The Premier League last night changed its mind over allowing Portsmouth to sell players outside the transfer window and told the debt-ridden club that they would not be permitted the special measures – despite getting the green light from Fifa.
The world governing body gave the go-ahead for Portsmouth to sell players this month in order to ease their chronic finances, as revealed in The Independent yesterday. However, after they were given permission from Zurich, the Premier League decided at a board meeting yesterday that allowing Portsmouth to sell players outside the window would harm the integrity of the competition.
The decision was taken by chief executive Richard Scudamore, chairman Dave Richards and Mike Foster, general secretary. Privately they were concerned that Portsmouth should go into administration before they were extended any special measures. Other clubs in the relegation battle have expressed worries that Portsmouth would try to avoid administration and the resulting nine-point penalty.
Sources close to the decision said yesterday that Portsmouth had not explored "all the options available" to a club in their circumstances to deserve such a unique measure. Clubs around Portsmouth were also unhappy that players sold by the club, which has debts of more than £60m, could have a decisive say in the title race elsewhere.
Earlier yesterday, Fifa had laid down specific conditions by which Portsmouth would have been able to sell players outside the transfer window. Any players sold by Portsmouth would only have been able to play in league games for their new clubs and not in the Carling Cup final or the remaining rounds of the FA Cup.
Fifa told the Premier League that Portsmouth were "their problem" and therefore any special measures should only affect the integrity of the league rather than any other competition. Without Fifa permission, Portsmouth would not have been able to sell players this month. Having approved the option, Fifa told the Premier League it was their call as to whether they allowed the club to go ahead with it.
Fifa and the Premier League were concerned that if Portsmouth went into liquidation their results will have to be expunged; their remaining fixtures would not be played and the integrity of the competition would be called into question. That appears to be a risk that the Premier League is prepared to take.
Portsmouth have been the subject of a winding-up order by HM Revenue and Customs over more than £12m in unpaid taxes. They will go back to the High Court on 1 March when they hope to convince the court there is a benefit in them being allowed to continue trading. Administration is the very least they can expect – the worst-case scenario is liquidation.
The Premier League board was swayed by lobbying and criticism of the special measures, especially from Burnley manager Brian Laws who said that any special dispensation for Portsmouth would be "ridiculous".
Laws said: "We all work within rules and regulations. That is the way the Football League or Premier League has worked for hundreds of years. Why should we have to change that for one particular club who are finding it very difficult with their finances?
"While we have every sympathy with a football club that has difficulties, the only ones they should be looking at are themselves. They should be looking in a mirror to find the answer."
Portsmouth manager Avram Grant, whose team are seven points adrift at the bottom of the table and face Stoke City today, said yesterday that Younes Kaboul and Asmir Begovic were sold behind his back last month
Grant said: "It has happened to me for the first time in my life. I needed to take a decision, and I took a decision to stay and do everything I could for the club. There are many things that have happened here that I don't like. Things have happened here that I never accepted in the past and I will not accept in the future. But because of the club and the fans, I am trying to do the best I can with this situation."