The administrator at Portsmouth has warned that the 2008 FA Cup winners may be "two weeks" away from liquidation with eight senior players still no closer to agreeing settlements on their contracts.
Pompey were deducted 10 points when they returned into administration last season and were relegated to League One, where they will begin with a further 10-point penalty. Their season starts with a derby against Bournemouth on 18 August, though the administrator, Trevor Birch, told members of the SOS Pompey supporters' group that liquidation is close and the club are "not crying wolf".
The manager, Michael Appleton, technically still has a squad of 12 players of whom eight are seniors who must be moved from the books or accept significant pay cuts if the takeover offer on the table, from the former owner Balram Chainrai, is to be accepted. Birch has implemented a £5,000-a-week salary cap at Fratton Park in an attempt to prolong the club's existence – the excess money owed would be paid at a later date if liquidation is avoided – but long-term progress would require players such as Tal Ben Haim, who earns £36,000-a-week, accepting a compromise or completing a move elsewhere.
Five of the senior players being asked to move on or accept a cut were greeted by members of SOS Pompey at the club's Eastleigh training ground on Monday morning where the fans attempted to hand over an open letter. David Norris, Greg Halford and Erik Huseklepp accepted the letter, while Dave Kitson, having initially thought the group were journalists, later re-emerged from the training centre to apologise and speak with supporters and take the letter. Ben Haim, who apparently also thought the fans were media, did not stop.
Of the other three players, Luke Varney is close to a £300,000 move to Leeds United – that fee will go to Derby County, who are still owed money from the striker's move to the south coast – while Liam Lawrence was absent for family reasons. Nwankwo Kanu is in Nigeria but has formally lodged a claim for £3m in back pay with Pompey. "Kanu has served the club notice that he wants to leave but, before doing so, he wants the money he says is owed by the club," said Birch to ESPN. "These players hold the survival of the club in their hands.
"I must stress it is not their fault as the players didn't get the club into this trouble but they do now have the ability to get the club out of this mess. The problem with everybody is that this club has cried wolf so often that no one believes it will happen, no one believes they will go out of business but they will in two or three weeks. It is that serious now.
"The trouble is 'Portsmouth fatigue' but the truth is that the club is now fighting for its life. The club is heading for liquidation in just a few weeks, perhaps two weeks if these players don't leave or compromise on their wages."