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Thursday, January 5, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: January 9, 10:41 AM UK
Mandaric's moral maze

Phil Holland

You're a Portsmouth fan. It's not been a great season. In fact it's not been a great 18 months, and the only thing you've got to look forward to is a long fight to avoid relegation. Happy New Year.

Then, as if from nowhere, a millionaire appears amid reports of a new stadium and the offer of £100 million to spend on transfers.

The question is do you want this man's money? Of course you do.

But who is this wonderful new benefactor? Where did he come from? Where did he get his money from? And why on Earth does he want to give his cash to Portsmouth?

Well, the millionaire in question is 30-year-old Alexandre Gaydamak, apparently a man of considerable means, but about whom little is actually known.

A French citizen with business interests in Israel and Russia, Gaydamak has lived in the UK for some time where he is understood to have made his fortune from banking and real estate.

So far so good, nothing in that brief résumé to make a Portsmouth fan feel uncomfortable and certainly nothing to make one think the Premier League's 'fit and proper person test' would be anything other than a formality.

Let us move on, then, to Alexandre's father; 52-year-old Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian-born billionaire businessman with Angolan, Canadian, French, Israeli and Russian passports.

Arkady made his fortune in France, having arrived there in the early 1970s. However, he was forced to flee in 2000 when French magistrates issued a warrant for his arrest relating to arms-for-oil deals with Angola. Since then he is understood to have divided his time between Tel Aviv and Moscow. More recently Arkady was questioned by Israeli police in connection with allegations of money laundering; allegations like those pertaining to the Angolan affair that Arkady has denied.

Arkady is also something of a philanthropist, contributing generously to a variety of charitable organisations in Israel, including those linked to the Arab community, and he is also the president of the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organisations of Russia, keen as he is to champion his Russian and Jewish heritage. Oh, and he has a right-wing political party which will run in Israel's general elections in March.

Interestingly, Arkady last year became involved in football, buying a 50 per cent stake in Beitar Jerusalem; some newspapers insist he is a big football fan, while others suggest his interest in the game is exaggerated and his real motive for involvement is related more to status and politics than sport.

Nevertheless, Arkady Gaydamak is adamant that he has absolutely no part in his son's move to buy 50 per cent of Portsmouth from Milan Mandaric in a deal valued at £15 million.

Which brings us to everyone's favourite self-styled 'super agent' Pini Zahavi, a man never too far away a from multi-million pound deal of one kind or another and the reason Alexandre has become so enamoured with Portsmouth.

This is the same Pini Zahavi who brokered Roman Abramovich's takeover of Chelsea, presided over Rio Ferdinand's protracted contract negotiations with Manchester United and arranged the controversial 'meeting' between Ashley Cole and Chelsea head honchos Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon, who incidentally Zahavi was equally instrumental in uprooting from FC Porto and Manchester United respectively.

Neither father nor son has had much to say about the Portsmouth deal in the days since it became public knowledge, but one of the few quotes attributed to Arkady, other than to insist that he is not involved, was the unnerving claim that his son regarded the investment in Portsmouth as a property deal.

Despite the fact that Gaydamak Jnr has done no wrong, and that there is no reason that any of the denied allegations levelled at Gaydamak Snr should have any bearing on his son's business dealings, mud sticks and Porstmouth fans could be forgiven for feeling a little worried.

So, the question again, as a Portsmouth, fan would you want this man's money? Not as easy this time is it?

Luckily for mere fans a moral maze is not theirs to plot a course through, but Milan Mandaric's, and rightly or wrongly he has already agreed the deal, no doubt swayed by the twin lure of big money and security for his club.

All that remains for the deal to be finalised is the formality of Gaydamak Jnr passing the Premiership's fit and proper person test; little more than a declaration that he has never been convicted of, among other things, fraud and theft.

Although this test is better than nothing critics argue that it is far from a fearsome deterrent and should be made far more exacting, which seems sensible given that Alexandre Gaydamak is about to assume joint control of Portsmouth despite almost nothing being known of his background, businees acumen or wherewithal and, of course, the existence of serious accusations and controversy surrounding his father.

Talk of transfer funds, a new stadium and a 'Pompey Village' development plan sound grand and forward-minded, and money to strengthen the squad is always welcome, but is it all too good to be true?

Mandaric must tread carefully if he is to retain his position in the affections of the Pompey faithful. While he is rightly credited with the club's ascension to the limelight of the Premier League, and out of the shadow of Southampton, his legacy is under threat.

The perfect scenario sees Mandaric bringing in a megabucks benefactor as joint owner thereby securing the club's Premiership status this season and financial future in the years to come. Played out to its natural conclusion perhaps Mandaric would eventually relinquish his remaining holding at the club before walking off into the sunset, assured of a warm welcome on his every return to Fratton Park having left the club in safe, cash-rich hands.

A less idyllic scenario could see Mandaric, turning ill-advisedly in a time of desperation to a megabucks benefactor who may not have the club's long-term best interests at heart.

Moral dilemmas never used to play such a big part of football, did they?

  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Phil Holland.

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