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Feb 25, 2009

On the lookout for a bargain

Surely it's a sign of the times when ex-footballers are lining up bids to buy Premier League football clubs, something we've become accustomed to only being the preserve of billionaires.

Looking to upset the balance is former Tottenham Hotspur defender Ramon Vega as he tries to prise Portsmouth from the weakening grip of current owner Alexandre Gaydamak.

Rather than opening a pub - as cliché dictated was the route for retired players a few decades back - since hanging up his boots in 2003 Vega, a Swiss national of Spanish decent, has been rather more ambitious in choosing to move into the world of property development and high finance.

It is through the 37-year-old's Mayfair-based VS Investment Group that he has tabled a bid for Portsmouth. Gaydamak is understood to have turned down the offer, but asked Vega to return with improved terms. And now a standoff is in the offing.

Vega does not intend to increase his offer knowing that 32-year-old Gaydamak is desperate to sell and that the club's finances and league position mean a premium price cannot be demanded. Similarly Gaydamak will feel that Vega is seeking to exploit the current market to acquire a unique and potentially highly valuable asset at a bargain basement price.

Vega is believed to have offered to buy the club for debt, thereby wiping out Pompey's £40m liability, which is primarily held with the South African Standard Bank.

However, two sticking points have emerged. The first being that Gaydamak, who has pumped in around £25m of his own money since taking over in 2006, wants more than the small amount for his shares than Vega has offered; and secondly reports suggest that Vega failed to prove the existence of the necessary finances when asked to do so and suggested the club's cash should be used to pay back money owed to Gaydamak.

Gaydamak, who bought Portsmouth for £32m, claims to have turned down previous offers for the club fearing that the suitors in question did not have Pompey's long-term best interests at heart.

Perhaps he has similar doubts over Vega, but does Gaydamak still have the stomach to steer the club and search for a suitable successor?

Despite last season's FA Cup win Gaydamak has grown disillusioned with football, not least because of Portsmouth's mounting losses, which are understood to have reached £60m since he took over.

With Pompey by no means safe from relegation in 16th place in the Premier League and as custodians of dilapidated stadium (with planning permission for a new home not yet lodged), it takes an active imagination and a sturdy pair of rose-tinted glasses to paint the club in an attractive light.

But thanks to his background in finance and property, it is possible Vega sees potential in Portsmouth as a unique fixer-upper opportunity.


Football could be just days away from radical changes, some for the better and some that could leave the game open to accusations of selling its soul.

Later this week the International FA Board, which acts as the custodian of the game's laws, will meet to discuss a raft of proposals to improve the game. One of the most controversial suggestions on the agenda is the possibility of extending half-time from 15 to 20 minutes.

It has been suggested that FIFA president Sepp Blatter is in favour of the move as it would allow more time to sell advertising during televised games. Another explanation has been that it would allow teams more time to get to and from the pitch, which it is claimed is taking longer and longer in an age of cavernous stadiums - indeed, it might have helped Kolo Toure and William Gallas arrive on time for Arsenal in their Champions League clash with Roma.

One of these explanations is distasteful, the other ridiculous. Tampering with the timings of the game to such an extent would be an act of gross indecency; especially if it were adopted for commercial gain or as an excuse for poorly designed stadia.

Also on the agenda are the far more palatable introduction of sin bins for certain yellow card offences, a fourth substitution for use in games that go to extra-time, doubling the number of referee's assistants (linesmen to you an me) and strict new rules to colour code gloves, leggings, baselayers and any other undershirts so they match the colour of the team's kit.

Any decisions will again bring into question the composition of the IFAB which, thanks to their historical role in the game, grants the FAs from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland a key role in shaping football's laws.

FIFA has four votes on the board and the four other FAs have one each, which, understandably, has led FIFA's other 204 member associations to question why they are unrepresented. Though FIFA argues that for a motion to be accepted, a three-quarters majority is needed from all FIFA members.

The IFAB meets once a year to discuss existing rules and consider the adoption of new ones and there have been mistakes in the past; gold and silver goals proved to be unpopular and were later abandoned by the board.

According to FIFA, the IFAB's role as the guardian of football's laws is to ''preserve the original seeds on which the football has blossomed so spectacularly.''

That being the case let us hope that the IFAB continues to do just that and avoids the temptation to genetically modify the game.


FIFA appear to be on track to meet their objective of selling out every 2010 World Cup game after receiving over 300,000 online ticket applications within 48 hours for their first tranche of 740,000 tickets going on sale last Friday.

Bucking the global recession and having 100% attendance will be an impressive feat, particularly given the negative publicity surrounding stadium construction and fears over security for the event.

In total there are 3m tickets available for the 64 World Cup games taking place at 10 stadiums in nine cities across South Africa. Of that 3m, around half will be sold to the public, beginning with the initial 740,000 during a first sales phase that runs until April 15.

(The remaining 1.5m will be divided between sponsors, hospitality rights holders, TV rights holders, local organisers and FIFA member associations, while in a gesture of goodwill FIFA will give away 120,000 tickets to those from impoverished parts of South Africa.)

If, as expected there are more applicants than available tickets, names will be drawn at a random. A further 570,000 tickets will be made available later this year to fans of qualified countries, while 344,000 can be bought through official tour operators.

But before you get your hopes up it is worth remembering that for the 2006 World Cup in Germany there were 20m requests during the first sales phase for 750,000 available tickets.

FIFA's pricing strategy is crucial to its hopes of selling out, and with the cheapest tickets for the group stage games coming in at just $20 the world governing body could have got the balance right.

For the opening game, tickets will range from $70 to $450, group-stage tickets are priced from $20 to $160, tickets for the knockout rounds are available from $50 to $600, while tickets to the final start at $150 and peak at $900.

Those lucky fans to get their hands on a ticket will not actually get their hands on their tickets until April 2010 when they can be printed at special ATMs in South Africa.

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