Spurs and that £1m Portsmouth bill - ex-Chelsea and Bournemouth keeper Asmir Begovic reveals truth behind controversial Fratton Park exit

Pompey sold Asmir Begovic against his wishes. Yet his destination would not be dictated.

Thursday, 28th January 2021, 5:15 pm
Asmir Begovic made 17 appearances for Pompey before joining Stoke in controversial circumstances in February 2010. Picture: Tony Marshall

What unfolded was a Spurs demand of £1m for a player they never owned – and a 22-month wrangle to make the Blues pay.

The goalkeeper’s curious February 2010 deadline day departure remains a source of bemusement among the Fratton faithful to this very day.

With the club plummeting towards administration, Daniel Azougy had negotiated the 22-year-old’s sale in a double transfer with Younes Kaboul to Harry Redknapp’s Spurs.

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Yet Begovic left his White Hart Lane medical to instead sign for Stoke.

The humble keeper retains a genuine bond with the club which launched his footballing pathway as a 16-year-old, progressing to Pompey’s first-team and amassing 17 first-team appearances.

Yet his Fratton Park career is forever defined by that controversial exit.

Begovic told The News: ‘I didn’t want to leave Pompey. I was playing regular Premier League football, I was in a great environment, we’d had our first child and just moved into our first home.

Asmir Begovic is now enjoying his fourth season with Bournemouth after joining them in the summer of 2017. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images

‘Working with Dave Coles, I was pushing, pushing, pushing to keep progressing. Then bigger things took over. It wasn’t that I wanted to go – I had to go.

‘I had done really well in the first-team and was 22 at the time. If you’re playing in the Premier League at that age, you become a big potential asset.

‘Considering the financial trouble the club was going through, when January came around I understood I was probably going to be sold some way, somehow.

‘I don’t know all the ins and outs of what was happening at Pompey, but we knew two or three of us had to be sold to bring in enough funds for the club to survive.

Liverpool go close to scoring against Asmir Begovic in their shock 2-0 Fratton Park defeat in December 2009. Picture: Barry Zee

‘It was made known to my agent that money had to be brought in and the bigger assets needed to go. It was business, I guess at the time I was one of the prized assets.

‘My daughter, Taylor, had been born in St Mary’s Hospital in August 2009, while just before that my wife and I had brought a home in Bursledon.

‘The location was ideal considering training was at Eastleigh. It was a nice area for us to try to put some roots down – but that got turned upside down very quickly.

‘It was a Thursday, we were having a team lunch, when I received a phone call telling me a bid had been accepted for myself and Younes Kaboul from Spurs. My medical was the following morning.

Asmir Begovic retains a close affiliation to first club Pompey. Here he pays a visit to Fratton Park in February 2019 for the Blues' clash with Bristol Rovers. Picture: Robin Jones/Digital South.

‘I had to pack a bag and head up to London to stay in a hotel that evening. All I could say was “Okay”. It happened incredibly fast.

‘I was leaving Pompey, I didn’t have a choice. But I made sure I had a say in where my next step took me. It was vital I made the right decision.

‘I chose Stoke instead.’

It represented the second occasion Spurs missed out on Begovic.

In the summer of 2003, as a highly-regarded 16-year-old, the keeper left his home in Edmonton, Canada, for a month-long trial in England.

Begovic was scheduled to spend the first two weeks with newly-crowned Premier League side Pompey – then the next fortnight with Spurs.

He never made it to his White Hart Lane trial, instead remaining with the Blues for six-and-a-half years during which he established himself as one of the most sought-after young keepers in the country.

Begovic added: ‘The first few days of training with Pompey were good, while I also played in a friendly match. I must have impressed, I was quickly offered a contract.

‘The message was: “Yes, we’ll give you this deal, but you now can’t go to Spurs on trial”. I told them no problem and spent the full month at Fratton Park. I didn’t think twice, I was living the dream.

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‘That was awesome for me, one of the best decisions I ever made. At Pompey I was given an opportunity to develop, people taught me responsibility right away, and I was presented with a chance to progress.

‘At the age of 16-17, I was playing for Pompey’s under-19s and training with the first-team regularly, working alongside the likes of Shaka Hislop and Harald Wapenaar.

‘Would you get that at other clubs? Maybe, maybe not. But the fact that I was able to train with some of the best players in the country, facing that kind of pressure straight away, helped me progress.

‘People along the way were really supportive and expected good things. You want to be the best, one of the best in the world. That might be ambitious, but you have to aim big and aspire.

‘For me, that environment at Pompey couldn’t have been any better.

‘Dave Hurst, the head of youth recruitment, is an unbelievable person, while the landlady of my digs in Powerscourt Road in North End, Janet Hallon, became a second mother. I’m still in touch with both.

‘As I got older, I had loan spells away from Fratton Park, but always wanted to become a Pompey regular. I was regularly knocking on Harry Redknapp’s door and later, when Paul Hart came in, I told him “I want to play, I want to play”.

‘Ipswich manager Roy Keane called, so I went there on loan and absolutely loved every minute of it, progressing to the next level of possibly being Premier League-ready.

‘After six weeks, I was sat in the office with Roy Keane and we were both a bit devastated. David James was injured and I had to go back to Fratton Park. It was a bitter-sweet moment.

‘Yet this was my chance to make a name for myself in the Premier League.’

Returning to Fratton Park in November 2009, Begovic shone while starting 11 of Pompey’s next 12 fixtures in all competitions.

Then, with the January 2010 transfer window nearing its end, Spurs targeted pulling off a double deal with team-mate Kaboul.

Begovic was earmarked to compete with first choice Heurelho Gomes and ex-West Ham man Jimmy Walker, with back-up keeper Carlo Cudicini sidelined after breaking both wrists in a motorbike accident.

However, he angered the Spurs hierarchy by instead favouring Stoke, landing Pompey with a £1m bill.

Spurs later clarified the strange situation in a statement: ‘Our original agreement with Portsmouth was for the purchase of two players for a combined, agreed price.

‘The transfer of Younes Kaboul was completed and Portsmouth pressed for an immediate payment to alleviate their cash flow situation. We were assured that the transfer of Begovic would be completed before the end of the transfer window.

‘To assist Portsmouth with their financial difficulties, we paid them an agreed sum of money, whilst at the same time concluding an agreement that, should Begovic be sold or loaned to any club other than ourselves, we would be repaid the sum of £1m.’

Pompey, who entered administration within 26 days of Begovic’s £3.25m sale to Stoke, subsequently refused to pay.

The stalemate would not be resolved until November 2011. Just two weeks before a Premier League arbitration panel was to sit, an undisclosed settlement was reached.

Begovic went on to appear 172 times for Stoke, scored against Southampton, won the Premier League with Chelsea, featured in the 2014 World Cup finals with Bosnia and Herzegovina, spent a loan spell with AC Milan and is presently with Bournemouth.

Now aged 33, he added: ‘While Younes thought Spurs was the right move for him, it wasn’t for myself.

‘My old Pompey boss Harry Redknapp was manager, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be too big a step. I definitely wasn’t convinced whether I’d play regularly and get that chance to develop.

‘I had played 11 games in the Premier League, which wasn’t a huge sample size, and wanted to do a bit more before making the next big step. That’s why I felt Stoke was the better move for me at the time.

‘It was about progressing my career and making the best out of my abilities and talents. I felt Stoke was the best move for me to continue to play.

‘It worked out incredibly well, too. Going to the right club, having the right manager and being with the right people – those things were bigger than being at Tottenham, Manchester United or whoever.

‘I came very, very close to joining Spurs. I’d been sold to them, so carried out a medical, but had never agreed a contract, which was the next step.

‘While I was doing the medical, things were kind of kicking off. It was coming to the end of the transfer window, other options started coming up. I stood my ground – I believed Stoke was the best for me, my family and my career.

‘My Spurs medical was booked all day, ideally I would sign at the end of it. Then, during it, I told them: “Listen, I’m going to go away and think about this”.

‘We hadn’t agreed on terms of my contract. I just needed time to step away from everything, it was all a bit fast.

‘You have all this time to make transfers, but you get to the end of the window and people want to rush everything through. It was a pretty mad few days.

‘To be fair, I told them the next morning, on the Saturday. They weren’t pleased, they thought the deal was going to get done, but I had a young family and couldn’t just make a decision on a whim.

‘Harry didn’t take it great. I was appreciative of the interest – but I did what I thought was the best thing for me. He wasn’t too pleased, yet we are still friends today.

‘You can only make decisions based on what you know at that time and what you think is best. You examine the information you have and try to be as logical as possible.

‘Regardless, you never truly know how it will turn out, there are no guarantees on anything.

‘I left war-torn Bosnia at the age of four and was a refugee a couple of times in my life, I have never taken anything for granted. My only dream was to be a professional goalkeeper and play at the highest level.

‘After turning down Spurs, I’m lucky things worked out.’

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