Birch: Time to clear the decks

Trevor Birch
Trevor Birch

Trevor Birch has made the first moves to wrestle Pompey’s wage bill under control.

And he is adamant the outcome will dictate whether the club has a future in its existing form.

The administrator has this week met Blues players in his long-standing drive to slash the annual £12m wage bill built up during the CSI regime.

This summer will see the contracts of three players come to a natural end – Jamie Ashdown, Ricardo Rocha and Benjani.

It is understood that will effectively reduce the payroll to £10.5m.

In addition, around four players have wage-reduction clauses in their contract following relegation.

However, with 14 of Michael Appleton’s squad contracted beyond this summer, Birch is embroiled in a major fight to reduce the figures substantially.

It will be a tough ask to bring wages down to the £5m figure he feels is realistic for a League One club.

As it stands, Birch believes the towering player salaries are scaring off parties interested in making a Pompey bid.

The News understands there are six players earning more than £15,000 a week, of which Tal Ben Haim is the only one collecting more than £20,000 a week.

Birch considers that unsustainable for a Championship club, let alone one pencilled in to play in League One.

And he is certain the wages are behind the lack of ownership progress since Pompey entered administration on February 17.

Birch said: ‘The fans are mentally prepared and ready to try to start League One with a clean sheet. It is time to clear the decks.

‘That’s where my work starts. I am now speaking to players and trying to move them out.

‘The timescale is incredibly tight, matters must move swiftly if I am to make this club more attractive to prospective buyers.

‘I have made no secret of the problem with the existing wage bill. It is a matter of fact.

‘Relegation on Saturday has effectively given me an extra week to approach players and try to find resolutions to their contracts. Talks have started in earnest and options include leaving by mutual consent.

‘I cannot emphasise how quickly we have to move on this. Players will have to leave.’

Recently, Pompey received £690,000 in loan fees for Erik Huseklepp, Liam Lawrence, Stephen Henderson and Hayden Mullins.

That ensured the club’s payroll was reduced by £205,000 a month.

However, Huseklepp, Lawrence and Mullins will all return when the season is over, resuming their existing deals.

As for Henderson, he will join West Ham permanently when the transfer window opens on Saturday, June 9.

To their immense credit, the majority of Pompey’s players and backroom staff have also had 25-per-cent of their salaries deferred.

The gross value of the monthly deferrals is £450,000. However, as football creditors, they will eventually receive those monies.

Ending contracts by mutual consent represents the best option to deal with players the club cannot afford to keep.

Talks have already been held with Kanu over the final 12 months of his deal, with the player having not featured since October.

Negotiations with others have now also started during this crucial period before money purportedly runs out at the end of May.

Birch knows only too well the attractiveness of Pompey as a business to any interest party hinges on savaging that wage bill.