David James's loan move from Portsmouth to Stoke collapsed yesterday after the clubs failed to agree who was going to pay the England goalkeeper's wages. James, 39, had been set for a move to Stoke in time to face his former club Liverpool today.
However, the deal has been shelved after the two clubs could not agree terms on who would be responsible for his wages, thought to be £65,000 a week. Portsmouth were desperate to remove James from their wage bill but Stoke were only willing to pay two thirds of the sum, leaving the South Coast club liable to pay the rest. Stoke were also proposing to cover the player's wages until the end of the season on 9 May, but Portsmouth wanted them to continue to pay for another seven weeks until the end of his contract.
Portsmouth chief executive Peter Storrie claimed he was surprised by the terms of the deal Stoke were offering. Storrie said: "Stoke hadn't even offered his wages and hadn't offered a deal to the end of the contract. I've never heard of a Premier League side not wanting to cover a Premier League player's wages, never ever."
Portsmouth manager Avram Grant added to the sense of chaos yesterday by admitting he was not consulted about the decision to let James leave, and had no idea why the move had fallen through. Grant said: "I must tell you honestly I don't know what's happened. He was training with us, he belongs to us so nothing has happened. I want him to stay. I heard a lot of clubs want our players but we want to keep our players."
The collapse of the move is puzzling as on face value it had appeared to be a deal in which everyone was a winner. James is looking to impress England coach Fabio Capello ahead of the World Cup; Portsmouth want to take one of their highest earners off the wage bill; and Stoke need goalkeeping cover with Bayern Munich showing interest in Thomas Sorensen.
The situation now leaves James in limbo. He has grown disgruntled with life at Portsmouth, bottom of the table and in financial free-fall. He trained at Portsmouth's Eastleigh training ground yesterday but refused to comment. He is fit and could return to the side to face Birmingham at Fratton Park today. The keeper has made just one first-team appearance in the past two months as a result of injury.
Portsmouth deny claims that James has been omitted from the side in recent weeks because he is nine games away from triggering a clause in his contract that would entitle him to another one-year deal.
James has been included in the squad to face Birmingham, but Grant has been forced to leave out midfielder Jamie O'Hara whose loan deal from Tottenham expired yesterday. O'Hara trained with the first team yesterday but, as from today, he must return to Spurs. Portsmouth are unable to register any new players, including loan signings and free transfers, because of a Premier League embargo put on them as a result of unpaid transfer money owed to other clubs.
Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, yesterday offered sympathy for his Liverpool counterpart Rafael Benitez who has faced calls for his dismissal after a midweek FA Cup defeat to Reading. Pulis said: "Rafa has been a little unfortunate this year."