Noises coming out of Portsmouth this week suggest Balram Chanrai’s takeover of the club is merely days away. The Hong Kong businessman is said to be on the verge of taking the reins at the club (again) with the ensuing exit from administration and lifting of the transfer embargo to follow. But while the club desperately seek an owner to keep them afloat, why is there such unease at the man who has already poured in around £20m of his own money into the club, and who is willing to rescue such a stricken side?
For one, Chanrai’s association with the club has been an enforced and reluctant one. Indeed he only took over the club due to his loans to former Pompey owner, Ali al-Faraj, not being paid back. After ousting al-Faraj as per his loan agreement, Chanrai went about attempting to be reimbursed with as much of his £17m loan as possible, claiming as much on arrival at Fratton Park. No-one could argue with his honesty – a trait Pompey fans were growing increasingly alien to. Chanrai financed the administration and has now emerged as the only interested owner of the club. But what is he interested in? His PR men are claiming Chanrai has grown fond of the club and wants to take it into a new era, but it would be fair to doubt this. If Chanrai doesn’t take over, and another interested party isn’t found, who would finance the CVA? Many believe Chanrai is between a rock and a hard place – buy the club in an attempt to generate his funds back, or let it die, and with it, his money.
It is for this reason so many on the south coast look upon his inevitable takeover with such distain. But, as suggested, what is the other option? And whatever the reasoning is behind Chanrai’s takeover, he undeniably saved the club over the last six months, and for that he should be allowed the benefit of the doubt. His links to former owners, both al-Faraj and the Gaydamaks also causes unrest – and for good reason. The club has been riddled with phonies and selfish businessmen for too many years now, and one more could tip the club over the edge. The fact Chanrai publicly admitted to having no interest in running the club when he arrived was in its own way, not a problem, as he was, in a sense, keeping the seat warm for someone who did want it. But now, those words are alarming as he looks to lead the club into its future, its built on false pretences before it’s even begun. New eras should be greeted with optimism and hope, not doubt and wariness. Fans can only hope that Chanrai will have the club’s best interests at heart, for whatever reasons, although while next week he is expected to be the new owner of Portsmouth Football Club, most fans will hope a better option rears its head sooner rather than later to lift the uncertainty. For now, Chanrai is the only option and the club should be grateful for his input – whatever his true intentions are, as he is a saviour, in a very strange and enforced way.
The immediate concern remains the tender size of the squad at Steve Cotterill’s disposure. New recruits are needed fast, but it is only sales that have mooted this week, as the club requires immediate funds. Tommy Smith and Marc Wilson – both essential to Pompey’s season – have been the subject of bids, both of which were rejected. Wilson was bound to attract interest, but West Brom’s reported £2m bid is nowhere near what the Irishman is worth. Cotterill realises his importance, and unless Wilson requests such a switch, which is doubtful, he will remain at Fratton Park to skipper the side. Smith is a less clear-cut situation. He is reportedly interested in a move to Scottish champions Rangers and although Pompey have stated Smith isn’t one of the players they would be looking to sell, they aren’t dismissing any bids.
No doubt Cotterill would be against any such transfer, with Smith a proven and talented operator at Championship level, and replacing him with a player of similar stature for next to nothing is surely an impossible task. Needs must will be in the administrator’s mind, but the club cannot afford to drop down another division at this stage, something that is becoming increasingly realistic while players are being sold and none coming in.