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Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Portsmouth a black eye for Premier League


LONDON — The Premier League has fit-and-proper-person criteria that anyone wanting to take over a club must pass. Ali al-Faraj, a Saudi businessman, assumed control of Portsmouth in October after fulfilling the criteria, yet each month since then the players' wages have not been paid on time.

Christopher Davies

The criteria seems to concentrate on any criminal record rather than securing financial guarantees. Al-Faraj took over from Sulaiman Al-Fahim, who held the keys at Fratton Park for 42 days, after passing the Premier League test. That cannot be a fit or proper time scale to be king of an English football club before selling on.

What is indisputable is that Portsmouth is in a proper mess, threatened with administration and having promised to pay the players' December wages totaling £1.8 million last Tuesday, payment was delayed for two more days.

This is not what is expected of "the best league in the world."

Sacha Gaydamak, who owned the club until last August, and Hong Kong businessman Balram Chainrai are owed £45 million in the form of loans to the club, while £25 million is owed in transfer fees.

How on earth can this possibly happen at a club which has made a profit of about £60 million on transfers over the past two years, won the F.A. Cup in 2008, and has received £30 million a season in TV revenue?

The fans used to chant "Play Up Pompey." Now it's Pay Up Pompey.

After last Saturday's 1-1 F.A. Cup draw against Coventry, Portsmouth fans had a mini-protest outside the ground chanting "you're not fit to run our club" and "where's the money gone?"

The Premier League will use Portsmouth's £7 million of the latest television money to pay off Chelsea, Tottenham and Watford, who are all owed money by Pompey for transfers.

Portsmouth, a once great club, has been brought to its knees, and at the moment there is little hope of an improvement. It will have to sell the two or three remaining decent players it has and who weren't moved on last summer. It's fire sale time at Fratton Park, and Portsmouth, banned from signing new players, will sell any player for whom it receives an offer.

Chief executive Peter Storrie, whose job is on a par with Baghdad's minister for tourism at the moment, said the new owners "have put a lot of money into the club." He did not specify what "a lot" was or where the money went.

Portsmouth's new owners are trying to organize new bank finance and bring on board new investment.

How can anyone be allowed to take over a club without having the necessary finance and then go out with the begging bowl?

Storrie said: "Things have not happened and although they (the owners) are working on doing that, time is catching up with them in terms of the debts and the money that is needed to run a Premier League football side.

"If the way to keep this club alive is to sell a couple of players again, we will have to do that, but it will be an owner's decision. If you do not sell, then you could well be going into administration."

Storrie did not believe the fans had been misled over al-Faraj's takeover, though the supporters may beg to differ.

"I think deceived is a pretty harsh word to be honest, I don't think they've been that," he said. "The owners are working hard to find solutions and ways forward."

There's not much else middleman Storrie can say, but if a book is written about recent events at Portsmouth it should be called "How Not To Run A Football Club."

* * * * *

WHEN A MANAGER resigns from one club to join another, it is usually for a step up. Harry Redknapp from Portsmouth to Tottenham. Steve Bruce from Wigan to Sunderland. But collective heads are still shaking at Owen Coyle's defection from Burnley to Bolton Wanderers.

It is seen as a giant step sideways, from one struggling club to another battling relegation of a similar size, which are only 48 km apart.

While Bolton is a more established Premier League club, it hardly represents the sort of next step most saw for one of the most promising young managers in England. After two or three more years at Burnley, most expected Coyle to move to a bigger rather than a different club.

While Coyle was a player for Bolton in the 1990s, he made only 54 appearances for the Trotters scoring 12 goals, hardly the stuff of legends or messiahs. Unless Coyle had a serious grouse with Burnley, which does not seem to be the case, the switch makes little sense.

Why, Burnley supporters are asking, would he want to go?

When Coyle joined Burnley from St. Johnstone, in November 2007, he was recommended by Bolton chairman Phil Gartside after Bolton appointed Gary Megson, who was as popular with the Wanderers fans as toothache, as manager.

When Gartside gave the Bolton fans a belated Christmas present by sacking Megson, Gartside moved for Coyle, who was his second choice for the Bolton job after Megson, all of which only adds to the puzzling scenario.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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