“Professional football is about winning and balancing the budget. That is the basic rule, and one which I fought for. All the rest is half cheating.” A stark yet harsh truth spoken by Wednesday night’s conqueror, Arsene Wenger.
The Frenchman’s words came after Portsmouth’s financial turbulence finally came to something of a head during the week, as the club was issued a winding up petition by HM Revenue & Customs, following apparent shortcomings in VAT, PAYE and National Insurance contributions owed to HMRC. All claims were firmly denied by Portsmouth FC quickly, but the board’s statements don’t seem to be taken all that seriously under the current ownership, leaving many Pompey fans disillusioned, displeased and most of all, deeply worried at the state and future of their club. With the Blues sitting rock bottom heading into the New Year and talks of selling their star players just to stay afloat in January, the South Coast club’s wishes of putting a horrendous 2009 behind them look unlikely, as 2010 could prove to be a whole lot worse.
And who’s to say the club doesn’t deserve their current predicament. Indeed while many could question Wenger’s eyesight, few could question his footballing values. As Pompey rode the wave of a glorious FA Cup triumph and a first foray into European football, they were the envy of three quarters of the league. But it was a false dawn hope. It was a regime built on sand, a board that got excited by short-term glory and a club that ultimately spent beyond its means – crippling the club to what it seems an irreparable extent. Wenger described it as cheating and the Frenchman isn’t far off. If Pompey do get relegated and/or are plunged into administration, it will be a heavy price to pay for a year or so of glory culminating in a major trophy. It was also an ugly way to succeed and one that should act as a major deterrent to other clubs chasing the distant dream.
But while outsiders can point the finger, the simple fact is, Pompey are in huge trouble, both on and off the pitch. Wednesday’s hammering at the hands of the Gunners not only saw the players look short of quality and fight, but the crowd vocally gave their views on the current setup. Ali al Faraj has now been in charge for the best part of three months, although he is yet to genuinely address the fans as to the club’s financial difficulties. It is claimed he has plunged up to £10m into the Portsmouth’s coffers but the fact that he has refused to divulge any information on the club, let alone been to any matches, has left the fans wary and unconvinced.
With the January transfer window now upon us, there are fears the club will not only be unable to sign anyone in aid of their relegation scrap, but the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Younes Kaboul may be sacrificed to stave of administration. Such circumstances will almost certainly see Pompey’s Premier League stay doomed, and from there, it would be something of a downward spiral – mirroring that of arch-rivals Southampton. The matter of the transfer embargo remains a major stumbling block, despite the club claiming it would be resolved immediately after issue. If January goes the way it looks likely to go – top players leaving with no hint of replacements – Pompey are a steep and slippery slope to the Championship. All this has come off the back of a lot of optimism before Christmas. Hopes were high after the superb slaying of Liverpool, but back-to-back defeats at West Ham and then Arsenal, has seen the gloomy clouds venture over the South Coast once more. The fact those two defeats have been so merited thanks to such abject displays only deepens the gloom.
While 2009 bought just seven Premier League wins and a whopping 23 defeats, there is reason to think the new decade could yet get worse. Staring well and truly down the barrel of relegation whilst piecing the club slowly back together is what is on the horizon for Pompey’s followers. The upcoming FA Cup weekend offers a brief respite from the reality of their Premier League basement battle as Coventry are welcomed to Fratton Park, but the competition which brought the club its finest moment is recent memory, is low on the priority list. For now, 2009 is waved goodbye with a sigh of relief, whether 2010 will get the same farewell remains to be seen.