Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look back at a few of English football’s fallen giants. And, as we’re on an international break, it seems only fair to start with perhaps the biggest demise of all; Portsmouth Football Club.
Just six years ago, Portsmouth were riding high in both the Premier League and the UEFA Cup. Now, they sit towards the summit in League Two, the fourth tier of English football. What has happened in between is worth an essay in itself. However, for now, we’ll focus in on the better times. Portsmouth heroes of yesteryear; where are they now?
Name: David James
The Glory Years: After a topsy-turvy career littered with mistakes and gaffs, David James finally found his spiritual home in Portsmouth. The former Liverpool and Manchester City goalkeeper signed for Pompey in the summer of 2006 for a bargain fee of around £1.25 million. In his first five games for the club, James made his intentions clear – keeping five clean sheets in the process. By the end of the 2006-2007 season, he was rewarded for his impressive displays with the “Player of the Year” title. James’ impressive form allowed him to reclaim the England number one jersey and, by 2008, he was one of the first names on the team sheet. In 2009, a Times poll named James as the 15th greatest Portsmouth player.
Where is he now? You could never describe David James as a dull man. Whether it’s dying his hair bleach blonde, wearing sandals on a cold day or declaring for bankruptcy, James is never far away from the media spotlight. After a spell player-managing Kerala Blasters in the newly formed Indian Super league, James hung up his boots and took them to auction – literally. In 2014, James had to declare for bankruptcy, due in part to a messy divorce from his wife. The all time “clean sheet” record holder is now back on track in his role as a pundit for BT Sport.
The Glory Years: “Feed the Yak, feed the Yak, feed the Yak and he will score”. While he’ll always deny it, Harry Redknapp was, and perhaps still is, the ultimate wheeler dealer. In January 2003, he plucked unknown forward, Yakubu, out of thin air – Maccabi Haifa to be precise – and within weeks, the big Nigerian forward had a cult following. In just 14 games for Pompey, loan star Yakubu chipped in with seven crucial goals – the very goals needed to lift the club into the Premier League. Unsurprisingly, Redknapp opted to make the Yak’s loan move permanent in the summer of 2003 for a fee of around £4 million. The gamble paid off. Over the next two seasons, Yakubu established himself as one of the leading marksmen in the league.
Where is he now? Yakubu is now 32 and plying his trade in the Turkish SuperLiga for Kayserispor. As mentioned above, the powerful forward’s form for Portsmouth meant that, by the mid 2000s, he was one of the hottest properties in the Premier League, and Middlesbrough decided to stump up the £7.5 million needed for his signature in the summer of 2005. Just a year later, he was playing in a UEFA Cup final. Moves to Everton, Leicester and – most recently – Reading followed for the experienced Nigerian international. His nickname and status will live on for generations.
Name: Peter Crouch
The Glory Years: Crouch actually had two spells with Portsmouth, but he’s probably more remembered for his second spell. In July 2008, Portsmouth were in search of a marksman to partner the lethal Jermain Defoe. And, who better than one of the tallest striker to ever grace the game? At this point in time, Crouch was struggling to cement his place in the Liverpool starting line up. A fee of £11 million was agreed by the two sides and the following day, Crouch passed his medical. Crouch and Defoe quickly established themselves as the ultimate double act and, in their first season together, they managed to chip in with 19 Premier League goals. However, the love affair was short lived and Redknapp’s departure to Tottenham Hotspur meant that a move for his golden boys seemed inevitable. One of the most exciting partnerships in Premier League history was over before it had properly begun.
Where is he now? Despite reaching the grand old age of 34, Crouch is still trooping on in the Premier League with Stoke City. While he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, Crouch has scored goals at every level of the game. He has one of the best scoring rates for England – at almost one in every two games – and has cemented his legacy as the ultimate robot dancer.
Name: Sol Campbell
The Glory Years: Sol Campbell was one of the finest English defenders of his generation. He had been named in the PFA “Team of the Year” on three separate occasions and formed the spine of Arsenal’s infamous ‘invincibles’ side. After helping the Gunners to the 2006 Champions League final, Campbell released a statement saying that he needed a new challenge. Despite interest from European giants, Juventus, Campbell opted to stay in England and join an ever-improving Portsmouth side. Within a year, Campbell had been named club captain. He captained the side to a 1-0 victory over Cardiff in the 2008 FA Cup final.
Where is he now? Campbell was recently in the headlines after he announced his intention to run for the London mayoral position. The strongly Conservative representative believed his position in the public eye would help his chances. However, he was not named in the Conservative party’s final four. In terms of his Portsmouth career, Campbell left the club shortly after financial difficulties began to take hold. He had a disastrous spell with League Two side, Notts County, before finishing his career with Newcastle. And, despite making 73 appearances for England, Campbell believes he would have been named as the captain had he not been black.
Name: Kevin-Prince Boateng
The Glory Years: When Portsmouth decided to take the gamble on the former wonder boy, Boateng, many in the media were sceptical. Would the ‘prince’ deliver on the main stage after years of ineffective and disinterested performances? Boateng signed for the club in August 2009 for a fee of around £3 million. And, despite Portsmouth’s eventual relegation to the Championship, Boateng’s performances were a joy to behold. In just one season with the club, Boateng helped Pompey to an FA Cup final against Chelsea. In terms of natural ability, he proved to be one of the finest players to put on the shirt.
Where is he now? Boateng’s off-the-field antics ultimately outweighed his obvious talents on the pitch. At the end of the 2014-2015 season, Boateng and his teammate, Sidney Sam, were suspended by their club, Schalke, for poor behaviour. He was expected to move on before the summer transfer window ended but failed to secure a move to Portuguese giants, Sporting Lisbon. Boateng probably had his best spell between 2010 and 2014 with European giants, AC Milan.
Name: Sulley Muntari
The Glory Years: Portsmouth pulled off one of the coups of 2007 when they announced the club-record signing of Sulley Muntari. The combative Udinese midfielder was one of the most exciting prospects in the Italian Serie A and his £7 million signing came as a huge shock to many in the media. While he was only with the club for a year, Muntari left a huge legacy behind. His powerful shooting ability and overall coverage of the pitch meant that he quickly became one of the most feared midfielders in the league. Unfortunately for Portsmouth, Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho began sniffing around and bought Muntari for around £12 million.
Where is he now? The 31-year-old is currently playing for Ittihad FC in the Saudi Premier League. After leaving Portsmouth, he went on to win the Champions League and Italian Serie A with Inter Milan. After four years with Inter, Muntari made the unusual switch across the city to AC Milan where he stayed until 2015.
Name: Benjani Mwaruwari
The Glory Years: Sorry Harry, but it’s another case of the Redknapp wheeler dealer-ism I’m afraid. In the summer of 2005, Portsmouth signed a seemingly unknown Zimbabwean forward from Ligue One side Auxerre. Mwaruwari – or Benjani to his friends – was a £4.1 million signing with a lot to prove. And, after failing to score in his first 14 Premier League games, the deal seemed to have backfired. However, despite drawing blanks, Benjani’s work rate and sheer enthusiasm for the game quickly established him as a cult figure at Fratton Park. By the 2007-2008 season, Benjani’s gun was finally loaded and, by January, he had an impressive total of 12 Premier League goals. Manchester City were sniffing…
Where is he now? 37-year-old Benjani now plies his trade in the South African Premier League with Bidvest Wits FC. In terms of his Portsmouth career, Benjani left shortly after Manchester City’s interest became public. On transfer deadline day 2008, he signed for a fee of close to £8 million. However, his goalscoring form did not continue and he struggled to compete with Manchester City’s expensive striking options. In 2011, he returned to Portsmouth but couldn’t inspire his old side back to the top-flight. He remains as a cult Premier League legend.