LONDON — Under normal circumstances Portsmouth would enjoy the neutral backing in Saturday’s F.A. Cup final against Chelsea.
It is the mother of all underdogs, a relegated team playing the champion whose enormous wealth — or as Arsene Wenger put it “the financial doping” of Roman Abramovich — inevitably brings jealousy.
In Avram Grant, Portsmouth has a likable, respected manager who was savagely booted out by Chelsea despite coming within a whisker of leading them to the Premier League title and Champions League glory two years ago.
The reason neutrals are reluctant to throw their support behind Portsmouth is because it has debts of £138 million and the club is in administration.
In other words, it has been cheating, buying players it could not afford, not paying all the fees, not even paying the players’ wages while owing dozens of companies millions of pounds.
Other clubs live within their income; Portsmouth has lived wildly beyond its.
It is a final where many supporters would like both teams to lose.
A succession of owners has come and gone at Fratton Park, the debts continuing to mount despite a profit of almost £100 million on players sold. No one can explain how Portsmouth has managed to achieve such debts and we will probably never know.
Oh and nobody, it seems, is to blame.
On the other hand, Chelsea still makes it difficult to like it.
Carlo Ancelotti has transformed the Blues into a goal machine, scoring a record 103 in winning the title.
Frank Lampard is a player who comes along once in a generation, a midfielder who has scored at least 20 goals in each of the last five seasons.
But the behavior of some players, notably John Terry, Didier Drogba (if you looked up “petulant” in the dictionary it should have his photo there) and Ashley Cole has attracted not so much column inches, but column miles of criticism. Chelsea must be respected, yet there is invariably a “but” somewhere.
Chelsea is heading toward a league and F.A. Cup double — the first in its history — which used to make teams immortal, having been achieved just six times in 105 years. Yet what many would call the dreary dominance of a few clubs means Chelsea will make it five times in 14 years if it can beat Portsmouth. Another day, another trophy.
For Portsmouth, not even winning the cup for the second time in three years could lift the mood of a debt-ridden club that owes £1 million to Tottenham over a transfer of Asmir Bvergovic that never actually happened or has somehow contrived to still owe Sylvain Distin (now at Everton) £338,000 in wages.
Any Wembley glory will soon be tempered by Grant’s likely departure to West Ham and a summer fire sale where any decent or probably half-decent offer for a player will be accepted by the administrator.
Statistics, logic and just about everything points to a Chelsea win. In its seven seasons of Premier League football, the clubs have met 14 times with Chelsea winning 13 and one draw. Not a single Portsmouth player would get into the Chelsea team.
Yet Portsmouth beat Spurs in the semifinals against similar odds and go into the final with belief. Perhaps so much has happened to the club that fear and most emotions have been battered out of them. The Portsmouth players retain a confidence they can upset the odds — Chelsea is 11-1 to win.
If nothing else, the £1 million bonus for winning the cup will reduce Portsmouth’s debts by 1/138th.
FABIO CAPELLO, the man who could do nothing wrong, has not had a good week.
His ill-conceived Capello Index, where the England manager planned to rank players’ performances on line during the World Cup finals, was predictably put on the back-burner after unanimous media criticism and pressure from the Football Association.
How Capello ever thought marking his players out of 100 after games could be a good idea begs belief.
What would it do for team-spirit if a player knows he has been given low marks by the manager?
Capello’s initial squad of 30 included five players he has never seen during his 22 games in charge — Jamie Carragher, Ledley King, Michael Dawson, Scott Parker and Adam Johnson.
Capello has used 42 different players yet still felt he had to talk three players out of international retirement — Carragher (successfully), Paul Schoes (who hasn’t played for England since 2004) and Wayne Bridge (unsuccessfully).
It promises to be an interesting buildup to the finals.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.