Wage bill is Fratton ‘legacy issue’ that just won’t go away

LAWRENCE MURPHY: A worthy alternative to roasties?

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The term ‘legacy issue’ became something of a buzz word of the David Lampitt era.

Undeniably, Pompey’s former chief executive had a very valid point.

The misjudgement of his predecessors formed a millstone around the club’s neck as it attempted to stagger back on its feet.

Then, Lampitt created his very own legacy issues.

As a result, his Fratton Park tenure will continue to dictate the direction of the football club long after his departure.

Certainly, when it comes to the wage bill.

Debentures can be argued over, administration protocol can be disputed, creditors can lose thousands upon thousands of pounds – yet the highest earners at Pompey remain untouchable.

Not even the salt of administration can loosen the grip of such opulent contracts.

Of course, excessive player wages have long been the curse of the modern game.

Not so much fear of failure but fear of a lack of success drives clubs into the open arms of footballers and agents.

The result is clubs swimming in debt at a time when those employed to play the game are richer than ever before.

Thanks to the football creditors’ rule, not even administration can break such a poisonous cycle.

Such contracts are protected, as Pompey fans are only too aware of.

Tal Ben Haim has been dragged through two administrations, coming out the other side still clutching a contract worth more than £30,000 a week.

Not his fault. It was others who rubber-stamped such terms and handed over the golden pen to use.

Or in this case, Peter Storrie. What a legacy issue that has been.

The former chief executive will never be forgiven by Pompey fans for the £36,000-a-week four-year deal he dished out to Ben Haim in the summer of 2009.

At the time, then-manager Paul Hart was desperate for players to reverse a dreadful start to the Premier League campaign.

A certain Sulaiman Al Fahim was also on the scene as the newly-installed owner promised untold riches.

Such benevolence never occurred – and Pompey have been paying the price on such contracts ever since.

Regardless of what division the Blues find themselves in next season, the wage bill continues to cripple.

At present, it comes in at around £12.5m annually – of which Ben Haim is earning approximately £1.8m.

Forget there being natural wastage come the summer – just three contracts will expire.

Of those, first-team regulars Jamie Ashdown and Ricardo Rocha are not excessive earners.

The other is Benjani, who, by all accounts, is earning a pretty penny for what has been a disappointing second spell at Fratton Park.

Don’t expect him to be around for next season. Both football and finances will dictate that.

As for Ashdown and Rocha, they are key performers and are likely to have a future at Fratton Park. That is providing the price is right.

So much for slashing the wage bill – 13 players are still contracted for at least another 12 months.

Among them are Liam Lawrence, Erik Huseklepp and Hayden Mullins.

The trio have departed the south coast for loan spells until the end of the season.

Their current clubs possess an option to buy, certainly not a concrete certainty of a purchase.

Irrespective, the trio are expected to return in the summer after temporarily easing the wage burden.

Those contracted also include Kanu, who is bound to the Blues for another year.

The veteran striker’s last appearance was as a substitute against Ipswich on October 18.

They are wages the club can ill-afford to keep funding, especially for another year.

Trevor Birch has spoken of how he is aiming to reduce the annual outlay to £5-6m.

The administrator considers such actions as essential in prolonging the club’s life and attracting potential owners.

In truth, come the summer, he could barely be halfway there.

The club are currently exploring the possibility of cancelling several players’ contracts.

It is a laborious process which must be mutually agreed.

But even then, compensation would have to be paid to the player concerned.

Not a cheap option, more a cheaper option.

It is one which was explored in the past with Ben Haim and his agent Pini Zahavi, but nothing came to fruition.

Similarly, under Lampitt and Balram Chainrai, the Israeli international had his pay stopped, while there were attempts to prevent him training.

Ultimately, upon the threat of legal action, Ben Haim had his wages reinstated and backdated on the eve of the current season.

Convers Sports Initiatives (CSI) paid this legacy issue. In turn, the debt was put against the club.

All players’ contracts are actually covered by a collective bargaining agreement with the PFA and the Football League.

This works over and above employment law.

If such contracts are broken by the club, no law has been betrayed.

Instead, the club faces losing its membership of the Football League.

They represent a raft of guidelines which rigorously protect the player.

Others can be bent slightly, such as the decree that a club must always provide training facilities with the team.

It is not specified what team that is, hence players at times being asked to train with the youth squad.

Players also cannot be differentiated from – they are not allowed to be treated any differently.

One Football League club this season reportedly fined a player two weeks wages for not turning the shower off when last in.

He was accused of wasting water and costing the club money.

It was a coincidence, of course, that the club was desperate to hasten the exit of the same player.

Their defence for apparently singling him out?

All players will subsequently be fined if they commit the same showering crime.

Other attempts alleged to have been used to engineer his departure included issuing a fine for having his top button undone and punishing him for eating fish and chips instead of healthy food.

Extreme measures, granted. Nonetheless, they can be hugely effective, if morally not sitting quite right.

Inevitably, such an approach would incur the wrath of the PFA, a conflict the vast majority of clubs would seek to avoid.

So it’s back playing to the rules and honouring contracts clubs simply cannot afford.

The legacy issues which keep on destroying.