Portsmouth were given a stay of execution yesterday as they were granted a further a week to fight a winding-up petition. The club faced court proceedings over a multi-million-pound unpaid tax bill after talks with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) failed.
Peter Storrie, the club's chief executive, said Pompey are hopeful of finding a new owner - which would be their fifth of the season - and the bill could then be paid. The case will now be heard by a judge on a date after February 19 which has yet to be fixed. Court registrar Christine Derrett, however, said she feared the club would continue to be in business building up more debts that could not be paid.
"I am very concerned about the financial status of this company," she said. "It seems to me there's a very real risk that this company is undoubtedly trading while it is insolvent. "I'm obviously conscious that, by making a winding-up order, it would have very severe consequences not only for the company as a business but for the supporters themselves, but that's not a consideration that I strictly take into account."
Portsmouth have a Valued Added Tax (VAT) bill of £7.4 million (Dh42.6m) which they are disputing with HMRC. The club also owes £4.7m in unpaid taxes and National Insurance, which were not part of yesterday's proceedings Nigel Hood, representing the club, said Balram Chainrai, the new owner, would run the company until it was financially stable and then sell it on to someone who wanted to "operate the business as a football club". He said any move to force the club to wind up would have "very serious consequences".
The south coast side said they have received two serious offers to buy the club and pay off its debts, without revealing the names of the interested parties. Portsmouth are bottom of the Premier League and six points from safety after Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Sunderland. "This club needs to stay alive," said the manager Avram Grant after the game. "That is more important than football. It [the club] is 112-years-old. It is a traditional English club and in these circumstances I am doing everything to keep this club alive, but I cannot do it alone.
"I don't know about the financial situation but we are trying to fight and keep it." Things have gone drastically downhill since Portsmouth won the FA Cup in May 2008. They have spent heavily on players, increasing the debts at Fratton Park. The club was in serious trouble last August when Sacha Gaydamak eventually sold his majority stake to the Emirati businessman Sulaiman al Fahim. But his ownership lasted less than six weeks after failing to re-finance the club and pay the players' wages on time.
A subsequent takeover by Ali al Faraj, a Saudi Arabian businessman, was portrayed as being necessary to rescue Pompey, but the club still struggled to pay off outstanding monies to rival teams as well as their tax bill. Portsmouth were banned from buying players on permanent deals in last month's transfer window, and any funds raised from player sales was taken by the Premier League to pass on to clubs still owed money.
Hong Kong-based Chainrai took over the club last week in a move that he described as a short-term arrangement to protect his investment after becoming frustrated when several deadlines were missed to pay back some of the money he had lent the club. Elsewhere,Barcelona have denied reports that they are interested in signing the Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, who began his career with the Spanish club.
"Given the exceptional repercussions created by the stories that have appeared in different media with respect to an agreement with Arsenal FC player Cesc Fabregas, Barca flatly deny that there have been any negotiations or agreements with the player," said a club statement. Fabregas has long been linked with a move back to Catalunya, where he spent six years as a youth-team player before joining Arsenal in 2003. The 22-year-old Spain midfielder is enjoying an excellent season, scoring 11 Premier League goals this term.
Standard Liege striker Milan Jovanovic claimed yesterday he has agreed terms to join Liverpool. The 28-year-old's current deal with the Belgian club expires in the summer and he is free to sign a pre-contract agreement with any foreign side. Liverpool have always led the chase for the Serbia international despite speculation last week that he was in advanced negotiations with the Spanish club Valencia.
"We have reached an agreement for three years, with the option to extend for another season," said Jovanovic. "I have yet to undergo a medical exam, but that shouldn't be a problem. "I don't have any physical problems and I'm feeling perfectly fit. "I opted to sign for Liverpool because they're one of the biggest teams around in Europe. They're definitely among the 10 biggest sides." * With agencies