Alexandre Gaydamak, who has all but completed the sale of Portsmouth to a Dubai investor, has admitted that his three-year flirtation with the Premier League will leave him with a financial hole in his pocket.
Warning that buyers will need strong nerves at top-flight football clubs, the Franco-Russian businessman described his tenure at Fratton Park as “enriching”, though in a life-affirming rather than a financial sense. “I turned out much worse off,” Mr Gaydamak said of his net position following the sale of Portsmouth to Sulaiman Al-Fahim. “It turned out not to be a good commercial transaction.”
He declined to reveal the price he extracted from Al-Fahim Asia Associates, the company owned by Mr Al-Fahim, who will be the 100 per cent owner of Portsmouth.
The Dubai investor takes on a club that is sitting at the foot of the table following Portsmouth’s weekend defeat at home to Manchester City – its free-spending Premier League rival controlled by Abu Dhabi investors whose £200m purchase Mr Al-Fahim helped broker a year ago.
Mr Gaydamak is thought to have been looking for £60m for the club he took over in the summer of 2006 when he bought out Milan Mandaric, the former chairman, for £30m.
Portsmouth, which was in danger of relegation when Mr Gaydamak arrived at the south coast club, spent heavily in the transfer market in the months following his takeover, helping the club win the FA Cup last year and he drew up plans for a new stadium.
But with a soaring wage bill, the south coast club has been forced to retrench this year, selling off players regularly.
Mr Gaydamak, whose businesses include property and a Moscow brokerage, told the Financial Times that he had no regrets about his dalliance with Premier League football and was “very happy to move on”.
“I couldn’t stay on,” said Mr Gaydamak. “I couldn’t provide the investment needed. You have to dedicate a lot of time and it was very hard to concentrate on other businesses.”
Last year, Mr Gaydamak told the FT that he had no particular desire to become a football club owner but that doing so had given him opportunities.
He described Mr Al-Fahim as an owner with big ambitions and one “in a position to deliver on them”.
As for the football sector in general, Mr Gaydamak said it was an “interesting type of animal” but one which had limited sources of income. “You can make money out of a Premier League club but it depends on the circumstances of the shareholders,” he said.
It was impossible to tell whether even the best financially run clubs made any money out of the game, he said. “Everybody tries to put [football] into a box with a financial model. It is completely unpredictable,” said Mr Gaydamak.
While it might be easier to make a return on Championship clubs by driving revenue, with Premier League clubs the returns are best realised at the point of exit, he said.
Asked if he would recommend club ownership to others, he said: “I would recommend it very strongly – if you have the nerve.”
Portsmouth insiders said Mr Al-Fahim is inheriting debt of less than a quarter of Portsmouth’s turnover, which was £70m at the end of the 2008-09 season.
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