Mandaric can sleep easy after 'horrible dream'

 

The two men who hugged in the dock of Court Six yesterday have had their differences – Milan Mandaric called Harry Redknapp's move from Ports-mouth to Southampton a "bitter divorce" – but their friendship has remained intact throughout years of suspicion and accusation. At its conclusion the "odd couple", as one defence barrister called them, struck a similar chord. Redknapp's "nightmare" was Mandaric's "horrible dream".

Mandaric is a man who has made a habit of getting things right, although he has explained his arrival at a multibillion-pound fortune established during the Silicon Valley boom of the 1970s as "being in the right place at the right time". Two years ago when he was charged with the offence of which he was yesterday cleared, Mandaric put the case against him as "ridiculous". "There is no wrongdoing here," he declared. He has been proved right again.

This was the second trial the 73-year-old has faced. In October he and Peter Storrie, then Portsmouth's chief executive, were found not guilty of tax evasion. Mandaric was first arrested in 2007, on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and false accounting while at Portsmouth. He was released without charge but it was the beginning of a route to yesterday's finale.

Mandaric's personal journey is remarkable. It has taken him from a wartime childhood hiding in the mountainous Croatian region of Lika to Oadby, a small town in Leicestershire that used to produce red noses for Comic Relief. His business career began when he took over his father's engineering business before leaving Marshal Tito-ruled Yugoslavia for Switzerland and then the US. His breakthrough came when his fledgling company won a contract to make keyboards for Apple.

From that his business grew to employ 50,000 and allowed its now wealthy owner to indulge in what was then promising to be another boom US business, the North American Soccer League. Mandaric set up San Jose Earthquakes and was instrumental in bringing George Best and Bobby Moore to play in NASL.

When the US soccer revolution fizzled out, Mandaric took out stakes in Standard Liège, Charleroi and Nice before paying £5m to buy Portsmouth in 1998. Alan Ball, Tony Pulis, Steve Claridge and Graham Rix came and went as managers before Redknapp arrived in 2002. Mandaric was popular among fans before his decision to sell to Alexandre Gaydamak for £47m in 2006. Since Mandaric left, Pompey have gone from one financial crisis to another.

In 2007, Mandaric bought Leicester City, selling out three years later to a Thai consortium. In December 2010, he bought Sheffield Wednesday for £1, saving the club from administration.

"It was," summed up Judge Anthony Leonard, "an extraordinary life story." And, with yesterday's outcome, there is no sign of an imminent ending to its English football chapter.

Bit-part players: Six others arrested

Pascal Chimbonda

Arrested, never charged

The much-travelled French full-back was the first person arrested in the corruption probe in September 2007. Chimbonda, 32, was questioned in relation to an £18,000 loan from his agent, Willie McKay, following his move to Britain to play for Wigan in 2005. Now at Doncaster Rovers, where McKay has a powerful behind-the-scenes presence.

Peter Storrie

Cleared at trial

The former chief executive of Portsmouth was cleared in October of tax evasion after being accused of disguising taxable payments to players. While at Portsmouth his earnings rose from £171,000 gross income in 2002-03 to £1,192,000 in 2007-08. Storrie, 59, says he has found it impossible to get a job back in football because he has not been able to publicise the fact he was cleared – until yesterday.

Karren Brady

Arrested, never charged

The former managing director of Birmingham City was arrested in April 2008 as part of the probe into corruption in football. She was told that she would not face charges more than a year later. Brady, now 43, left the club in 2009 and is now vice-chairman of West Ham United.

David Sullivan

Arrested, never charged

Sullivan, the former chairman of Birmingham, was arrested and cleared at the same time as Brady. The club said the inquiry had put unnecessary strain on Sullivan, 63, who had a quadruple heart bypass in the past. The former owner of the Daily and Sunday Sport newspapers is now joint chairman of West Ham.

Willie McKay

Arrested, never charged

A former bookie turned Monaco-based agent responsible for a number of deals between French and English clubs. Seen as a key figure in the inquiries but was cleared of wrongdoing by the Premier League "bungs" inquiry and never charged by the City of London operation. McKay is a key financial backer of Doncaster Rovers.

Amdy Faye

Arrested, never charged

Footballer whose purchase by Portsmouth in 2003 was at the centre of last year's trial of Storrie. The club allegedly paid a €300 "golden hello" to the Senegalese player, which was paid through the offshore account of his agent, McKay. Faye, 34, was never charged with any financial wrongdoing. Now a free agent, he last played for Leeds United.

Paul Peachey

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