“We are now extremely confident that January 2010 will be the dawn of a new era for Portsmouth Football Club. We’re very confident that this is the end of any trauma that the club has been suffering, not only in the last month or so but also in the last couple of years.”
These were the words of Ali al-Faraj’s lawyer, apparently appeasing Pompey fans and Premier League chiefs alike. Well, not quite. Mark Jacob’s encouraging words followed club lawyer, Daniel Azougy’s midweek promise of a statement being issued by the club, clearing up “everything.” This was Tuesday – we still wait. And while Jacob and Azougy finally speak up, it still leaves a great deal to be desired. Forgive this writer for his cynicism, but it stinks of yet more dribble turfed out by the club in order to appease the fans of its endless shortcomings. Azougy’s interview with the Guardian on Tuesday – which he has bafflingly gone on to deny ever took place – was basically that of a man trumpeting the owner’s apparent contributions.
His claim of al-Faraj ploughing £40m into the club since October simply doesn’t add up. How an earth can a club that has sold in the region of £70m worth of players alone throughout the last year, while also loaning £20m from businessman Balram Chainrai and still owing former owner Sacha Gaydamak £28m still need this kind of input. On top of this, the club’s £11m windfall from TV revenue next week will see almost three quarters of it go straight into the pockets of clubs Pompey are indebted to. It’s staggering figures, and the club’s fans are rightly after answers. Indeed al-Faraj could rightly point to Gaydamak’s appallingly run regime for much of the club’s plight, but the way the Saudi Arabian has conducted himself since his arrival last year has been hugely disrespectful. There is no getting away from the fact he inherited a mess of a club, but the fans can barely recognise the man who runs their club, let alone what money has been genuinely put in and where the huge amounts of cash that has come into the club has gone either.
Until there is an official statement from al-Faraj’s men, this writer does not wish to try delve into where all the money has gone and indeed where the money has come from for the past year. Numerous sources are throwing up numerous different figures and names but the club is about as transparent as a block of lead. Whether the words of Jacob and Azougy come to fruition, we should know soon enough, but for now, the club’s distressing state is no nearer to being solved. Without wanting to recycle endless figures and stories that have done the rounds this week, Saturday’s encounter at Fulham deserves at least a mention – remembering that Portsmouth is indeed a football club. Back-to-back defeats since Christmas look to have deflated the team, and the rumours of possible player sales are not helping a fragile side. However, the Cottagers’ talismanic striker Bobby Zamora has been ruled out for the clash which is a huge boost to Avram Grant, considering the former West Ham forward’s stunning recent form. What won’t be so comforting is the fact Fulham have already swept aside Manchester United and Liverpool on home turf this season and are a hugely impressive at this moment.
However, with Grant’s men already four points adrift of safety, every game must be approached with the utmost belief that a points return can be secured. Indeed, a point at Craven Cottage would be considered an excellent result in today’s climate especially with crunch clashes at home to Birmingham and West Ham to follow this month. With the squad even more depleted this month due to the Africa Cup of Nations, Grant’s options are limited to say the least. Kevin-Prince Boateng’s surprise omission from Ghana’s squad serves as timely stroke of good fortune for Grant, but the potential loss of Jamie O’Hara following Saturday’s encounter will be a major blow. Both players have been talismanic this season and they will shoulder even more responsibility in west London. For Grant, it’s all about keeping his, and his players’ minds on the job in hand. A positive result at Fulham would temporarily lift the gloom surrounding Fratton Park – if only until the next twist in the saga.