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Jun 17, 2009

Al-Fahim interest failing to quash doubts

It's fair to say it's been something of a rollercoaster season for Portsmouth fans with highs, lows and dramatic, hair-raising turns.

After winning the FA Cup and qualifying for the UEFA Cup the good times dried-up when Harry Redknapp jumped ship in October. The popular manager's departure resulted in a collapse in form and an alarming slide down the league table. Then owner Alexandre Gaydamak compounded the anxiety by announcing that he would not be putting any more money into the club, was shelving plans for a new stadium and was looking for a buyer.

But thankfully for the Fratton Park faithful the season ended brightly; a week after the end of the season, and with their Premier League status assured, Gaydamak revealed that he'd found someone willing to takeover, and not just anyone, but a billionaire.

News of investor Sulaiman al-Fahim's interest in Portsmouth was exactly the tonic the fans needed after an arduous campaign. All of a sudden uncertainty gave way to calm and optimism thanks to the promise of well-heeled security.

It seems though, that being a Pompey fan is not that straightforward. No sooner had the United Arab Emirates businessman and his reported £60m bid been accepted than problems surfaced and the takeover deal appeared to have stalled.

The official line from the club is that the deal remains in place and any perceived delay is caused by nothing more serious than the prudent completion of due diligence.

However, uncertainty appears to have given cold feet to those Pompey players dreaming of the World Cup next summer. Reports suggest that Glen Johnson is on his way out with Liverpool ready to seal the right-back's signature, while Peter Crouch has called on the club for assurances about the squad, the manager and the new owner before he inks a new deal.

The Portsmouth takeover has become mired in controversy with reports of connections between Al Fahim and senior figures at Manchester City, allegations that former City owner Thaksin Shinawatra is amongst unnamed investors helping to fund the bid and that Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards is somehow involved.

The first link with Manchester City stems from the fact that Al Fahim was, for a time, the public face of the Abu Dhabi United Group that took control at Eastlands last summer. The second link focuses on Hydra Properties, a company which Al Fahim is the chief executive of, but which is also part of the Royal Group, a body of companies chaired by the brother of City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed.

Alongside the newly bulked-up fit and proper persons test, the Premier League's rules governing takeovers state that no two clubs can be owned by the same controlling interest and anyone who owns more than 10% of a club must be disclosed to the league must satisfy the same requirements and stipulations.

Al Fahim has insisted that he is the only party involved in the offer for Portsmouth which is being tabled through his own investment company, Al Fahim Asia Associates. And for good measure Al Fahim is adamant that he does not own any shares in Hydra Properties.

Spokespeople for Al Fahim have bemoaned misleading coverage of the 32-year-old property developer and insist that he has no problem with meeting the Premier League's disclosure requirements. Whether there's any truth in the rumours or not, it seems the old adage of no smoke without fire appears to be having a negative effect on the club and on Al Fahim.

Understandably the Premier League are very suspicious of any takeover that could have links with Shinawatra who caused the league considerable embarrassment during his time in charge at City; that he had been accused of fraud and human rights abuses and still passed the fit and proper persons test made a mockery of the process.

The fact that the former Thai Prime Minister now lives in exile from his homeland after receiving a two-year sentence over corruption charges means that he is even less palatable to the league than ever before.

Shinawatra has done his best to distance himself from the Portsmouth deal, issuing a statement in which he admitted being to a ''close friend'' of Al Fahim after meeting him as part of the Abu Dhabi United Group's takeover at City and to giving him advice about taking over a club, but insisted: ''I have nothing to do with Portsmouth FC in any shape or form. It isn't me, it never has been.''

An emphatic denial from Shinawatra, but the Premier League are sure to want to see the paperwork relating to Al Fahim's company to ensure that there are no skeletons lurking out of sight and no surprise shareholders ready to emerge at Pompey once a deal is done.

Then there are the reports that suggested Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards could be involved in the takeover deal as an advisor. Given his role with the league this would obviously be a considerable conflict of interest.

There has been suggestion that he acted as a middleman between Al Fahim and Shinawatra and met Al Fahim at the recent Champions League final in order to get a measure of the man, by way of his own fit and proper test. The Premier League insist their chairman has had no role in the deal on offer at Portsmouth, but again, that has not stopped the rumours.

Amid all the conjecture Al Fahim has remained positive and resolute in his determination to complete the purchase of Portsmouth. He insists that there is no delay, that he is sole investor involved in the deal and that he has no problem meeting any of the criteria the Premier League put before him in order to complete his takeover.

However, one thing counting against Al Fahim is that the timeframe set for the completion - no more specific than 'sometime in July' - is so vague that it has added fuel to the flames of suspicion rather than settling the nerves of fans desperate for news of stable future.

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