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Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Pompey pay for chasing the dream

Clockwise from top left: Alexandre Gaydamak, Harry Redknapp, Jermain Defoe and Tony Adams

By David Ornstein

When Sol Campbell strode up to Wembley's Royal Box and proudly accepted the FA Cup from Sir Bobby Robson last year, it felt like a glorious new chapter in Portsmouth's history was set to unfold.

Having already achieved their highest Premier League finish, the south-coast club were able to celebrate a first major trophy since 1950 and their first move into European competition.

But less than nine months on from that May afternoon, Portsmouth sit just one point above the relegation zone, out of all cup competitions, carrying a reported 80m of debt and without a manager.

"At the end of last season, we were expecting the club to go out and spend about 20m-30m on three or four big signings to strengthen the team," Kevin Ryan, secretary of the Portsmouth supporters' club, told BBC Sport.

Steve Claridge
What's happening at Portsmouth now is no shock to me - for a club of their infrastructure to spend what they spent didn't equate, it's completely unsustainable

Former Portsmouth striker and player-manager Steve Claridge

"But Portsmouth are a club who have chased the dream for two or three years and lived beyond their means in terms of finance and Premier League position. Now we're feeling the financial consequences."

Winning the FA Cup, and therefore earning a Uefa Cup spot, will go down as one of Portsmouth's finest achievements.

But many close to the club believe that in attempting to reach such heights the seeds of their demise were sown.

At the beginning of January 2006, it was confirmed that Franco-Russian businessman Alexandre Gaydamak had invested about 20m to take a 50% stake in Pompey and become co-owner with Milan Mandaric.

Funds were immediately provided to then-manager Harry Redknapp, who, with Portsmouth's top-flight status hanging by a thread, promptly spent 12m on Benjani, Pedro Mendes, Sean Davis and Noe Pamarot. His new-look team went on to secure survival with one game to spare.

In July 2006, Gaydamak invested a further 32m to gain full control of the club. Further additions to the squad followed, enabling Redknapp to achieve an impressive ninth-place finish at the end of the 2006-07 season.

The next two transfer windows saw Portsmouth part with a total of 37m - Sulley Muntari, Glen Johnson, John Utaka, Lassana Diarra and Jermain Defoe were among the arrivals - and on the pitch the investment paid off handsomely.

By the time Peter Crouch was signed for 9m last July, a total of 67.3m had been spent on players since January 2005. But all was not well.

With wages accounting for 60% of Portsmouth's turnover, according to chief executive Peter Storrie, and several outstanding payments due on transfer fees, the financial situation was not looking good.

Adams won just four and lost 11 of his 21 games in charge
Under the 42-year-old, Portsmouth won only two of 16 Premier League games
Portsmouth have already conceded 41 goals this season, compared to 40 in the whole of last term
Pompey have 14 games in which to retain their Premier League status

The fact that Fratton Park holds only 20,000 spectators and provides none of the lavish corporate facilities available at other stadiums did not help their cause.

"What's happening at Portsmouth now is less of a shock to me than it was seeing where they got to originally and how much they spent to do so," said former Portsmouth striker and player-manager Steve Claridge.

"I know the infrastructure of the club, the amount that they can make on the commercial and corporate sides and how much the season tickets cost. For a club to spend what they spent, it didn't equate. It's completely unsustainable."

On a number of occasions, Gaydamak and Storrie moved to refute speculation that Portsmouth were in financial difficulties, but their denials were unconvincing.

It is understood that Redknapp agreed to the sale of Muntari on the condition that he was handed the proceeds to sign Shaun Wright-Phillips from Chelsea, but the money was banked and Wright-Phillips went to Manchester City.

Then, despite publicly stating a desire to stay with Portsmouth for the remainder of his managerial career, Redknapp was handed the chance to join Tottenham and found the opportunity to replace Juande Ramos too good to turn down.

He left for White Hart Lane on 25 October, hinting that he was leaving behind a club with financial difficulty.

"Harry knew what was happening. He knew that in January he'd have to sell his top players and he got out because he didn't want to," said Ryan.


Storrie made the bold move in handing Adams, who served as Redknapp's assistant for over two years but lacked managerial experience, the reins of responsibility.

Adams' side produced several decent performances but results immediately began to suffer.

"As soon as Harry decided to leave, the club had a big problem," said BBC Radio Solent commentator Laurence Herdman.

"He is a massive act to follow. A number of the players who arrived at Fratton Park were purely down to Harry's presence. His ability to man manage is almost legendary."

On 7 December 2008, Gaydamak announced he was putting Portsmouth up for sale. He described the need for a new stadium and training ground as "imperative", adding he was unable to fulfil the club's needs.

Two weeks later, they were beaten 2-1 at Bolton, a result Herdman described as a "landmark occasion".

"For the first time Adams really had a go at the players. He felt let down, he felt upset and voiced his discontent afterwards," he said.

"After that result it became very clear that Gaydamak had given up the Pompey project. He was no longer going to invest and there was no money available in the January transfer window."

Alexandre Gaydamak
Gaydamak is looking for a buyer who can take Portsmouth forward

By the time the 2009 January window arrived, Adams had won just two of 11 league games, and had lost midfielder Papa Bouba Diop to a serious knee injury.

Diarra was sold to Real Madrid for 20m, and Defoe returned to Tottenham for 15m, while the club were relatively quiet in the January transfer window, signing Angelos Basinas, Hayden Mullins and Nadir Belhadj.

Having already limped out of the Uefa Cup and FA Cup, Portsmouth's 3-2 defeat by Liverpool last Saturday underlined their defensive fragility - a surprise considering Adams' career as a top centre-half - and that proved to be the manager's last match in charge.

"Certain experienced, proven players were making mistake after mistake after mistake," said Claridge. "It is basic concentration and focusing of your mind. You're not concentrating because you're not totally believing in what's going on."

Adams has since admitted that he almost quit before Christmas after learning he would have to sell a player and that his transfer budget was going to be slashed.

Now, with 14 league games remaining, his successor has the task of rescuing the club from relegation.

Portsmouth's former technical director, Avram Grant, who guided Chelsea to last season's Champions League final and is understood to be a friend of Gaydamak, is the favourite to take over. Mexico manager Sven-Goran Eriksson is another candidate.

Paul Hart, assisted by Brian Kidd, has been placed in charge of first-team affairs and will be keen to get to the bottom of reported unrest within the dressing room.

Portsmouth celebrate their FA Cup win
Portsmouth's FA Cup triumph seems a distant memory

After Portsmouth's recent defeat at Fulham, it is understood the players held a mini crisis meeting, which Crouch described as "a ruck".

Almost as important is the injection of some much-needed funds, which will only come if Gaydamak can find a buyer (possibly for a knockdown 18m) who is prepared to build a new stadium and invest in the club.

A new home has been mooted since the mid-90s but the latest plans, for a site on Horsea Island, have been delayed.

If Portsmouth are relegated, selling a Championship club in the current economic climate would prove near impossible, as would building a new state-of-the-art multi-million pound training complex at Lee-on-Solent.

In 2007, Redknapp described Portsmouth's current training base at Eastleigh as "disgusting, awful - it's a fourth-division training ground".

Hardly a surprise then, that the club failed to be granted academy status until 2007, which in turn explains why no youth team player has been able to establish themselves in the senior side in recent memory.

But that's only one of many factors that suggests the immediate future is bleak for the 2008 FA Cup winners.

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see also
Can Adams prove Pompey wrong?
10 Feb 09 |  Portsmouth
Pompey begin new manager search
10 Feb 09 |  Portsmouth
Portsmouth confirm Adams sacking
09 Feb 09 |  Portsmouth
Adams 'surprised' at Pompey axe
09 Feb 09 |  Portsmouth
Portsmouth 2-3 Liverpool
07 Feb 09 |  Premier League
Portsmouth 0-2 Swansea
24 Jan 09 |  FA Cup
Wolfsburg 3-2 Portsmouth
04 Dec 08 |  Europe
Adams named new Portsmouth boss
28 Oct 08 |  Portsmouth
Gaydamak ready to sell Portsmouth
07 Dec 08 |  Portsmouth
Tottenham sack Ramos for Redknapp
26 Oct 08 |  Tottenham
Pompey training ground approved
16 Jul 08 |  Portsmouth
Portsmouth outline stadium plan
18 Jun 08 |  Portsmouth
Portsmouth 1-0 Cardiff
17 May 08 |  FA Cup
Portsmouth reject 'sale' rumours
31 Jan 08 |  Portsmouth
Gaydamak buys out Pompey chairman
19 Jul 06 |  Portsmouth
Portsmouth confirm takeover plans
02 Jan 06 |  Portsmouth

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