Something is happening behind the scenes that Pompey that is worth a great deal more headscratching than what it’s generating at the moment. The club’s present footballing situation is a nightmare, and after rumours that players and staff have not been paid, the financial situation cannot be much better. But what is even more bizarre is that the Premier League club is displaying very little ambition.
Rewind back to the start of the 2008/09 season. Harry Redknapp was at the helm and Portsmouth were sitting comfortably in the top half of the table, having recently won the FA Cup. The Pompey faithful were expectant of another good season and they were rewarded in the initial stages when their side qualified for the EUFA Cup. It was the first time a Portsmouth team had ever played in the group stages of a European competition. At Fratton Park Pompey went 2-0 up against AC Milan, before a fantastic free kick from Ronaldinho galvanised the Rossoneri to come back to a 2-2 draw.
Since then, there has been nothing of substance for Pompey fans to cheer. The club is languishing in last place on the premier league table, and have not qualified for any European competitions. A lack of ambition is there for all to see. Since Paul Hart took the managerial reins, Portsmouth have won a paltry 6 games out of 25 yet he seems to have one of the safest jobs in the premier league. Quality players have gone out of Fratton Park and have been replaced by average players such as Frederic Piquionne and Steve Finnan. The average attendance at Fratton Park is 18342, the second lowest in the premier league, and fans do not look at all hopeful of what Portsmouth can achieve this season.
Glen Johnson, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Djimi Traore, Sean Davis, David Nugent, Niko Kranjcar, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin, Sulley Muntari, Lassana Diarra, Jermaine Pennant, and Lauren have all recently left the club, bringing a nice cash windfall to the tune of £78 million. They also received £5m from Tottenham so that Harry Redknapp could join the faithful at White Hart Lane.
Since January 2009, Pompey have only actually spent money on Nadir Belhadj (£4.5 mil), Hayden Mullins (undisclosed), and Angelos Basinas (undisclosed), having got Aaron Mokoena for free from Blackburn. Rather, they have tried to patch up their side with short term loans such as Pennant, Piquionne and Aruna Dindane.
The August 2009 stories of players not receiving wages on time are even stranger, when this £70 million windfall is taken into account. A lot has been made of the incompetence of the owner, Sulaiman Al-Fahim, but surely debts of £70+ million could not have been incurred that quickly?
Remember, this is not a side that has enjoyed a long life in the premier league and has slipped down a division and now struggles to retain the same income, such as Southampton, but a side that recently peaked and won its first major trophy in 58 years.
As a supporter of Liverpool, I was wowed as much as anyone when Portsmouth reached the FA Cup final in the 2007/08 season and received the small town cult status that has been bestowed upon Burnley this year, and Hull City last year. A series of behind the scene problems has riddled but hopefully Portsmouth can still return with a vengeance.