You’d have thought that even the publicity junkie that is Sulaiman Al-Fahim would keep as low a profile as possible, after his dismal, embarrassing failures at Portsmouth, but no. Having done a round of self-justificatory chats with the UK press, who didn’t balk at pointing out the flaws in every argument he put forward, he returned to the happier, compliant hunting ground of the Arabic press for his latest lecture to the masses. The London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat, which prides itself on “conducting in-depth interviews with prominent and influential people alike,” stretched its definition of “prominent and influential” to accommodate Al-Fahim last week. The interview courted immediate controversy with news that new Pompey owner Ali Al-Faraj was unhappy with Fahim’s comments about Israeli additions to the playing and managerial staff (Tel Ben Haim and Avram Grant respectively).
The Sun even suggested that Al-Faraj was taking legal advice on whether to suspend Fahim, an enterprise with which he deserves every good fortune. And it quoted a “source close to” the elusive new owner saying that Fahim was only made chairman “because he was in tears about losing the club” – an image which delights a little more than it should. There was, however, much else to gape at in the interview – a more overbearing re-write of history than usual, Fahim positioning himself as a shrewd investor who has come out of his time at Portsmouth with huge profits and an equally huge slice of real estate.
Foreign interest in Portsmouth, as opposed to other “bigger” Premier League clubs, has long centred on valuable land around Fratton Park. Well, apparently that’s all Fahim’s now, which, as he acknowledges, “is something nobody has paid attention to or spoken about”. It would indeed be a startling omission from media coverage of Fahim’s demise, if it were true. The suggestion from most reports was that the land was effectively owned by Sacha Gaydamak (remember him?), who was prepared to include the land in the sale if Fahim could cover all the club’s debts. Given that Fahim couldn’t even cover the club’s wages by the end of September, and that Gaydamak is still a director of the company that owned the land, it seems unlikely that the land is now the “Al-Fahim Group’s”, as Fahim claims.
Even by Fahim’s standards, though, this is stretching the truth somewhat. The land is vital for the Fratton Park redevelopment which is seen as fundamental to the club’s whole future. And he would have to be a delusional fantasist far beyond previous estimates to lie about that. Even the most cynical of cynics (of which I am a paid-up member) can’t be sure he would. It will also be news to many that Fahim “saw…an opportunity to sell for an excellent profit” when he gave up 90% of the club. He told Arabian Business that “to say I sold my shares for £1 would actually be an exaggeration. It was for zero.” But the truth this week is: “I sold 90% of the club’s shares for £70m”. His inquisitor, Mohammed Basneed, said “we know that you bought Portsmouth for £60m,” which Fahim wasn’t in a hurry to correct. Perhaps Fahim was simply comparing the level of debt he took on in August, with the level of debt he passed on two months later.
He says elsewhere in the interview that “Portsmouth’s debt oscillates between £60 and £70m”, so maybe that is what he meant. In which case, his claim to have “gained excellent revenue”, one paragraph later, doesn’t quite ring true, and his comment that, “the deal (to sell Portsmouth) led to my biggest profit over the last few years” could, given the problems that he has had “over the last few years” with Hydra Properties (problems which remain), be among his least fanciful. It’s certainly more credible than his comment that, “£60-70m” is “not considered large debt”, which would be re-assuring news for Pompey fans if it wasn’t complete nonsense and wasn’t if it wasn’t accompanied by his assertion that “the financial value of the players is over £60m”, which may have been true before Crouch left…and Johnson…and Distin…and Kranjcar…and… well, you get the message.
Fahim even finds time to regurgitate his old lie about being a “UN Goodwill Ambassador” when asked obsequiously how he manages to “juggle” all his interests, but you have to hope that his comments about Ben Haim and Grant are equally…er…’misleading’. Particularly disturbing is Fahim’s suggestion that he “sent an e-mail to the board after receiving many phone calls” about the Israeli’s appointments, the implication being that there were not only complaints that Israelis were being hired but also that Fahim was prepared to take them up with the new owners.
Fahim is anxious to stress that “I was against selling the Algerian Nadir Belhaj” (even after his display at Villa?), that “I helped to obtain citizenship for Hassan Yebda” and re-iterated his well-documented interest in bringing Wigan’s most popular Egyptian, Amr Zaki to Pompey. This, in an interview with a pan-Arab newspaper, is fair enough. Siding with complaints that Portsmouth have re-hired a previously successful director of football because he’s Israeli is not. Most of Fahim’s tales are tragic-comic. This is altogether more sinister. I know Fahim seems like ‘old hat’. I wish he were. But, old hat or not, he remains “fit and proper” to run a football club, and unless or until that changes, he must continue to be exposed.