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Portsmouth and Newcastle Find Short-Term Prospects Hampered by Takeover Talks

Both clubs are hoping new owners will revive their fortunes. But while negotiations continue to eat into the summer transfer window, the short-term impact could be more negative than positive…

Uncertainty at both clubs is beginning to affect the players (Photo: Getty)

Uncertainty at both clubs is beginning to affect the players (Photo: Getty)

In general, a takeover brings positive results to the football club involved.

Transfer budgets and ambitions are increased, as a new chairman comes in and approves the purchase of expensive new signings who invariably help the team to dramatically improved league positions.

But, by the same token, a takeover can bring many problems to a previously stable club. If a takeover drags on and takes a while to complete — particularly during the vitally important summer months, where fresh talent must be recruited for the new campaign — it can spell disaster for a club’s short-term prospects.

That is the fear that currently grips Premiership club Portsmouth, and recently relegated Championship outfit Newcastle United.

While Newcastle seemed to be paralysed by owner Mike Ashley’s failure to sell the club this summer, Dr. Sulaiman Al-Fahim’s protracted negotiations over the purchase of Portsmouth have resulted in the South Coast club losing a lot of ground in the transfer window.    

Star player Glen Johnson has already moved to Liverpool in the transfer window, with the £17 million fee helping to alleviate the club’s existing financial concerns — concerns held over by the outgoing regime.

The right-back’s move has also gone some way to assuaging Al-Fahim’s fears about the economic integrity of the club he proposes to buy, as the Middle East-based businessman finally completed due diligence of the club yesterday.

“The formal application for the fit and proper person test has been submitted to the Premier League and it is with them now,” said Ivo Ilic Gabara, Al-Fahim’s spokesman, after announcing due diligence had been completed. “The buying party, Fahim Associates, are now doing the final commercial assessment following the due diligence process.”

As the takeover looks nearer to completion, there are nonetheless huge concerns about the immediate future of the 2008 FA Cup winners. No new signings have been made this summer, and even a full-time manager (Paul Hart is currently in caretaker charge) is still to be appointed.

Important players, like Sol Campbell, are out of contract and as a result of the ongoing ownership changes, negotiations have yet to be opened.

“Who knows who is going to be there as manager,” said Campbell this week. “Is Paul Hart going to stay or is someone else coming in? No one has a clue. The fans are fantastic, but I really worry about the club.

“Glen Johnson has gone and there could be a couple of others going, so it’s difficult. There’s uncertainty, and that’s not the best thing for a football club. Hopefully, they can sort it out before the start of the season, because you can’t have this carrying on into the new season.”

With the new season just over a month away, Al-Fahim will have to move quickly to ensure his first year of ownership does not end in a potentially crippling relegation.

If, as looks likely, he wishes to appoint a new manager (Roberto Mancini has reportedly already met Al-Fahim once this summer), then any appointment will have little time to come in, identify areas of the squad that need strengthening, and approach potential targets.

With the summer transfer window closing in less than two months, and the club currently only possessing 15 senior outfield players, that will not be an easy task.

Al-Fahim will have to move even quicker to retain key players the club already possesses. Assuring the likes of Campbell that Fratton Park is still the best place for them to ply their trade will be a vital, if difficult, first task.

“I want the best environment for me for at least the next two years. Play football, stability and no mucking around,” Campbell said. “I have to get the right package and make sure that the chairman, the manager, it’s all proper. Where Portsmouth moves on from here, I don’t know. It really depends on who comes in and at what capacity they come in.”

Almost 400 miles north of Portsmouth, Newcastle are struggling with similar uncertainty, one magnified by the club’s relegation from the Premiership.

Chairman Mike Ashley, who has enjoyed a torrid reign since buying the then debt-ridden club for £135 million in 2007, has so far been unable to sell the club, despite setting a reduced asking price of £100 million.

While there are many interested parties, most seem deterred by Newcastle’s poor finances — a direct result of their relegation. Consequently, Ashley might reluctantly find himself still in possession of the club when the new season kicks off on August 8.

“The process [of finding a buyer] is moving extremely slowly, there is still genuine hope of a sale but it’s not looking imminent,” said a club source close to negotiations this week. “Newcastle comes with a lot of baggage.”

While £100 million would prove a reasonable fee if Newcastle were to bounce straight back into the Premiership, the yearly wage bill — believed to be around £65 million — would cause great difficulties if the club was to endure a prolonged stay in England’s second tier, a league not renowned for its accessible exits. 

“The fear is we could end up in a worse financial mess than Leeds did,” admitted the source.

Like at Portsmouth, the situation has already begun to affect the players. While some, like defender Habib Beye, have publicly pledged themselves to the cause, many others have already gone to the media in a bid to express their concerns about the lack of activity on Tyneside.

“We would prefer to know whether Mike Ashley is going to keep [Newcastle] or someone else is coming in,” said the midfielder Kevin Nolan, a man who might have been expected to lead Newcastle’s promotion charge. “In the next week we certainly want to know what is going to happen. This situation is unfair on the players and the staff.”

Shearer: Like everyone else, just wants to know what is going on...

Shearer: Like everyone else, just wants to know what is going on...

Like Portsmouth, Newcastle do not currently have a permanent manager in place, a situation that has rather hampered the club’s footballing activity.

Club idol Alan Shearer oversaw the last eight games of last season, but wishes to wait before the outcome of all takeover talks before committing himself to the new season.

In the meantime, no new players have arrived at St. James’ Park.

With high-earners such as Obafemi Martins, Fabrizio Collocini and Jonas Guttierrez likely to leave before the summer is out — and an out-of-contract Michael Owen having already moved to Manchester United — many fans feel signings will have to be made if the Magpies are to get out of the Championship at the first time of asking.

With the start of the Football League season under four weeks away, Shearer — or whoever else gets handed what might prove a poisoned chalice — will have very little time to integrate new players into the squad.

“At this moment the football club is dying a slow, painful death,” said goalkeeper Steve Harper. “At the moment the club isn’t rebuilding, it’s in a state of limbo and that is no good for anyone.”

Both Newcastle and Portsmouth started the summer with high hopes that a takeover would reinvigorate their aspirations. But with most of that period now passed, and takeovers still to be concluded, many fans must now be wondering whether such a prolonged phase of uncertainty will end up doing both club’s short-term prospects more harm than good.




July 14, 2009 - Posted by | Sport, World Football | ,

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