Club Focus – Portsmouth – Protests, embargoes and lawsuits

Another day, another bullet hole in Portsmouth’s diminishing armour. In just three days Pompey have lost a high-stakes court case, are being sued by an ex-player, both while being at loggerheads with Premier League chiefs.

All of the above has seen fans step up their plans to protest as the current regime struggle to appease their many debtors. Former FA Cup winning captain Sol Campbell has done nothing to help the situation by issuing the club with a writ in regards to a reported £1.7m the player is apparently owed in image rights and bonuses. The end of that sentence alone tells you all you need to know about why Pompey find themselves in such a horrific predicament. Add the latest lawsuit to that of the HMRC winding up order which the club unsuccessfully disputed this week, and it’s difficult to see how things could get any worse.

The Portsmouth News have been reporting the state of the south coast outfits’ accounts this week after a convenient leak of December’s sheets found their way into the paper’s hands. Needless to say, they make for some distressing reading. In short, the club need investment before February’s winding up petition comes into force, or administration is a grave possibility. Player sales are becoming more and more likely as each day passes with Younes Kaboul, David James and Papa Bouba Diop all expected to exit the revolving door at Fratton Park. Only Kaboul would fetch a useful amount of money – Pompey have already rejected a £10m bid from an unnamed French club and are believed to be holding out for around £15m, with money-bags Manchester City showing interest. But as stated previously in this series, a January fire-sale will all but confirm Championship status. Having said that, administration and a nine point deduction would do the same, so it’s Catch 22 in a way.

Onto the transfer embargo, and while the board are clearly working hard to lift the ban, the Premier League show no signs of loosening their stance. It is believed that Pompey must clear all their overdue debts to other clubs before the embargo is lifted. Reports suggest this has nearly been adhered to, but for an outstanding fee (of around £3.5m) owed to Udinese for the Sulley Muntari deal. If this is cleared, the Premier League are set to lift the ban and release the £2m Pompey are owed in TV rights. But with the HMRC threat still hanging over the club’s future, the transfer embargo seems a little trivial under the current circumstances. If the outstanding debt was cleared, there can’t be any money to outlay on transfers can there? Loan deals will be Avram Grant’s only option, but that still requires a (usually small) fee up front as well as covering the player’s wages.

Quite where the club goes from here is anyone’s guess. Mark Jacob spent the whole of last week attempting to reassure fans that firstly, the pending court case over unpaid taxes would be won and that the transfer embargo would be lifted by now. Neither has come to fruition – not for the lack of trying it must be said – but it still leaves the fans looking on at a desperate situation that seems only to be getting worse. Jacob’s sudden will to speak to the fans last week was encouraging but he is back to square one now as none of his words have been turned into actions. The fans are now marching in protest of the current owners this Saturday but it is simply growing frustration amongst the Blues faithful rather than anything that can benefit the club. Fans are desperate for some good news and feel the protest might spark some action – just like the one in the aftermath of the Coventry game which ultimately forced Jacob to come out of hiding. However, the simple fact is that Pompey need investment. Mystery owner Ali al-Faraj seems unable to give the club a stable grounding and no amount of protesting will change that.

To be fair to al-Faraj and Jacob, the problems at the club at present are ones they inherited, and not of their own making. It is now clear – and Jacob has said as much – that no-one envisaged the depths of the problems when the takeover went through. The club has made strides to win round the fans in recent weeks – notably by speaking out and clearly grafting for the club’s future – but without financial backing, it will all be at a loss. Time is running out and Pompey can’t afford for it to get any worse before it gets better. Surely administration is the only depth the club has yet to sink to.

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