If 2009 was not damaging enough, the new calendar year has started on an even lower note. Unpaid wages, fans’ protests and another potential player fire-sale on the horizon, 2010 looks destined to be even stickier than its desperate predecessor.
Obviously the start of every fresh year means one thing. No, not your short-lived New Year’s resolutions, but the fire-pit that is the January transfer window. Despite its much-maligned status, the January window has acted as a saviour for numerous clubs since its installation. Indeed this time four years ago, Pompey delved deep into the dicey January sales to sign the likes of Pedro Mendes, Sean Davis, Andres D’Alessandro and Benjani Mwaruwari – all of whom contributed greatly to dragging the Blues from the depths of the division, to the sanctity of 17th place. But while former boss Harry Redknapp splashed the cash back in 2006 to ensure Premier League survival, current boss Avram Grant will have no such luxury. The fact the club have delayed the payment of wages yet again suggests there will be no money to spend and the most likely action will be of outgoing troops – a situation that will lead Pompey to certain Premier League doom.
The issue of the transfer embargo also lays claim to any incoming transfers at present, although the board have stated they expect this to be lifted by January 10. Needless to say, no-one at Fratton Park will be holding their breath. The incessant rumours of star names leaving have left this January transfer window gaining a frosty welcome on the south coast. Pompey’s chief (perhaps only) creative talent, Kevin-Prince Boateng, has been heavily linked with a move to Blackburn all week – although FIFA rules should scupper that one – while Younes Kaboul has numerous interested suitors, including cash-happy Manchester City. Unpaid fees on Aruna Dindane’s loan deal could spell the end to the striker’s brief Fratton Park career and David James’ dream move to Tottenham looks sure to go through at some point this month. The sale of fringe players such as John Utaka, Mike Williamson, Angelos Basinas and the on-loan David Nugent will also be at the forefront of the board’s thoughts, freeing up some much needed funds as well as taking some big hitters of the pay-role.
These are all ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, and any story coming out of Fratton Park is met with slight unease and doubt. The only sure thing about this coming month is that if the club’s last remaining assets are sold then the club will be playing Championship football in just over eight months time. However, if all goes well and Grant not only gets to keep his star players, but also bring in a few new faces, then Pompey still have a genuine chance of survival. The likelihood of a season-saving January transfer window is looking slimmer by the day, but if Grant is bestowed some sort of cash, where should he spend it?
A proven goalscorer should, and will, be top of the list, but finding such a player on a shoestring budget is a mammoth task. The option of the enigmatic but hugely talented Amr Zaki now looks a far-fetched thought after the Egyptian’s ugly remarks in the wake of his country’s World Cup elimination to arch-rivals Algeria. Blackburn’s out of favour hitman Benni McCarthy looks an excellent option at a reasonably cheap price, but there are plenty of takers for the South African. A striker in his mould and his situation would be a perfect short-term option and one the management will almost certainly be monitoring. Former favourite Benjani is bound to be linked throughout the month but the Manchester City forward offers largely the same option as Frederic Piquionne and Dindane. The lethal and devastating touch of a natural finisher is what is required and viable options in Pompey’s price range are in short supply.
Another position that Grant is bereft of options is a natural right-sided midfielder. Pompey’s squad is decidedly short on width and genuine flair, so any kind of fleet-footed winger wouldn’t go amiss. Indeed with Nadir Belhadj on African Cup of Nations duty for the coming month or so, cover for the left would be ideal too. But with the club’s current situation far from ideal itself, any kind of wide man would fit the bill. Again cheap options are in short supply with Hatem Ben Arfa the only winger of any sorts to be linked, as the Marseille midfielder is apparently available on loan. Quite how realistic that move is remains to be seen but he is an outside bet. Another potential acquisition could again be a Blackburn fringe player, as Morten Gamst Pedersen looks set to exit this month. The Norwegian has failed to hit the heights he promised in his early Rovers career and having fallen well out of favour with Sam Allardyce, Pompey could take an educated gamble on the winger.
Whatever January throws up, it’s bound to be a testing month for all involved at Portsmouth. This time next month we will know a great deal more about Pompey’s survival hopes – on and off the pitch.