Trouble ahead at Portsmouth?
The mainstream press have been rather subdued on the subject of Portsmouth City Football Club Limited in recent months. Following Balram Chainrai’s takeover on October 25, attention has mainly been devoted to on pitch matters. But with Pompey on the end of a good old fashioned hiding at Vicarage Road yesterday, events on the touchline and beyond have become increasingly arcane in recent days.
Portsmouth started yesterday’s encounter with a sub’s bench totalling just four individuals. With the smallest squad in all four divisions, sympathy has been extended from elsewhere and the Fourth Estate have been nothing but supportive: the sight of four musketeers – messrs Kitson, Brown, Hughes and Lawrence as the Sky Sports camera panned in was surreal indeed.
Dave Kitson is serving a suspension and the paperwork to confirm Liam Lawrence’s move from Stoke wasn’t quite signed in time, but explanations for Michael Brown and Richard Hughes’ absences from the fray have been less evident. Certainly these two gentlemen are among Pompey’s prized assets and moves away from Fratton Park seem likely for the duo, with Brown linked strongly to Wolves; and hence, the score of current Pompeians could be depleted by two. In addition to this, manager Steve Cotterill admitted to local paper The News that a further un-named player was ruled out of the Watford trip for unspecified reasons.
But even if Tommy Smith and Tal Ben Haim have been linked with returns from their own temporary homes, Cotterill’s decision to publicly declare the lack of fitness for battle of a couple of his younger stars is baffling, not to mention evidence of a disrespect for clean laundry. For most casual observers, taking seriously Portsmouth’s complaints of understaffing is impossible given the extraordinary depth of a squad with a bizarre patina of international class lent to it by Nwankwo Kanu, Ricardo Rocha and John Utaka.
Even the Sky commentators emphasized how generous Millwall have been in deferring a payment of £50,000 due once Tom Kilbey has made an appearance, which he duly did on emerging from the bench yesterday and one also wonders about the terms of the deals that have led Kitson, Lawrence, Carl Dickinson, Greg Halford and Ibrahima Sonko to Hampshire this past Autumn. If opposing fans who are dubious that Pompey should be allowed to assemble such an array of talent should bear in mind that the exact terms of loan deals and which club is paying which percentage of a player’s wages are rarely made public these days; it’s nonetheless unfeasible that Stoke and Wolves are letting Portsmouth have these players for free.
If the above hints that Portsmouth are cash strapped indeed, and before you cry “what’s new?”, let’s remember that the business came out of administration when Chainrai took over. The number of champagne corks popped was perhaps less than those that greeted Milan Mandarić’s arrival at Sheffield Wednesday, but the phrase “out of the woods” was frequently repeated nonetheless.
But have Pompey truly exited the financial forest? With the slightly Eighties title of PFC Realisations, the business that is currently registered to the Football League is owned by Sports Holdings (Asia) Ltd. which is in turn under the aegis of Horizon Eclipse Inc. This latter group is owned by Chainrai in conjunction with his consortium partners Levi Kushnir and his brother Deepak. All financial deals are subject to the approval of the league, Portsmouth must submit monthly financial reports and former owner Alexandre Gaydamak is to be refunded £2.2 million pounds owed to him in installments over the next half decade.
But within three days of the acquisition, Chainrai admitted that he was putting the club back on the market; ‘We’re stable, but I’m not the right man for this club long-term, the right owner’s out there and we’ll find them’ – he claimed.
This is hardly sugar daddy stuff and ever since, the suspicion that the two Chainrais and Kushnir have a lot less money than was hoped – or don’t particularly want to use it – has been strong. Two Hundred Percent has been admirable in attempting to shed light on the situation with little in the way of firm answers. Unanswered questions highlighted by Mark Murphy revolve around Chainrai’s involvement in a previous takeover in 2009, the perhaps misplaced confidence shown in him by administrator Andrew Andronikou, the Kong Kong-based businessman’s description of himself as an ‘accidental’ owner, the deployment of Sheffield United’s least favourite man Kia Joorabchian as an adviser (this must be catching given Plymouth’s recent hiring of Peter Ridsdale) and a £17 million loan to a previous owner, Ali al-Faraj who some have even gone so far to suggest may be a fictional character (without evidence, it must be said).
Steve Cotterill claimed to have scheduled a phone call with Chainrai to discuss transfer policy on December 29 but admitted that the conversation did not in the end take place. Confirmation that Lawrence has now completed his move to Fratton suggests that the pair have now spoken, although this has not been confirmed; but it seems Chainrai has far from rescinded his wish to sell the club on. Indeed, he has reportedly admitted to having to borrow money from elsewhere to maintain his investment.
Former Hull City owner Paul Duffen is rumoured to be waiting in the wings to take over and 22 year old entrepreneur Tom Lever is another who has shown interest (Aldershot fans with long memories of a lad called Spencer Trethewy will shudder). A recent year end editorial on football finance on Two Hundred Percent coined a term labelled the “the greater fool” theory to describe the practice of buying something in order to sell it on at a higher price, provided one can find someone foolish enough to bite your hand off. Tom Hicks and George Gillett didn’t manage it – despite the interest of Duffen and Lever, I wouldn’t put money on Chainrai’s chances either.