Portsmouth hope their Russian oligarch will improve fortunes

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The Independent Football

Now Roman Abramovich has company. A second Russian multimillionaire is buying his way into Premiership football with the confirmation yesterday that the son of Arkady Gaydamak has agreed to become the joint-owner of Portsmouth.

Although 30-year-old Alexandre, who lives in London, is the public face of the the investment, he is only acting at the behest of his father who, a spokesman said, was "crazy about football" but who also has a colourful and highly controversial business past.

The family are already involved in football, having recently bought the Israeli club Beitar Jerusalem - although their behaviour at the club does not bode well for Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp.

Two coaches were sacked in the first two months, with one told he had to go because he was too outspoken and stealing the limelight from the owner. The former French international Luis Fernandez is currently in charge.

Yesterday Portsmouth, however, stressed that there was "no question" of Redknapp's position being "under threat" and that instead he would be given more resources.

"He will have the full backing of Alexandre Gaydamak and will continue to enjoy the full support of [chairman] Milan Mandaric," the club said.

Redknapp will want to know whether extra funds will be immediately available to him for the January transfer window. Gaydamak's involvement has been "agreed in principle" and he will now be subject to the Football Association's "fit and proper person" test. Once that is agreed the deal can go through. It is understood that substantial funds have been promised to improve the team.

Gaydamak is buying 50 per cent of the club. The stake is understood to be costing him £15m, with sources stressing that although the Gaydamaks enjoy astonishing wealth they are not financially in the same league as Abramovich, who has poured hundreds of millions into Chelsea in the past three years.

Mandaric, who has solely owned Portsmouth since 1999, will carry on for now, although sources believe that he will eventually sell the rest of his holding if the club remain in the Premiership and the Gaydamaks want to push through with a full takeover.

It has been known for some time that Mandaric, a Serb-American businessman, has been seeking extra investment, as he has become increasingly keen to sell his control of the club. Portsmouth have absorbed more of his time - and money - than he had envisaged.

According to Portsmouth, Gaydamak's arrival is designed to ease the burden on 64-year-old Mandaric. However, the club said that "Portsmouth Football Club will continue to be his prime concern."

Although Arkady Gaydamak lives in Russia, he holds several passports - including a Canadian one - and has strong links with Israel, France and Angola. His son, the figurehead of the deal, is a French national.

In a statement yesterday, Portsmouth added: "Portsmouth Football Club today confirmed it has reached an agreement in principle with Mr Alexandre Gaydamak over the future shareholding and development of the club.

"Chairman Milan Mandaric will be delighted to welcome 30-year-old Alexandre Gaydamak to the club as an equal partner."

His money will be needed both on and off the field. Portsmouth are in grave danger of being relegated and also need substantial investment for the redevelopment of Fratton Park, the club's infrastructure and plans for a Pompey Village complex.

That the Gaydamaks have been lured to the South Coast is slightly surprising as, although financiers and investors have being trying to tempt more Abramovichs, they have, until now, only shown an interest in London clubs.

Gaydamak, who made his money from a variety of businesses including arms, banking and diamond mining, has played down comparisons in the past with Abramovich, saying it would be "immodest" not to do so.

Gaydamak's involvement in Israeli football also extends to the country's leading Arab football team, Bnei Sakhnin, having donated money to the club. This was particularly significant because Beitar was founded by the right-wing Israeli underground, and has remained linked to the Jewish right ever since. Gaydamak also has a controlling stake in a Jerusalem basketball club.

Gaydamak, who has recently bought a newspaper in Russia, is the president of the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organisations of Russia and a donor to various charities. He has spent more time in Israel of late.

When he lived in France, Gaydamak rose to prominence by helping to negotiate the release of two French pilots shot down by Bosnian Serbs in 1995. But he also holds the French record for unpaid taxes - about £50m - and was once wanted by Paris magistrates for questioning over an alleged arms-for-oil deal with Angola in the early 1990s.

Gaydamak insisted that his involvement in the deal was as part of a legitimate agreement between the governments of Russia and Angola.

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