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Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

Portsmouth chimes failing

Portsmouth goalkeeper David James
David James has been at Portsmouth since the summer of 2006

Jonathan Pearce
By Jonathan Pearce
BBC football commentator

Over a gruelling 10-month season a single split second can completely transform the fortunes of a club.

That is the beauty and agony of English football. It is so fiercely competitive and traditionally tight that months of gloomy post- mortems or high-soaring dreams can be erased in a moment.

On 11 March, 2006 Portsmouth looked a doomed club. They were one off the bottom of the Premier League and had lost seven of their previous eight games but then Pedro Mendes unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot to score against Manchester City.

I said in the commentary that the goal could change everything and it did. Portsmouth survived relegation with one of the greatest escapes of all time. Sadly I can't see that happening again.

In 2006 Portsmouth were guided by a man with steady belief.

Harry Redknapp would have constantly told his players they could get out of danger. He instilled belief and they won six of their last 10 games to stay up. It was a miraculous turnaround and if Harry had walked on water no-one would have been surprised. Now they're in danger of sinking fast.

Their next two home games are against Liverpool and Arsenal so it could get a lot worse before it gets better.

It's true that eight of their final nine home games of the season look winnable but a team has to have players who can grab the wins.

Portsmouth celebrate their FA Cup victory with a parade through the streets of the city
Happier times only last year as the FA Cup is paraded through the city

Portsmouth have lost too much quality since their FA Cup triumph. There had been such a glow of optimism on that Wembley day but now Fratton Park is shrouded with misery and gloom.

There's been too much change and too much uncertainty. Avram Grant is the third manager to arrive since Redknapp so there's been no continuity on the training ground.

The ownership issue has been even worse. Sulaiman Al Fahim promised to inject £50m into the club after his takeover. In came Ali Al Faraj and once again promises were made to supporters but within weeks a loan had to be secured just to pay the players. Grand plans for an exciting new stadium are gathering dust and the club seems to be teetering on the brink of a financial black hole.

Portsmouth say they're now beginning to manage the situation and that entering administration isn't an option. There's talk that Al Faraj has been saddled with too many bad debts. The fans should be told who is responsible for them and exactly how the debts were accrued.

Since the May 2008 Cup triumph 18 players have left and over £80m has been banked in transfer fees while 13 players have arrived, many of a lesser quality. The net transfer market profit in this period is over £50m. Ridiculously high wages and agent fees will account for some of that but fans have every right to ask: "Where's the money gone?"

When Harry Redknapp played the Steve McQueen role in that 'Great Escape', he propped up the tunnel out of Pompey's prison camp of despair by signing proven players.

Tottenham trio Davis, Mendes and Pamarot had shown what they do in the Premier League and Dean Kiely was an astute, experienced keeper but in comparison Pompey have taken risks with some recent signings.

Brown, Finnan (if he can get fully fit) and Ben Haim have top flight experience but are at the tail-end of their careers. Mokoena gives physical strength and Boateng has pace while loan signings Van den Borre and O'Hara are good prospects. Yebda has ability but they've all come into a club in total disarray.

Unless Portsmouth can lift the transfer embargo and properly fund transfer fees for established players in January, I can't see them surviving. There's no Harry Redknapp this time.

Jonathan Pearce

Dindane had a reasonable scoring record earlier in his career at Anderlecht but he only broke into double figures once in four seasons at Lens and hardly kicked a ball last season. He seems to need five chances to score one goal.

Piquionne is willing but again he's never been a prolific scorer - 58 goals in 255 league games at his five French clubs isn't the record of a man who will fire Portsmouth to safety.

Smith and Webber have flirted with top flight football in England without great success and £2m spent on Mike Williamson is a lot of money for a defender from the lower divisions who hasn't kicked a ball for the club yet.

The policy seems to be short-term, high-risk. Unless they can lift the transfer embargo and properly fund transfer fees for established players in January, I can't see them surviving. There's no Harry Redknapp this time.

Grant is methodical but not inspirational. He should be left in charge even if the club goes down. They'll need a steady hand at the helm as the waters off Spithead get choppier.

In 1976 I saw the club of my dreams Bristol City go top of the old First Division. Six years later I watched them sink to 92nd place in the Football League so I have seen at close hands the ravages of financial mismanagement. If Pompey drop, they could keep going.

Portsmouth is a naval stronghold. History has warned locals of the dangers once rot sets in to the timbers of any vessel. All the sails were billowing and the wind seemed set fair at Wembley in 2008.

A watery grave in the murky depths is beckoning just 19 baffling, befuddled months later. The fans deserve the right to know just who was at the tiller when Portsmouth FC crashed against the reef of chaos.


Jonathan Pearce will be at Fratton Park on Saturday to commentate on Portsmouth v Liverpool for Match of the Day with the programme broadcast on BBC One and online at 2230 GMT.



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see also
Saudi completes Pompey takeover
06 Oct 09 |  Portsmouth
Portsmouth 1-0 Cardiff
17 May 08 |  FA Cup
Portsmouth win to ensure survival
29 Apr 06 |  Premier League
Portsmouth 2-1 Manchester City
11 Mar 06 |  Premier League


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