Rivals cry foul as Pompey win right to hold fire sale

Fifa allows club to sell players outside transfer window to prevent liquidation as rivals West Ham and Hull complain that 'special treatment' will skew the relegation battle
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The Independent Online

Fifa last night gave permission to Portsmouth to take the unprecedented step of selling off their players immediately, outside the regulation transfer window, in order to save the club from extinction.

The club made the application yesterday which was handed by the Football Association to Fifa, world football's governing body, which has ultimate control over the rules governing transfer regulations. The Premier League and the FA are expected to meet today to discuss how they will implement the controversial new measures which are fraught with problems.

Chief amongst the issues up for discussion today are how Portsmouth will get around the problem of some of their most saleable assets – Tommy Smith, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Brown – having played for two clubs already this season which prevents them from playing for another until next season.

The lengths which Fifa and the Premier League have been prepared to go to bend the rules for Portsmouth indicate just how dire the situation has become for the club. A source close to the talks said last night that it was not an attempt by Portsmouth to avoid administration – and the nine-point deduction that goes with it – but to prevent the club being liquidated.

"This is being done to avoid Portsmouth being wound up altogether," said the source. "They now accept that there is no way out of administration. They have been scared by the High Court experience [where Portsmouth have been subject of a winding-up order by HM Revenue and Customs over a £12m unpaid tax bill] and they want to raise as much money as possible and not have to take the risk in court that they could be put of business."

There is still a chance that an administrator for Portsmouth will decide there is no hope for the club and recommend a winding-up order. It now seems inevitable that as well as selling their best players this month, Portsmouth – with debts in excess of £60m – will also face the nine-point deduction that virtually assures them of relegation.

The reaction last night from Premier League clubs in the relegation battle was that Portsmouth should not be afforded the special measures simply to stop them receiving the nine-point deduction. Certain clubs such as Bolton Wanderers are understood to have lobbied hard that Portsmouth should not go into liquidation because it would mean the expunging of their league results.

Bolton, West Ham and Blackburn, for example, have both beaten Portsmouth this season and stand to lose valuable points if the club is wound up. The Hull City chairman, Adam Pearson, told The Independent that if Portsmouth players were permitted to leave on transfers this month then they should not be allowed to join other Premier League clubs.

"A lot of our supporters will be asking questions if somebody goes from Portsmouth to the likes of Wigan and scores a goal against us," Pearson said. "We have big games coming up against Burnley and Wigan before the end of the season. I think the [Portsmouth] players should be allowed to be sold, but into Europe.

"If Portsmouth are going to face a points sanction then I suppose we will have to accept it but it is a stark reminder that things have to be done properly. We are battling to sort our club out and get out finances in order but we could not strengthen in January."

The new West Ham United co-owner David Gold, whose club stand to lose four points if Portsmouth are wound up said that if the measure is proven to be the club's "last resort" then it is a matter "that should be considered, and voted on", by the Premier League clubs.

Gold said: "We have no duty to assist Portsmouth's owners or chief executive [Peter Storrie], who played their part on the current situation, but I feel sympathy for the fans and for that reason we should consider helping.

"But if this measure is being considered simply as a means of helping Portsmouth to avoid administration then I wouldn't support it at all. I don't have sympathy for a badly run club that faces administration. We're in a league that operates on survival of the fittest. Nobody offered to help Crystal Palace recently or so many others over the years in this way to stay out of administration.

"Above all else we need to protect the integrity of our league, and allowing Portsmouth to sell their players outside the normal window in a way that other clubs are not allowed to do isn't protecting that integrity.

"The issue isn't about preventing Portsmouth raising money. I would have no problem, for example, if they were allowed to pre-sell players on the understanding they couldn't play in the league until after the next transfer window," said Gold. "I do have a problem with a club being able to buy those players and gain an advantage over a competitor. I wouldn't want a competitor buying a player not usually available to them to help them stay up, and neither would my club's rivals want West Ham doing that. A principle needs upholding."

Asset-stripping: The players most likely to leave

Pick of the bunch

David James

The England goalkeeper stands out in a squad of thin pickings. Had been expected to depart during the January window, instead it was his understudy Asmir Begovic who moved on to Stoke City. None of his five previous moves have been for less than a million – this one will be a first and what (cut) price a move to Arsenal, who have increasing need of a reliable and experienced goalkeeper.

Nadir Belhadj

Pace and the occasional dazzling touch – that volley against Liverpool for example – hint at a player who might prosper somewhere better. But recent claims of interest from Barcelona in the Algerian wing-back are optimistic in the extreme. But then if Julien Faubert can play for Real Madrid...

Kevin-Prince Boateng

There may not be many at Tottenham Hotspur willing to give their former employee a glowing reference, but he has enjoyed moments of inspiration on the South Coast this season. Still only 22 so can continue to improve, provided he can rid himself of a reckless streak. An investment for the bold manager – Roberto Martinez and Wigan Athletic perhaps.

Bargain bucket

Aaron Mokoena

The South African midfielder was recently described by Avram Grant as one of the "most professional players I have ever met" after filling in at centre-half. Spurred on by the prospect of a World Cup on home soil this summer, and given his adaptability, could be a handy squad addition to any of the host of sides battling to avoid following Pompey into the Championship this season. His tendency to attract cards makes him a less attractive prospect.

Help yourself

Hermann Hreidarsson

Was at the heart of Pompey's FA Cup triumph two years ago but his form has steadily subsided since. Perhaps the years – he's 35 now – are catching up with him, but on the other hand has plenty of experience to call on. Would jump at the chance of one last move. But not too high, just in case...

Papa Bouba Diop

Another who may be the wrong side of 30, by two years, but can balance that with plenty of Premier League experience during his six years roaming destructively around English midfields.

Michael Brown

The tigerish midfielder has done the rounds in the Premier League, stopping off at Manchester City, Tottenham, Fulham, Wigan, but a drop down to the Championship beckons.

Tommy Smith

A return to the Championship – he only joined from Watford in August – is likely. Has a proven goalscoring record at that level but has yet to break his duck at Pompey.

Staying on the shelf

John Utaka

The Nigerian's stay at Fratton Park has been one of immense frustration. A £7m transfer fee three years ago has never been justified. Reportedly one of the better paid players at the club, he is unlikely to find such generous employers elsewhere. Has yet to score in the Premier League this season.

Angelos Basinas

Has 90 caps for Greece but his best days seem long gone and his departure during the FA Cup victory over Southampton coincided with Pompey's revival.

12 million

The amount of money still owed by Portsmouth to HM Revenue and Customs in tax out of total debts of £60m.