test can he!?

    The stadium will never happen, and couldn't agree about how ridiculous the plan to build in the harbour was. The funny thing is we are on the shortlist for the 2018 world cup bid, we won't be on that for long when playing league one football in our falling down 20,000 seater stadium we can't sell out.

    I think I'd rather see us do a Leeds Utd than have him front a consortium. Plus he's got a really smug puncahble face (although I suppose thats not all his fault)

  • Comment number 16.

    "a carp shopping centre at gun wharf"

    So not all the fishy business has been at Fratton Park?

  • Comment number 17.

    Evening all, just back from a looooonnnnggg day at the cricket. Bit tired and emotional (I wasn't working) so I won't reply to your responses now. There are some very good issues raised and I have more to share than I put in the piece. Until tomorrow morning. Sleep tight.

  • Comment number 18.

    An excellent summation Matt - thanks. As a Pompey fan I look forward to the further information that you will share today.
    The Premiership is eating itself and Pompey are just the current example. When we won the FA Cup I found it a strangely unsatisfying experience. This was in large part due to the growing disconnection between me as a fan and the team that represented my club. No local players, seemingly a whole new team every year, and a mercenary attitude from players and manager (with a couple of honourable exceptions in Linvoy Primus and David James). Most of the friends that I sat with have given up their season tickets and we all look forward to the day when it feels like our club and that we matter to it again.
    Play Up!

  • Comment number 19.

    Forget the football -what can you buy in a carp shopping centre ? Do the fish in Pompey wear fur coats and carry designer handbags? Can't say I've seen many carp shopping during my travels.

  • Comment number 20.

    "The stadium will never happen, ........The funny thing is we are on the shortlist for the 2018 world cup bid, we won't be on that for long when playing league one football in our falling down 20,000 seater stadium we can't sell out."

    The stadium will happen when the economic conditions are right. Whatever tinkering is done to Fratton Park the Council will want the stadium on the outskirts of town and the land used for housing in order to meet the local planning targets for new housing.The viability of an out of town stadium does not solely depend on the local soccer team. It relies on the other events that will use the complex.

  • Comment number 21.

    At post #6, can't see many wanting to part with GBP5000.

  • Comment number 22.

    Great blog but you've let Messrs Storrie and Redknapp off the hook somewhat. Storrie as Chief Executive through all the mess (which ironically he is trying to clear up now) authorised much of the extravagant spending particularly in the way of excessive wages to several very average bit-part players who we subsequently had to work hard to unload. Redknapp's reputation as a great wheeler-dealer bears some examination - in his frantic spending he acquired a string of dubious signings, (often foreign players) who were not up to Premiership standard.

  • Comment number 23.

    If someone take's over at pompey he will get the people of portsmouth right behind him , they will chant his name as a hero..
    But the city council are more interested in Charles Dickens and will not allow the club to grow into a prem outfit....

  • Comment number 24.

    Afternoon all, here are those replies:

    1MiketheBlue (1) - Dunno. Gaydamak's people told me Storrie has had a "budget" to spend this window but wouldn't tell me how much...I think we can assume it wasn't much and was more for funding loans than actual signings. Interestingly, Al Fahim gave an interview to a Middle Eastern business mag last week in which he said the club was going to trying to sign Amr Zaki and Jonas Gutierrez. No sign of either yet.

    whackercarthy (6)- You're asking all the right questions, my friend, but I don't think anybody has all the answers.

    I still haven't made my mind up on Sulamaiman Al Fahim. Things started badly for him this summer when he was rumbled for his bogus use of the title "Dr". All very embarrassing but hardly surprising given his obvious love of the limelight (hence his Apprentice/Dragons Den-style TV show in UAE and grandstanding during his brief role as Abu Dhabi frontman at Man City).

    In terms of his wealth, well, that's the $64,000 question, which might also be what he is actually worth.

    He was the boss of a property development firm in Dubai during a property development boom, so he was definitely worth a lot on paper at one stage. Sadly, for him and his customers, that boom is over and he is no longer running that firm. He denies being sacked/moved, claiming he has been given a role with some UAE trade federation and couldn't do both jobs. Hmmm. And then there is also last weeks' story about a £100m bonus that his old firm were about to pay him...a story that originated with SAF, which is fairly typical of how he has used a very supine local media to build his billionaire profile.

    But, on the credit side, he is on the board of the Abu Dhabi royal family's investment company so he does have access to some very wealthy people.

    What was/is his grand plan for Pompey? Not sure but I think you can pretty much guarantee that the club's real estate was at the heart of it...it almost always is these days. Now I'm not that familiar with Fratton Park but I think I recall there is a car park behind one of the stands that is surely ripe for redevelopment. Isn't there some room behind one of the ends, too? Most people I have spoken to say any investment in the club will hinge on boosting the capacity as quickly as possible, which means the current plan to rotate the pitch 90 degrees and add 10,000 seats over the next 18 months is the most realistic. If this can happen quickly, and it remains a pretty big if, the club could break even as planned by 2011/12 season. Relegation, of course, would change that equation, which is why, I think, Storrie is acting now.

    leave_the_eu (9) and others - You're right to ask what is Portsmouth City Council doing in all this, particularly as Fratton Park has been an issue for decades. Do the city's political leaders really value the club? From the outside it appears not, although it must be stated that if the club's various owners had really really wanted to sort out the ground issue they surely could have before now. Pompey is not the only team in the country that has faced this issue...even Southampton got themselves a new ground eventually.

    freetransfer1000 (10) - I'm not so sure about those Chinese/HK backers. All looked a bit too good to be true to me and I'm not convinced serious mainland Chinese money is ready to get involved in something as high-profile and public as the Premier League. Not their style at all. I have a feeling Li, Zhang Zhixiang and Lee Shau Kee were the "Far East" money SAF had been claiming to bring to the table...and the German investor Holger Heims is definitely a SAF associate through the Falcon Equity investment company. If I were a Pompey fan I would feel more comfortable about the possible involvement of David Dein. Like him or loathe him, he helped bring great success to Arsenal and, crucially, was instrumental in building of Emirates.

    sportszombie (14) - You're right but I would warn any fan about wishing for a sugar daddy: they're rarely as sweet as they look. Give me a reasonably committed, unflashy investor with scruples any day. Somebody that actually likes football/the area would be nice too.

    larry-is-god (15) - I really wondered about that sentence when I wrote it as I was sure somebody would pick up on it. The majority of people I spoke to at/associated with the club spoke well of him but I know he comes with a rep....I'm a Southend fan and he took us for £120K in one of our worst ever seasons!!! I also remember seeing those figures about his salary. Off the top of my head it was him, David Gill and Peter Kenyon at the top of the earners' tree, pretty remarkable when you think about the clubs those two run. But is this his fault or just another indication of the lax cost control at the club? Ultimately Gaydamak must have signed off on that wage.

    eggythump (18) - Sorry to hear that, I really am. But I can't say I'm surprised. Awful when that happens, isn't it? It can come back, though!

    poshfrattonise (22) - I think you're probably a bit right, as I alluded to in my answer to larry-is-god. But is it really Redknapp's fault for spending lots of money if his boss says he can? Isn't any manager (whose job depends on success on the field) going to do the same? OK, not every signing he made came off (and it was a bit frantic) but the same thing can also be said of Sir Alex, Rafa, Arsene etc etc It's an art, not a science, and I think Harry got more right than wrong during his second spell at the club. Just look at the money his purchases have raised in terms of sales.

    Enough from me. Thanks for reading and all the best for the season ahead.

  • Comment number 25.

    Right, hands up who saw that coming? Come on, be honest!!

    In case you don't know what I'm banging on about, Sulaiman Al-Fahim has surprised everybody (well, me, in particular) by closing this deal and taking sole ownership of the club.

    Details, as you would expect with this saga, are meagre, but I've been told by two good sources that the deal is done, money has been exchanged and SAF is now the gaffer.

    Where this leaves Peter Storrie now is anybody's guess...and since we've been guessing with this story for months my guess is that he could be in a bit of bother. I can't see how his new boss will have been at all impressed by Storrie's antics last week. Was the CEO really in the loop? If he was, did he massively overstep the mark? Was it an attempted coup or was he cheekily trying to force SAF's hand?

    No idea when we'll get answers to these questions but SAF is promising a press conference this weekend before the Man City game but that could be Saturday or Sunday morning. Storrie is saying nothing and Gaydamak never says anything. Officials at the club have simply confirmed the story is "true" and admit to be totally shocked by today's events.

    So what does this mean for Distin et al? How many players can Hart buy in the next five days? Can they stay up? When will work start on the ground?

    So many questions! At least it's not boring at Pompey.



 

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