Monday 24 August ~
So after three months of faffing about, Portsmouth will not be taken over by Sheikh Sulaiman Al Fahim. The sheikh, who is currently the club's chairman, passed the Premier League's notoriously rigorous fit and proper persons test but it now seems to have been conclusively established that he hasn't got the money to complete the process. Or at least that the terms of the takeover would have required his backers to be publicly identified, which they would prefer to avoid – the super-rich being known to be a shy, reclusive breed.
Happily the soccer-mad sheikh may retain some involvement at the club as part of a new consortium being assembled by Portsmouth's chief executive Peter Storrie, the man who has spent the summer trying to organise the sale of the club to Al Fahim. None of the newspapers know who is behind Storrie's consortium but it is believed to contain a "middle eastern constituent". Meanwhile, Portsmouth are joint bottom of the league having lost their first three games and their best player, David James, is strongly linked with a move to Spurs, managed by his former boss at Portsmouth, Harry Redknapp. James's departure would be the latest in a long line. Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson were sold earlier in the summer for a combined total of £27 million while Jermain Defoe and Lassana Diarra had to be released in January to ease the financial pressure on the club. At the time of Defoe's sale, an email from Peter Storrie was made public. "We need new players, and a stadium, but we can't do it without finance and we've had none of this for more than nine months," he wrote, the latter comment referring to the effect that the global recession has on the business interests of the club's then owner, Alexandre Gaydamak, the son of a Russian billionaire. It's quite a fall for a club that won the FA Cup in 2008. But Portsmouth fans might nonetheless feel that the recent financial meltdown is a fair exchange for their first major trophy in 58 years.
After Portsmouth were relegated from the old Division One in 1959, they had two decades of almost unremitting decline which culminated in two seasons at the fourth level between 1978 and 1980. More recently they spent five seasons, from 1997 onwards, struggling against relegation from the Championship before going up as champions in 2003. This dramatic turnaround was achieved by Harry Redknapp aided by a considerable injection of cash. Redknapp's critics point out that his modus operandi at the clubs he has managed is to spend extravagantly then depart before the effects of his largesse hit home – Bournemouth and West Ham both sank after he left. Clearly Redknapp has a talent for man management and getting the best out of certain players. He has also found it useful to cultivate relationships with some journalists who will rally to his defence whenever one of their colleagues takes a critical look at his profligate record in the transfer market.
But while Redknapp, whose Dorset home is in one of Britain's most expensive residential areas, could probably afford to personally fund a few transfers himself if he was so inclined, managers can only spend the money they are given. At Portsmouth, and for a while at West Ham, the man handing out the funds was the same Peter Storrie who is now striving to save the club from the brink. Portsmouth are in their current position because they spent far more than they could afford. Luckily for Peter Storrie, the FA Cup sits in the trophy room as recompense for their recklessness – and it may have to serve as consolation in the grim times ahead. Graham Davenport