Pompey hope for silver lining to clouds over Fratton Park
Fahim's takeover could offer a way forward – but he better be quick, writes Glenn Moore
Thursday 13 August 2009
Manchester United were still champions of Europe, Ravi Bopara had made centuries in his past three Test innings, and the Lions were preparing to play their first tour match in South Africa.
It was Wednesday, 27 May and while most of the football world focused on that night's Champions League final, down on the South Coast fans absorbed a statement released from Fratton Park. It read: "Portsmouth football club can confirm that it has accepted an offer from Dr Sulaiman al-Fahim to buy the club. Executive chairman Peter Storrie concluded the deal with Dr Sulaiman al-Fahim in Rome on Tuesday night. A period of formal legal and financial due diligence will commence next week so that the transaction can be completed as soon as possible."
Much has changed in the intervening 11 weeks, but Alexandre Gaydamak remains the owner of Portsmouth. In the meantime the club have raised nearly £30m in transfers from selling Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson, and slashed the wage bill by releasing Sol Campbell, Sean Davis, Noe Pamarot and Djimi Traoré. Of those who were left Marc Wilson and David Nugent were sent home in disgrace from a pre-season tour after coming to blows.
With no funds to play with, new manager Paul Hart signed Steve Finnan and Aaron Mokoena on free transfers, persuaded Antti Niemi to come out of retirement, and hired Frédéric Piquionne, fresh from a nightmare season at Lyons, on loan. And the season opens, at Fulham, on Saturday. Meanwhile the negotiations drag on.
Understandably Pompey fans are getting worried. In the short term the transfer window closes in less than three weeks and the squad looks thin. In the long-term, despite the summer sales, and January departures of Jermain Defoe and Lassana Diarra, the club remains around £25m-plus in debt and in possession of an owner who wants out. Some fear the club will be put into administration and suffer a points deduction, leading to relegation and a Leeds United-style collapse.
The word from Gaydamak's camp is that such a doomsday scenario is out of the question. One confidante said: "He wants to sell, and he wants to get out cleanly, but he wants to leave the club in a position to go forward. Sasha wants Portsmouth fans to look back upon his time as a good one. He doesn't want them to say, 'we won the FA Cup but were left up a gumtree'."
However, the source added if the sale did not go through the club would have to live within its means while Gaydamak sought another buyer. Prospective football club owners, as Mike Ashley has found, are thin on the ground and "living within its means" is a grim prospect for a club with barely any corporate facilities and a 20,000 capacity.
Which puts Fahim in a strong position, strong enough to discount reports of a seven-day deadline imposed by Gaydamak. It is thought he has until late September to get the deal concluded. Fahim's people insist all is proceeding to plan. Due diligence has been completed, Fahim has passed the Premier League's "fit and proper" test. That he is in agreement with Gaydamak seems clear from the latter appointing Fahim non-executive chairman (a post that had been vacant since Milan Mandaric sold in 2006). It appears all that remains is to conclude the financing arrangements. Contrary to speculation Fahim insists all the cash is his, which should speed progress and satisfy the Premier League's need to know all investors owning more than 10 per cent.
However, there is the historic debt to be dealt with. That is currently under-written by Gaydamak. While he insists he is not walking away with a profit nor is he a Jack Hayward, prepared to write off his investment for the love of he club. Thus Fahim needs to convince the loanees, mainly financial institutions, he has enough assets to take on the debt. In the current climate this takes time. In the meantime, the 32-year-old is keen to stress his commitment and intends to be at Craven Cottage on Saturday.
Is there any reason to think Fahim does not have the cash? Back in May he said: "The money for the Portsmouth acquisition and the needed future investment has been raised through the network of Falcon Equity from Asian and Middle Eastern investors." Now his spokesman says: "He will be the sole investor." Fahim insists he has the finance even though the property market downturn in the Gulf and credit crunch generally is likely to have affected his wealth. He has recently moved "upstairs" from his position as Chief Executive to join the board of the UAE-based firm Hydra Properties.
There are other niggles. He was at first thought to be the key figure when the Abu Dhabi United Group bought Manchester City – only later was it revealed he was a fixer and spokesman. Nor was he quick to correct the use of the title "Dr" although it turns out he has no doctorate.
So will the deal come off? If not the club will struggle along until Gaydamak finds a buyer. If it does the future may be much brighter than is painted. For all the criticism of the squad an XI of David James, Finnan, Younes Kaboul, Sylvain Distin (if he does not leave this week), Hermann Hreidarsson, John Utaka, Anthony Vanden Borre (who should soon sign from Genoa), Papa Bouba Diop, Mokoena, Niko Kranjcar and Piquionne is far from the worst three in the division.
There is also a new stadium on the horizon. This may be an old chestnut, but Portsmouth insist it is happening this time, not least as it is said to be self-financing through the building of a supermarket on adjacent land.
Portsmouth's revolving door: In and outs on the South Coast
Major Portsmouth transfers since July 2008:
July 2008 Peter Crouch (Liverpool, £9m)
Aug Younes Kaboul (Tottenham, £3m)
Aug Jerome Thomas (Charlton, free)
Aug Armand Traoré (Arsenal, loan)
Jan 2009 Nadir Belhadj (Lens, £4.4m)
Jan Jermaine Pennant (Liverpool, loan)
Jan Hayden Mullins (West Ham, £1m)
July Steve Finnan (unattached)
Aug Aaron Mokoena (unattached)
Aug Frederic Piquionne (Lyons, loan)
Aug Antti Niemi (retirement)
July 2008 Sulley Muntari (Internazionale, £12.7m)
Aug Pedro Mendes (Rangers, £3m)
Jan 2009 Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid, £20m)
Jan Jermain Defoe (Tottenham, £15m)
July Sol Campbell, Jerome Thomas (released); Glen Johnson (Liverpool, £18m)
July Djimi Traoré (Monaco, free)
July Sean Davis (Bolton, free)
Aug Peter Crouch (Tottenham, £9m)
Aug Martin Cranie (Coventry, £1m)
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