Another Day, Another Portsmouth Problem

Gareth Llewellyn-StevensCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2010

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 30:  Mark Jacob, Executive Director and Ahmed Al Faraj brother of Portsmouth owner look on during the Barclays Premier League match between Portsmouth and Arsenal at Fratton Park on December 30, 2009 in Portsmouth, England.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Phil Cole/Getty Images

Udinese has become the latest party to become annoyed with late payments from Premier League club Portsmouth and has filed a case with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many different cases brought against a single club in such a short period of time as those in recent weeks.

Former defender Sol Campbell has this week issued a writ over unpaid money reported to be up to £1.7 million. French club Lens have already considered legal action over unpaid transfer fees, although the message from Pompey’s board is that this has now been stopped after an agreement of a deferred payment schedule.

And of course, there is the biggest case against them—that brought by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) last month over unpaid tax and National Insurance contributions.

Pompey had tried to block the HMRC case in the High Court this week, but their claim was thrown out, and the club now finds itself spiralling towards a February showdown in court, which could see them sensationally fall into administration.

In a week when new West Ham United owners revealed their club has £110 million of debt, and Manchester United’s debt is now at £716 million (or $1 billion if we’re looking for landmark figures), it provides further proof of just how uncontrollable the finances of the Premier League’s clubs have become.

The Udinese case centres on the transfer of Sulley Muntari, bought in 2007 for £7 million, but sold on less than a year later for £12.7 million. Despite the profit made on the player, Pompey is reported to owe £3.5 million, with the current dispute over a late instalment of £700,000.

Udinese’s case will prolong Portsmouth’s transfer embargo agony, with the Premier League unlikely to lift the ban while at least one club creditor is unhappy.

While the club claim to be managing their debt, more and more creditors appear to be creeping out of the woodwork concerned that if HMRC succeed with their winding-up petition they will all lose out significantly more than if they can get something before then.

The Premier League has already used £5 million of Pompey’s latest television revenue to make payments to the English clubs owed transfer fees, however, with £2 million known to be kicking around, it’s no surprise anyone currently owed money by the club is laying claim to it.

Portsmouth FC’s debt may not be at the level of Premier League rivals West Ham, or that of Liverpool or Manchester United, but that’s only because they’re competing on a completely different level. That said, they need to find £12 million in the next few weeks to stay in business.

The club’s biggest creditor appears to be former owner Alexandre Gaydamak, reported to be owed £28 million, but unless a new mega-rich owner rides in soon, he can kiss goodbye any hope of getting that back.

A minor consolation for the club is that they can sell their assets, or release players on loan to reduce the wage bill.

Hassan Yebda, currently on loan from Benfica, has indicated a desire to return to Ligue 1, while defender Mike Williamson looks set to join Championship leaders Newcastle in a £1 million move subject to a medical this week.

Williamson’s move to Newcastle is an unusual financial loss after Portsmouth paid Watford £3 million for him. The majority of players leaving the south coast tend to be sold for a considerable mark up price. Williamson, however, has yet to play first-team football since his move, and Newcastle boss Chris Hughton has moved to snap him up, knowing the desperate financial state of the club.

Another player Pompey hopes to cash in on is striker David Nugent—bought for £6 million back in 2007, currently on loan at Burnley. Their hopes appear to be dashed after Nugent has expressed interest only in extending his loan move.

Goalkeeper David James is once again on the verge of a loan move from Fratton Park to Stoke City, subject to terms and a medical.

Those players will only reduce the wage bill, however, former boss Harry Redknapp and other managers are interested in Younas Kaboul with transfer fees of around £10 million mentioned.

If a bid in that region comes in, there is no way the club can say no.

Other interesting developments at the club this week centre around the club’s finance director Tanya Robins who stood down from the board as new owner Ali Al-Faraj looks to impose his authority.

Her replacement to oversee the club’s finances is an Israeli lawyer, Daniel Azougy, familiar with fraudulent activity. What finances he actually has to oversee remains to be seen, unless of course Al-Faraj has these secret pots of gold that the club need to stave off administration.

What Al-Faraj is doing at the moment is anybody’s guess. I can’t remember a chairman with such blatant disregard for the club he owns since Mark Guterman tore Wrexham apart about five years ago.

Wrexham faced a similar winding-up order, and ended up relegated from League 1 after a points deduction, before losing their best players, and suffering further relegation. The Welsh club is now a mid-table Conference side.

With sheer incompetency order of the day at Fratton Park, with a shady owner who appears not to have the money he first claimed to, it’s no surprise that desperate Portsmouth fans have made an impassioned plea for Cagliari owner Massimo Cellino or Lotus F1 owner Tony Fernandes to buy their club.

Both Cellino and Fernandes had made separate bids for West Ham United before it was announced former Birmingham City owners David Sullivan and David Gold would buy in, and who can blame them?

Both Cellino and Fernandes are genuine investors, and both clearly want a Premier League club.

Having seen the books at Upton Park, both men would have known the level of debt West Ham are in and if, as is believed Portsmouth’s debt is around half that, a similar investment package to that offered for West Ham would be more than enough to pay off all Portsmouth’s creditors, lift the transfer embargo, and possibly provide a transfer kitty for the manager to buy players.

All of that seems very unlikely to take place this month, but for Portsmouth, their primary aim is to get through February’s court case successfully, and then remain in the Premier League—both very tall orders.

So, as Portsmouth approach an FA Cup Fourth Round match against Sunderland this weekend, it comes as no surprise that up to 1,000 fans are believed to be staging a protest march against the club’s owners.

The latest chapter in what seems like a season-long nightmare for Portsmouth shows the club’s supporters fighting back at months of maladministration, empty promises, and deceit, but the numbers are small.

For me, this is a little disappointing.

I recall the days when Wrexham—admittedly a much smaller club than Portsmouth—were struggling, and fans from across the Football League turned out at the Racecourse Ground to support the fans in not only trying to oust the owner, but also trying to raise money for the Supporters' Trust to buy the club.

There wasn't a single Wrexham fan who at some point didn't protest, and while 1,000 is a start, every Pompey fan in the town of Portsmouth, and around the country should get involved, have their say, and get rid of the current owner who clearly does not care for the club he owns.

And maybe, just maybe, their cries will be heard in Florida and Kuala Lumpur, and a millionaire sports-lover will come to their rescue.