THE USUAL SUSPECT
English football officials are unlikely to intervene in the £30 million takeover of Portsmouth by the son of a Russian billionaire, but the central involvement of Pini Zahavi, the Israeli-based agent, will not have gone unnoticed at a time when the unregulated influence of middle men is under investigation by Uefa, European football’s governing body.
Zahavi represents players including Rio Ferdinand but is gaining increasing power in the English game by brokering big deals such as the £140 million takeover of Chelsea by Roman Abramovich in July 2003.
He subsequently played a key role in taking Peter Kenyon from Manchester United to become Chelsea’s chief executive and luring José Mourinho from FC Porto before helping Abramovich to spend more than £150 million in the transfer market. It is the bulging contacts book of the former sports journalist and his hand in some of the biggest transfer deals in the Premiership that have earned him the moniker of “ Football’s Mr Fixit”.
This time he appears to have fixed it for another rich Russian to buy his way into English football by introducing Alexandre Gaydamak to Milan Mandaric, the Portsmouth chairman, who has agreed to sell half the club for £15 million.
Gaydamak’s acquisition and talk of a possible £100 million transfer fund has raised questions because of the business dealings of his father, Arcadi. The 52-year-old is subject to an international arrest warrant in connection with a £350 million arms-for-oil scandal in Angola in 1994, although he insists his involvement was legitimate.
Gaydamak Sr, the owner of Beitar Jerusalem, has been at pains to emphasise the Portsmouth deal is his son’s private project. Zahavi has underlined the point. “I was working with Alexandre on the takeover at Portsmouth but Arcadi had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Under Premier League rules, all directors of football clubs are required to declare that they have not been convicted of any illegal activities such as fraud, insider dealing or deception, nor have they led clubs into bankruptcy. However, this “fit and proper persons” rule does not extend to owners, nor is it possible to assess the indirect influence of others on board members.
Harry Redknapp, for his part, said he would not get over-excited by a huge transfer budget. The Portsmouth manager also said he had never sought assurances from Mandaric about his own position.
Even before news of his strengthened resources, Redknapp was looking for players. One target was Emmanuel Olisadebe, the Panathinaikos striker, who recently had a trial at Fratton Park. As his agent is Zahavi, a deal should present no problem.