Portsmouth's debt crisis was plunged into further confusion last night when it emerged the administrators would appeal against the latest claim for outstanding payments.
The £15m Inland Revenue claim, which was lodged last week and revealed at a heated five-hour creditors meeting on Thursday when a four-strong team from the administrators UHY Hacker Young were bombarded with questions, is understood to involve payments for image rights rather than player salaries. If so, this would serve as a worrying precedent that could have widespread ramifications for the Premier League.
"We understand the new claim is over image rights," administrator Andrew Andronikou said yesterday. "This is a deliberate effort by HMRC to try and get a stronger foothold. Why are Portsmouth being used as a test case?" Image rights have traditionally been protected from substantial PAYE payments with special concessions, and Andronikou said: "This sends out a warning sign to a number of larger clubs employing international players. If they are successful against Portsmouth, it will have a significant knock-on."
The latest claim took Portsmouth's debt to £138m, a figure that will inevitably lead to a clearout with as many as 11 out-of-contract players leaving after Saturday's FA Cup final with Chelsea.
It is understood that £14m of the club's initial parachute payments will be ring-fenced to pay off some of the larger football creditors within nine to 12 months, while salaries will be slashed by up to three-quarters with a annual budget in the Championship of no more than £10m. "We'll make new offers to a number of out-of-contract players on wages we can afford but whether they will want to take up the offer, I can't say," said Andronikou, who also revealed that Portsmouth will persist, having reached the Cup final, in applying for a Uefa licence to play in the Europa League.
The FA and Premier League have said they are wasting their time but Andronikou said: "We have a responsibility to act in the best interest of the creditors. Getting the club into Europe makes the club more attractive to a purchaser."
Meanwhile, it emerged that the Premier League may have struck a secret deal to partially bail out Pompey, though details are being kept under wraps. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has shown little sympathy for Portsmouth since they were docked nine points but it is now understood some kind of deal might have been struck.
"We are under an information embargo," Andronikou said. "All I can say is that we have made an agreement with the Premier League that effectively secures the future of the club going forward."
Hong Kong businessman Balram Chainrai, the club's fourth owner in a year, will remain in charge pending the outcome of the Company Voluntary Agreement agreed on Thursday. The meeting had to be adjourned while a compromise was reached to replace one of the members with a local trader in order to ensure smaller creditors were fairly represented. Details of the CVA, a repayment deal designed to take the club out of administration, will be circulated to creditors within the next 10 days.
Administrators have offered a minimum 20p in the pound over five years, which they hope will put the club on a safer financial footing and attract investment. For all the criticism of his tenure, as a gesture to smaller trade creditors Chainrai has offered to pay in full charities and trusts who lost money as well as those owed under £2,500. Whether he remains in charge long term is unlikely. "The club is for sale and has been for months," said Andronikou.