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Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Poor management drives Portsmouth to the brink


LONDON — It remains a mystery to me how a club that has made £60 million profit on transfers over the past three years, has won the F.A. Cup, played in the UEFA Cup and receives around £30 million a year in television fees can be faltering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Christopher Davies

But Portsmouth faces the threat of going out of business even though a High Court granted the club an adjournment of nine days for a winding-up order by Revenue & Customs, which is owed more than £12 million.

Portsmouth has had four owners this season — the same number of victories it has managed in the Barclays Premier League — and is in the process of finding a fifth. It has about a week to complete the process before returning to court.

I can imagine the advertisement: "New owner wanted for the club bottom of the league and almost certain to be relegated. Club has debts totaling around £75 million."

You would have to be rich and mad to buy Portsmouth, but thankfully for football such people exist. Chief executive Peter Storrie is talking to "various interested parties" who must pay off the debts to Inland Revenue.

The alternative is to put the club into administration, which would incur a nine-point penalty, and as Portsmouth is already six points adrift at the bottom of the league that would make relegation a certainty.

Revenue & Customs is taking a tougher line with clubs for two reasons.

Firstly, in the current economic climate the Treasury needs every penny it can get.

Secondly, it is fed up with the so-called football rule which was put in place by the English football authorities which stipulates that when a club goes into administration, all football debts — that is, to players, coaches and transfer fees owed to other clubs — must be settled before other creditors are paid.

This means that players, with Bentleys in the car park, have their contracts paid up in full while others, including the tax man, receive maybe 10 pence on the pound of what they are owed. Inland Revenue has lost patience with clubs and now go for a winding-up order.

Clubs have somehow come back from the brink in the past and no doubt someone will appear from somewhere to save Portsmouth, but the prospect of its home game against Stoke City on Feb. 20 being its last match is very real.

If that happens, the points from games involving Portsmouth would be expunged and a new Premier League table in place with two clubs relegated.

* * * * *

WEST HAM UNITED co-owner David Sullivan has said that at the end of the season all the staff, including players and management, will be asked to take a 25 percent cut in salary to help the cash-strapped club. Sullivan and David Gold bought West Ham in full knowledge that the previous Icelandic owner Eggert Magnusson had run the club as if it had a bottomless pit of money.

The Davids cannot force anyone to take a drop in salary and I suspect the number of volunteers will be a very round figure.

People say if you are earning £40,000 a week you can get by on £30,000, but why should you?

And everyone I know lives to their earnings — maybe more.

The players and manager Gianfranco Zola signed contracts that were offered and agreed by the owners at the time. The Davids' cost-cutting exercise was undermined by their willingness to pay Ruud van Nistelrooy, surplus to Real Madrid's requirements and who has played little football over the past year because of injury, £100,000 a week for a six-month loan period.

The Dutch international opted to join Hamburg instead. Their coach Bruno Labbadia said after van Nistelrooy was an 89th-minute substitute in the 3-3 draw at Cologne last weekend:

"He is only at 60 percent."

Van Nistelrooy, 33, wanted to train rather than play against Cologne. Paying the former Manchester United striker £100,000 a week when he probably won't be match fit for another month does not seem smart business, but then asking staff to take a voluntary drop of 25 percent in wages to help the club's finances does not make sense, either.

* * * * *

THERE HAS been almost as much debate about the next captain of England as the next Prime Minister of Great Britain. England manager Fabio Capello regards captaincy as an overrated, over-hyped matter which the English seem to place alongside honors given out by the Queen or an Academy Award.

In Italy, Germany, France and Spain there has been a tradition for the most capped player to captain the side, so Fabio Canavarro, Michael Ballack, Thierry Henry and Iker Casillas will lead their countries in the World Cup finals. Their captains are not so much chosen as pre-selected.

As superb a goalkeeper as Real Madrid's Casillas is, it is difficult to argue that his position is ideal for a captain, but the four European heavyweights see the role more as a figurehead than a chest-thumping, fist-clenching, yelling swashbuckler.

The quartet hasn't done too badly by having the senior player as captain.

Rio Ferdinand, not disgraced John Terry, will lead England in South Africa. The Manchester United defender is a good captain, but England has been more in need of decent penalty takers at recent major finals.

Meanwhile, Terry has been granted compassionate leave by Chelsea to fly to Dubai where his wife Toni is on holiday. In traveling to the Middle East in an attempt to keep his marriage together, Terry will miss the F.A. Cup fifth-round tie against Cardiff, thus weakening the argument that his private life does not affect his professional life.

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


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