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Portsmouth is in shambles – time to overhaul the Premier League rules governing club ownership?



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Update: Ali Al Faraj has completed his takeover of Portsmouth, acquiring a 90% stake in the club. Sulaiman Al Fahim retains a 10% share.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

After Sulaiman Al-Fahim pulled the wool over the Premier League’s eyes once during the Manchester City takeover by pretending to be the owner and making pre-posterous claims on who Manchester City could sign, the actual owners quietly sidelined him and brought in a more measured representative.

The damage had been done though, and to date some of the criticism leveled against Manchester City’s approach to the Premier League can be traced back to Al-Fahim’s botched PR efforts during the takeover.

So you’d think that when Fahim came in at Portsmouth offering, amongst other things, to inject 50m into the club, wipe out the debt and finance a new stadium, you would have asked to see proof of funds before even having a second conversation.

But that’s not how it happened – Gaydamak didn’t care much – he wanted to cut his losses – and neither did the Premier League, who have in recent years allowed clubs to be mismanaged and laden with serious debt, not to mention shown no concern with the background and financial strength of prospective owners as long as they ‘talked the talk’ and looked the part.

Appearances, it seems, can go a long way when it comes to taking over a football club.

And now we have a situation where a club in relative free-fall couldn’t pay their players last week. Not a bright start and it certainly doesn’t give any hope of the squad being strengthened in January if Al-Fahim was to stay in charge.

As things stand though, Saudi Arabian businessman Ali Al-Faraj is expected to make an offer to Al-Fahim for Portsmouth and if things go as planned, could be taking over the club as soon as the end of this month. Al-Faraj was also involved in chief executive Peter Storrie’s consortium that lost out to Al-Fahim last month – and given Peter Storrie’s ambitions for the club it’s likely that he will be behind this move as well.

A spokesman for Al-Fahim said that “Sulaiman’s lawyers are engaged in talks with lawyers for Al-Faraj”, that “He expects an offer to be made today” and “In the best interests of the club he is willing to forego full ownership and if or when an offer is on the table it will be considered on its merits.”

For Pompey’s sake, let’s hope that this will be the end of their financial troubles – about time too, they desperately need to keep their focus on matters on the pitch and possibly bring in reinforcements in January – although the look of the squad suggests it’s primed for the Championship.

All this points to one thing – that the Premier League and the Football League (think Notts County) need to be more proactive and consistent in regulating club ownership in England. It should start with demanding solid proof over financial backing, include full disclosure of ownership (this need not be made public knowledge but it should be known to the Premier League and the people in charge of the club) and it should definitely include regulation to ensure that clubs are able to repay their debts without going bust or selling all their players.

Portsmouth’s current plight is a direct result of the club over-spending for several years in a bid to achieve European football – the FA Cup win masked their troubles but in the long run, Gaydamak’s inability to backup his excessive spending meant that the club was bound to suffer. There’s no need to punish clubs for spending a lot of money (that’s a separate debate), but the least the footballing authorities can do is ensure that owners can afford to keep the club afloat, and if they can’t, they shouldn’t be allowed to put the club in a position where it’s in the situation Portsmouth (or West Ham or Newcastle) find themselves in.

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Ahmed Bilal created Sportslens in 2006. He is a business consultant and entrepreneur who helps businesses identify and overcome their biggest challenges. He’s also the founder of Football Media, an online advertising agency that specialises in sports and male audience targeting, with a monthly reach of 100m+ sports fans in the UK and US. He’s also the previous owner of Soccerlens.com – a sports news site that reaches 3m+ readers / month.