The Russian Reign: Harry's gains as son rises at Pompey

Mandaric insists his co-owner is 'fit and proper' to invest in Redknapp's recruitment plans
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The Independent Online

When you are on the verge of signing Lee Bowyer - as the Portsmouth chairman all but confirmed they would be this week - perhaps it is not the most appropriate time to be getting in a huff about who is or is not "fit and proper" to be at a football club. But Milan Mandaric could not hold back. After a week of insinuation he had heard quite enough.

"Look, this is not fair," he said, not so much leaping to the defence of the new co-owner on his left as grabbing the nearest vaulting pole. "Let me make this perfectly clear. I don't choose my partners lightly; I don't have many in my life, apart from my wife, and she holds 51 per cent. Be sure that before letting Alexandre buy half this club, I did my own due diligence to find out how he has made his money. What I found was he has made it the old-fashioned way - he's earned it. All the speculation has been inevitable because of all the activity when those Americans took over Manchester and that fellow who came from Russia. But listen, there is nothing untoward here."

"Sacha" Gaydamak, the "young man" in question, sat there beaming as Mandaric spoke up for his honour, although beneath the perfectly constructed guard he gallantly kept upright throughout Friday's grand, but rather bland, unveiling he was probably wondering why his elder had felt the need.

Sure, in the last hour or so he had had to fend off a few juicy questions - "Is this your father's money?"; "What about the £250,000 one of your companies owes to the customs?"; "Are you the new Abramovich or simply here to make a few quid?"; "Will you sack Harry?" - but the London PR agency he had hired specially had primed him to ensure that the news-papers could only ask "Who and why?" And any businessman worthy of his winding-up orders will tell you it usually pays to leave more questions hanging than answers.

But the Premiership is a business like no other, as Mandaric might have pointed out in the moments after the media had filed out of a Fratton Park boardroom they have become mightily familiar with recently. "This lot will dig and dig," Mandaric might have warned the suave 29-year-old, especially after the scraping away of the topsoil had revealed so much in the immediate hours after it emerged that English football has another Russian enigma in its midst. A red flag to the pitbulls does not begin to describe it.

For a start there is the billion-aire father, Arkady, who we all now know has a warrant against him in France for his alleged involvement in the Angolan arms-for-oil scandal and is under investigation in Israel over allegations of money laundering. In the light of this, it is hardly surprising that as the week got longer the son distanced himself ever further, so much so that at one stage on Friday, when being told that "your dad says you're only here to make money", he laughed and roared: "Well doesn't that show he has had no involvement and no discussion about my businesses?"

So where do the readies for the reported £10 million investment come from, then? Not from the seven British companies he has been involved in - all of which have been dissolved. "From my own personal funds," said the multilingual Russian, who is actually more French, having lived in Paris all his life. "From working actively on the Russian stock market and dealing in Russian real estate." However, he resisted divulging the names of his holding company(ies).

All of which inevitably means that Portsmouth still do not know what they have got in young Gaydamak, old Gaydamak or whoever. At least they can disabuse themselves of the notion that he is, or they are, "Roman II", Pompey's Red Pom to Chelsea's Red Rom, as the one time he squirmed was when being mentioned in the same breath as Abramovich.

"I'm not comfortable with it as he's big, I'm small," he said. "I'm an investor, I'm not throwing money away. I want to create an infrastructure here to be able to attract the players I dream of. But that might take 10 years."

Bad news to some Portsmouth fans, perhaps, but not to Mandaric. "Stability" was the word the 67-year-old Serb kept on stressing, that and the "longevity" that Gaydamak Jnr offers to Portsmouth. "Listen, Alexandre is just straightforward," he said, revealing once again his dislike of the Abramovich "house of cards" revolution. "He wants to build a business out of it. But he also wants to win. That's the victory. Neither of us earned money the easy way. We are going to spend it properly."

Or rather Harry is. Perhaps Gaydamak's neatest sidestep came when he consistently refused to map out his long-term vision. "That's dependent on staying up this year," he said, before trotting out how much he respected Redknapp and how much he would back him. Indeed, with the record £4.1m signing of Benjani Mwaruwari neatly coinciding with his own arrival it seemed the bank was already being rolled. Not so, said Mandaric, "the plans were already made", although he did concede "he has made it easier to get in some quality players".

That could amount to as many as five more on top of Mwaru-wari and Thursday's purchase - Emmanuel Olisadebe - in the next few weeks, but the first will almost certainly be Bowyer. "Yeah, he's the type of player Harry's looking for - committed," said Mandaric with a nod and a wink. Gaydamak sat there oblivious.

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