Wednesday 25 April 2018

Portsmouth's plight reflects badly on Premier League

Paul Kelso

There is one inescapable message to be drawn from Pompey's season-long dance towards oblivion: the smartest brains and the longest rule book in football have proved powerless to prevent a succession of chancers and egotists twirling through the Fratton Park turnstiles and ruining a vibrant club.

Despite a guaranteed income of at least £30m a year and actual revenues of more than £70m in their last published accounts – heaven only knows what the next figures will reveal – Portsmouth could end the week going cap in hand to the courts to avoid liquidation.

But regardless of whether Portsmouth end the week in the hands of the administrator, their travails are a miserable reflection on the Premier League brand. Events at Meadow Lane, where Notts County have fallen prey to owners just as preposterous as some of those at Portsmouth, are proof that farce is not confined to Fratton Park, but it is not supposed to happen in the richest league in the world.

Richard Scudamore and his colleagues at Gloucester Place are not responsible for the club's position – that took serial incompetence and a failure to live up to promises by a succession of owners – but Portsmouth's fate poses them a major challenge.

It is a bitter irony that while Portsmouth's administration will tarnish the League's lustre, it is the least bad option. It is the logical flip side of a League in which there are no limits on spending and few on where the money comes from. If Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan is allowed to enrich Manchester City then Sulaiman Al-Fahim and his successors have to be allowed to impoverish Pompey.

The League argues that the club's fate is an aberration, but to prove it a tightening of the regulations is a necessity. The process has already begun, although too late to catch Pompey's fall. From next month all clubs will have to provide the League with financial forecasts, showing that they have a sustainable plan to take the club forward. If they don't the League has the power to step in.

The new rules were informed by unfolding events at Portsmouth last season, and officials believe that had they been in force earlier they would have gone a long way to arresting the club's decline.

There will be a fresh debate too on how money is invested in clubs, with an overdue examination of reliance on proprietor loans. What won't change is the basic philosophy of encouraging investors to chance their arm and fund genuine competition.

While the League addresses its future, questions also need to be asked of the men who took Portsmouth to the brink. At the moment Balram Chainrai looks like the fall guy left standing when the music stopped, but only administration will tell how smart he has been, and questions about his links to previous owners and the Gaydamak family remain unanswered.

At the very least he, and the hapless chorus line of owners, advisers and investors who helped take the club down, owe their supporters an apology.

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