Are Pompey set to follow the same path as Leeds?

153In another twist in the Pompey soap opera, the cash-strapped club are reportedly planning to sue the Premier League in a bid to get their transfer embargo lifted.

Rooted to the bottom of the Premier League with just four wins in twenty games and five points off safety, the south-coast club are in a state of disarray. Players being paid late, TV money being withdrawn, being owned by the only Arab with no money and an “everything must go” sign attached to the whole playing staff mean Pompey’s fortunes look bleak for the foreseeable future.

This is a far cry from the side that won the FA Cup just 18 months ago. Most of the team has departed, along with Harry Redknapp departing to Spurs and taking with him most of Pompey’s talented players. Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Niko Krancjar have all followed Redknapp to White Hart Lane, Lassana Diarra went to Real Madrid, Glen Johnson was sold to Liverpool, Sol Campbell was released and Sylvain Distin left for Everton.  Owner Sulaiman Al-Fahim, the face of the Man City takeover, was in charge for all of a month, before being bought out by Ali al-Faraj, an owner that has never even been to England, let alone visited Fratton Park.

The players Pompey have signed aren’t exactly adequate replacements: Hayden Mullins, Michael Brown, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Aruna Dindane have arrived, but because of the precarious financial situation at Fratton Park every player can go for the right price.

Pompey are £60 million in debt and last week were refused their £7 million slice of the TV money because they owe £10 million in outstanding transfer fees to Premier League and European clubs. The transfer fees of Younes Kaboul from Tottenham, Sulley Muntari, now at Inter Milan, from Udinese, John Utaka from Rennes and Nadir Belhadj and Aruna Dindane from Lens have still not been paid, and Pompey have been banned from signing any players until they sort out their current debts.

Keith Harris, chairman of investment bank Seymour Pierce, has waded in on the Pompey debate, saying if a Premier League club were ever to go into administration, this would “probably” be the season. And Premier League chief Richard Scudamore believed any top-flight club which went out of business would be guilty of “rank bad management”. Scudamore said, “The owners run the club and in fairness to the people running that club they are working extremely hard to live the dream and they are scrabbling hard to make sure this club stays alive… You can’t say it’s impossible to imagine a Premier League club going out of business when it is still in the Premier League but the reality is, given the amount of central income that is generated, it would be rank bad management if a Premier League club were to go into administration.”

Scudamore comments about “living the dream” bring back memories of Leeds circa 2001. After losing to Valencia in the Champions League semi-final, the whole club imploded financially. £100 million in debt, the club had a fire-sale of their best talent:  Ferdinand, Woodgate, Kewell, Keane, Bowyer and Fowler were sold to balance the books. Relegation followed in 2004, administration and relegation from the Championship in 2007 and Leeds have spent the last three seasons in League One. They imploded because they lived the dream and couldn’t afford it: £600,000 a year on company cars, 70,000 a year on private jets for directors, even £240 a year on goldfish for chairman Peter Ridsdale’s office.

Pompey are a smaller club than Leeds but spending £6 million on Defoe, £11 million on Crouch and £7 million on Sulley Muntari, while good players, is too much for a club of Portsmouth’s stature. But look at Pompey’s current team: in their last Premier League game, a defeat against Arsenal, their team sheet read: Begovic, Kaboul, Hreidarsson, Finnan, Ben-Haim, Belhadj, Mokoena, Hughes, Boateng, Yebda and Piquionne. Unless Pompey can clear their debts soon and get some new players in, this squad is destined for the Championship next season. And unless Al-Faraj and the board can gather some funds soon, that winding-up order looming over the club by HM Revenue and Customs could really spell trouble for Pompey.

Written By Tom Jinks