Portsmouth, the 2008 FA Cup winners, were last season relegated from the Championship after incurring a ten-point penalty when they returned to administration. They are due to begin the new League One season with a further ten-point penalty, but there is currently some doubt as to whether the club will still be in existence by the time of their first fixture, against Bournemouth, on August 18.
Pompey's first-team squad currently numbers 12 players, only eight of whom are senior, and for now manager Michael Appleton is unable to make signings. There is currently a takeover offer on the table from former owner Balram Chainrai, but that is conditional on the eight senior players leaving or accepting substantial pay-cuts.
To prolong the club's existence for as long as possible until a takeover can be secured, Birch has imposed a £5,000-a-week salary cap, which would be a substantial pay-cut for players like Tal Ben Haim, who is on £36,000 a week. The excess would be paid at a later date, but only if the club avoids liquidation, and the chances of doing so are being hindered by the players' refusal to compromise.
"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," Birch told ESPN on Sunday. "We still have players like Ben Haim, Dave Kitson and Kanu on our books."
To complicate matters, Kanu, the former Arsenal and Nigeria striker, has formally lodged a claim for the arrears on his wages.
"Kanu has served the club notice that he wants to leave but before doing so he wants the money he says is owed to him by the club," Birch said. "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."
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