Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Portsmouth takes on rich Russian co-owner

AP , PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND

Russian banking tycoon Alexandre Gaydamak took over as co-owner of struggling Portsmouth on Friday and shrugged off allegations that he and his father, Arkady, had a murky business background.

Gaydamak faced the British media after Portsmouth confirmed he was teaming up with chairman Milan Mandaric and most of the questions were about his family's business record.

Arkady Gaydamak, billionaire owner of Israel's Beitar soccer club and Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, is under investigation in Israel for alleged money laundering, which he denies.

His son told reporters at a news conference at Fratton Park that his father had nothing to do with his own involvement with Portsmouth, which reportedly cost him ?15 million (21.75 million euros).

"Portsmouth Football Club is a business I am investing in," Alexandre Gaydamak said. "There is no relationship between my father and the football club.

"It is my money from 10 years of working. It is completely my money from working in finance and real estate."

Portsmouth, which is second from last in the Premier League, hopes that Gaydamak's arrival will provide the club with the money to buy some top players and get the team out of relegation trouble.

Although Pompey fans hope that he is another version of Roman Abramovich, who has invested ?300 million (435 million euros) in transforming Chelsea into a wealthy title-winning club, Gaydamak dismissed suggestions that he could do the same.

"Roman Abramovich and I are completely different people," he said. "In fact I feel uncomfortable being compared to him.

"He is big and I am small by comparison. We are in a different league. He is at Chelsea doing his thing and I will be at Portsmouth doing mine.

"I see myself as a person who found an opportunity and a very strong challenge, not a savior. You think I'm the savior? That is a joke."

But Portsmouth has begun to spend some of his money.

After Polish striker Emmanuel Olisadebe joined the club on a six-month contract from Panathinaikos, Pompey announced the signing of another forward, Benjani Mwaruwari, from French club Auxerre, subject to a work permit being issued. The fee for the Zimbabwe international striker will be a club record ?4.1 million (5.9 million euros).

Thierry Henry dismissed speculation about a move to FC Barcelona by saying he will stay with Arsenal next season, according to an English tabloid.

There has been months of speculation that the French striker might leave the Gunners after six seasons, and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reacted to questions on Friday by saying he was confident Henry wasn't secretly negotiating a move.

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