Something To Believe In

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 08 October 2009

Neville Dalton is a journalist and a Portsmouth fan of more than 40 years

Surely without exception we are all celebrating the arrival of a new owner at Fratton Park.

Yet we know nothing about him.

Ali Al Faraj appears to be one of the most "unknown" alleged billionaires in the world. We don't know anything about the man, his background, how he made his money - or indeed how much money he has.

Yet we are all so desperately relieved that the club has evaded administration and looks to be back on the straight and narrow that we'll take him, whoever he is!

I suppose we just have to trust that the club has done the right thing. Trust the judgment of Peter Storrie and the Pompey board.

Let's face it, it's not that long ago that what seemed to be vast numbers of Pompey supporters were decrying the man who had ostensibly been at the helm as the Good Ship Pompey headed for the financial rocks.

One of the biggest complaints about Peter Storrie was the vague nature of some of his statements, not to mention the misinformation peddled on occasion about the nature of some of our signings which turned out to be temporary rather than permanent.

Yet, as I've mentioned before, for all his faults (perceived and actual) Mr Storrie transformed the character of the way Pompey did business, with other clubs, players and indeed the fans.

There can be little doubt how invaluable his contacts and business nous have proved in recent months as he spearheaded the fight to keep Pompey afloat, calling in favours and persuading creditors not to call in theirs, to buy the club precious time that all those involved in the takeover saga seemed determined to squander.

Yep, there are a few burned bridges to be rebuilt and fences to be mended - once the creditors are paid off.

But it is vital that Mr S and his new employer do not use commercial and personal privacy as excuses for not keeping the fans better informed of Pompey's progress in the future.

We're taking an awful lot on trust when it comes to assessing the new owner. Only weeks ago, the majority of Pompey fans seemed happy to do just that with Sulaiman Al Fahim because of their desperation to believe that everything would be all right in the end.

Well, maybe it will be. But I'd rather be reassured by fact and evidence than blind hope.

Mr Storrie has been admirably open in recent times, spearheading the meetings with fans that Mr Fahim promised (and just about delivered on), and in my view more importantly, shooting from the hip in the live fans' forum broadcast on Radio Solent a couple of months back, to give us all our first clear indication of the depth of the club's plight.

Let's hope he continues along that route, advising his publicity-shy new boss that while we don't want a Rent-a-Gob Arab shouting all sorts of promises from the rooftops of the Middle East media, it would put everyone at ease to be kept suitably informed of pertinent details, such as his business background; an idea of his true wealth and financial commitment to the club; the basis on which he is meeting our incredible debts and his realistic vision for the future of the club.

Devil

It appears that may have begun as I write, with statements on the club's official website, outlining the proposed way ahead.

And I like what it says about stable foundations and addressing its financial structure.

All is better with the world of the Pompey fan this week, but call me a sceptic: I'd just like to be confident it's going to last this time.

Let's face it, we're all eager to embrace Mr Faraj as the saviour of Portsmouth Football Club, but at the moment we have no choice but to.

He appeared to be the only person who could save Pompey from possible oblivion - and almost certainly administration - and he has done just that.

Any devil was better than the combined devil of Gaydamak and Fahim.

But what more do we now know? Are we still in debt to somebody who could pull the plug at any time?

Are we refinancing our debts over a longer period or are we clearing them so that effectively we start with a clean slate?

And if we do, presumably that means our new saviour is supplying the cash. Does that mean we are in debt to him?

I seem to remember Mr Storrie telling us that the massive debts revealed in our accounts last year were "Sasha's debts". That didn't stop him trying to claw back every penny from the club, irrespective of what it might do to it.

I'm not doubting Mr Faraj for a moment. Indeed, I welcome his arrival, as I suggested when the Fahim deal was finally limping to fruition.

And if he is willing to plough some of his reported fortune into the club, let's hope he does indeed make a better fist of it than some of his predecessors, and ensures the new structure has sounder foundations.

And while on the subject of Mr Faraj's millions, let's not get carried away by talk of Premier League survival (not to mention David James' cracking joke about setting our sights on European qualification - nice one, Jamo!).

All the money in the world can't buy back a massive points deficit, and despite Pompey's excellent result at Wolves last week, it would take a brave man to predict that the club won't be cast adrift from those clinging to the Premier League lifeboats come January.

The reality is that Mr Faraj is likely to kick off his first full season as Pompey owner in the Championship - unless Paul Hart pulls off a miracle that would surpass any of those of his predecessor.

I have to say, on recent evidence, Hart is doing an excellent job, introducing a degree of adventure and attacking purpose to the side, while gradually eradicating some of the gaping holes that are Pompey's defence and defensive midfield.

Whatever else he achieves, he has demonstrated that the players he has signed (and those very few left that he inherited) are giving their all for him, playing with passion and commitment that provide a ready-made case for forgiveness if the results don't always quite match up to the 1-0 win over mighty Wolves.

Should he remain the man to steer Pompey's future course? Well, as I said recently, I certainly don't see the point in changing managers now.

It's his team; the players are playing for him. And whether you like them or not, rate them or not, nothing can be changed before January.

Ironically, Hart's prospects of survival may diminish with his level of success: if Pompey really are in with a shout of staying up by the New Year, it's conceivable Mr Faraj will throw a blank cheque at the challenge and appoint a manager with a more successful track record to identify the players required and get them playing the game that will be needed to survive.

If they are - as I fear - adrift by then, there would seem little point ploughing another Pompey fortune into buying a virtual new team so soon after assembling the current one, only to have to reassess in the summer, when a promotion challenge may be the new target.

In any case, unless he pays the sort of extravagant transfer fees, agents' fees (don't forget those in view of who some of our biggest creditors are) and salaries, what big names are really going to relish playing out the current season in a team so far behind even the mediocrity of the Premier League?

And have we not already learned that particular lesson about misplaced spending sprees?

Mind you, I reserve the right to change my view on this if Mr H shows the slightest sign of reverting to his tactics of last season when he glimpses the tantalising prospect of holding on for a 0-0 draw!

But surely even he can see that we're going to be playing Catch Up for the rest of this season, and draws of any kind won't do us much good in that respect. And another memo to Paul: we have a lot of goal difference to make up, so no good sitting on narrow leads, either.

Not that it looks like Mr F has any intention of changing the manager: not only has the club stated that the new owner is happy to have Hart in place, but his appointment of Avram Grant as director of football immediately narrows the choice of potential replacement anyway.

I think that despite his regard for the former Chelsea boss, the appointment torpedoes once and for all any prospect of Harry Redknapp returning for a third spell at the club.

It will also rule out most eminent coaches who pride themselves on running things their way.

It may well leave the door open for a foreign coach, most of whom are more used to the two-tier management structure. But we've all seen how even top foreign coaches (Luis Felipe Scolari, anyone?) do not always hit the ground running among the English elite.

Which leaves one likely scenario in the event that Hart does fall by the wayside: that Grant himself lands in the Pompey hot seat.

But that's for another day.

Today let's be thankful that we have a club and hope that this time round, the dream of a settled structure and quality team really does become a reality.

Portsmouth Match Reports

Sky Bet League One Sat 21st October 15:00

Blackburn Rovers 3 - 0 Portsmouth

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