What reaching Championship will reveal about Portsmouth’s owners

The dream scenario is euphoric end-of-season scenes at Fratton Park on May 4.

Wednesday, 16th January 2019, 12:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 5:18 pm
Michael Eisner addresses shareholders at the Pompey Supporters' Trust meeting in 2017. Picture: Neil Marshall

A place in the Championship being celebrated on the final day against Accrington is how we all want to round off a campaign we now have big hopes for.

It would also mark the start of the biggest challenge to face this club on the pitch in approaching a decade.

And it will also reveal the levels to which Pompey’s owners are willing to accelerate the growth of their club.

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Michael Eisner addresses shareholders at the Pompey Supporters' Trust meeting in 2017. Picture: Neil Marshall

When Michael Eisner made his pitch to fans at the Guildhall in May 2017 ahead of his takeover, his angle was clear.

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‘If you want someone to come in and throw everything at it straight away and promise the Premier League tomorrow then I’m not your guy, don’t vote for me,’ the club’s chairman said of a strategy which won overwhelming support among the club’s shareholders in Pompey’s meaningful vote.

Eisner proved a better judge than Theresa May when assessing his audience, though, with few looking for an owner to bulldoze their way through the leagues given past events.

But there’s no doubt the level of competition Pompey would face now in the second tier is more akin to much of what they went up against when they were last in the game’s top flight in 2010, leaving as its first incumbents to fall into administration.

Certainly the upper echelons of the Championship now justify its Premier League 2 label, with the money being routinely splashed there underlining that moniker.

Which leads us to the length Pompey’s owners would need to loosen the purse strings to make the club competitive there.

The Championship is the place, according to the most recent figures for the 2016-17 season, where wages can reach £80m.

That was the amount splashed by Newcastle to deliver a Premier League return.

Norwich, didn’t fair so well, however, with a wage bill of £55m as they finished eighth. As for Aston Villa, they came home 13th with a £61m wage bill. That’s £61m to finish 13th, for those who didn’t think they read that correctly.

It may have since risen a fair bit, but the last known figure for Pompey’s playing budget was £3.2m last summer.

These mind-boggling figures serve as a sobering reminder of the rocket-fuelled clubs Pompey will be aiming to compete with.

Fortunately for the trio mentioned above, all three were in receipt of parachute payments after being relegated the previous season.

But it’s those safety-net payments which are really increasing the gradient of the Championship mountain Pompey are hoping to climb.

In recent seasons, as many as 10 sides competing at that level have been in receipt of the £90m given after relegation, which is spread over three years.

Some studies have valued that kind of monstrous leg-up as worth five points a season on the rest of the field. The research here has been based on no more than looking at those numbers, but that seems conservative.

But, even coming from the other direction, the figures are light years ahead of the level Pompey are currently operating at.

Blackburn’s travails in recent years have been well documented after arriving in League One with debts topping £100m.

They have now got their house in order after their return to the Championship last season, but with a purported top earner on around £17,000-a-week - which is viewed as prudent - it’s still in a different stratosphere to Pompey’s equivalent.

Taking a second to consider the numbers makes the environment the Blues are aspiring to reach a daunting one in which to operate.

After six years of being the big fish, they currently rate as tadpoles when measured against the financial muscle of the next level.

It’s a mind-set Kenny Jackett is steadfastly refusing to engage in, however, from his vantage point right now.

There is a case for arguing the leap between the Premier League and Championship, traditionally viewed as the biggest gap in quality between divisions, is now being matched by the developing chasm between League One and the next level.

Jackett doesn’t feel it’s a challenge to be feared, though.

‘Our approach is to maximise what we have all the time,’ Jackett said on how he could make Pompey punch above their weight. ‘We do think we’re pretty good at that.

‘While I don’t think we’re going to blow things away budget-wise, we do want to be competitive as well.

‘We will aim to be that both in terms of the club and the squad.

‘Whenever you step up a level you can’t be frightened of it.

‘My experience is you get a certain amount of momentum you go into a new league, and you have to use that momentum and do your work behind to make sure you are strong enough.

‘You have a certain period where your momentum and positivity will take you forward.

‘Then you have to be working behind the scenes all of the time to make sure you are genuinely good enough.’

There, of course, has been some precedent in recent seasons for those who’ve swam with the Championship sharks and beaten them to the Premier League feeding ground.

Huddersfield pulled off a shock to reach the top flight via the play-offs two years ago.

They did so by spending a ‘mere’ £21m on wages, a figure which placed them joint 13th in their division’s spending table.

It’s perhaps the Terriers’ approach which offers a blueprint for the current regime at Pompey, and and sets the bar for the levels of spending the club should aspire to.

Although, viewed as fiscally-responsible policy, the Huddersfield model still represents a vast leap from where the Blues currently stand.

Which takes us back to the Guildhall two year ago, and the 1,825 shareholders who agreed to sell after hearing what Eisner had to say to them.

Many did so in the knowledge it realistically would have been impossible for Pompey to compete in the Championship wholly as a community club.

The task for the current regime is to make that happen under their auspices for those people.