Welcome to Portsmouth: They've got no goalkeeper, 10 players… and they're all up for sale
06:54 GMT, 6 July 2012
When Tal Ben Haim signs in for pre-season training at Portsmouth on Monday, he will set a record for a player in League One.
Earning 36,000 a week, plus an image rights contract worth a staggering 1million a year, the defender is about to become the highest paid player in the third tier of English football.
It is nothing Portsmouth can be proud of, just another damning statistic that continues to numb the brain of the club’s administrator Trevor Birch.
Record breaker: Tal Ben Haim is still being paid 36,000 a week
Portsmouth have a wage bill that will blow the mind of anyone familiar with League One finances, an 11m-a-year commitment that continues to freak out prospective owner Balram Chainrai.
The 10 highly paid members of Michael Appleton’s squad will drift into their shabby Eastleigh training centre on Monday.
Their first fixture of the season, a Capital One Cup tie at Plymouth, is just five weeks away, and their opening league game is a derby against Bournemouth at Fratton Park on August 18.
Appleton, Portsmouth’s manager throughout the latest crisis to grip the south coast club, has no idea whether he will even be able to field a team. He does not have much to work with. Portsmouth have no goalkeeper, just three defenders, three midfielders and four strikers left.
Uncertain future: Portsmouth will begin the season in League One with a shortage of money and players
Kanu, twice a Premier League winner with Arsenal, a Champions League winner with Ajax and an FA Cup hero at Fratton Park, has a year left on a contract worth 10,000 a week. Amazingly, he is still only 35.
The other high-earning players, Aaron Mokoena, Greg Halford, Liam Lawrence, Hayden Mullins, David Norris, Erik Huseklepp, Luke Varney and Dave Kitson, are also scheduled to report for training. They are there to fulfil their contractual obligations, but Birch, an honourable and dignified man, must move them on if Portsmouth are to somehow escape the end game.
‘For the club to survive, we have to sell them,’ admitted Birch. ‘They are on wages that are unsustainable at League One level. They are all for sale. We have already made some savings, but it isn’t enough to save the football club.’
Birch is obliged to cut Portsmouth’s catastrophic wage bill, a legacy from an era when they broke the bank in the Premier League with salaries running at 120 per cent of turnover.
Former players, such as Michael Brown, Richard Hughes, Aruna Dindane, Benjani, David Nugent, Hassan Yebda, Ricardo Rocha and David James, are all owed substantial sums of money.
Stripping assets: Trevor Birch has the unenviable task of selling Portsmouth's players
Along with Ben Haim, they are entitled to be paid in full, according to the terms of their contracts under the archaic football creditors’ rule.
Portsmouth’s future depends on them reaching a settlement and Hughes, an ex-professional who is well respected at the club, is the intermediary.
‘We are negotiating with the players, but so much depends on whether an agreement can be reached,’ said Birch. ‘Various proposals have been put forward. The sums of money are so vast that it complicates the matter and the players can always fall back on the football creditors ruling, which means they must get paid.’
Naturally some are more willing to negotiate than others, but Hughes, to his credit, wants to find an equitable solution that will reflect well on the players and the club.
The future of Portsmouth could depend on it and new owner Chainrai has indicated as much. The Hong Kong-based businessman wants to recover the 19m he claims he is owed from his previous complicated ownership of the club, a legacy of Ali al-Faraj’s disastrous involvement in 2010.
Debt: Balram Chainrai is owed 19m
Two years on, Portsmouth are back in administration and Chainrai has made it clear he will not be pouring money into the club to take them back into the Premier League. On June 25 the club’s creditors agreed to the company voluntary agreement, a paltry two pence return to the pound, that could eventually take the club out of administration.
There is a rival offer from Portsmouth’s
Supporters Trust, mobilised when the club was plunged back into
administration last November. They are supported by 1,000 pledges from
fans and are putting together a package that is designed to keep
Portsmouth in the Football League.
Scott Mclachlan, a PST spokesman, said: ‘We do not want to start again unless the club is liquidated. It is all about saving a club with its 114-year history.’
They are also in the hands of the Football League board, a group comprising eight people who will soon determine Portsmouth’s fate. Without their support, the next stop will be the Blue Square Bet South.