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Much-maligned and misunderstood: agents in football

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Jack Ross | 12:41 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010

This is not another blog on the subject of referees but rather a look at others who are often portrayed as football bad guys - the agents!

It seems appropriate in the wake of the Wayne Rooney contractual saga where some apportioned blame to those who advise one of the world's most famous footballers. So how much of an influence do agents have upon their clients, are they necessary and how prevalent are they in the Scottish game?

To begin with, I would suggest that there is a significant agent presence in our domestic leagues with a fairly large variance in number and profile of players they represent and in the advice and expertise they offer to these players.

There are of course others who it could be argued fill the role of player recruiters operating under the umbrella of licensed agents sometimes based in another country.

This is quite common with agencies operating from England, as Scottish players show a desire to move south to the comparative riches of the Championship and beyond.

BBC Scotland pundit Gordon Smith is a former agent

BBC Scotland pundit Gordon Smith is a former agent

The influence of agents cannot be disputed and neither can the urge to be signed to one shown by players, especially younger ones.

There is almost an element of kudos to being pursued by an agent and then being represented by him. In some cases it is perhaps seen as recognition of their talent and potential that an individual would approach them to affirm that they are of interest to other clubs.

I must point out at this stage that I am not adopting the moral high ground, as I happily confess that when I was first courted by an agent I looked upon it as an acceptance of good performances and an acknowledgement that I could move upwards in the game.

Such a philosophy is of course nonsensical when compared to being admired by other players and managers but nevertheless it is a factor in why so many players commit to an agent.

In this respect, it is not just the player to blame as this recent example illustrates. Earlier this season, I was approached in a shop by a relative of a young player who, he informed me, was going to make his SPL debut that week.

Naturally he was happy to be sharing this information, but he took more delight in telling me of the number of agents who had been chasing the player in question.

Therefore it would seem that it is not only players who are affected by the "glamour" of agent representation.

Once a player has signed with an agent, how he measures the success of their relationship is another interesting point. For some, the organisation of free entry into a nightclub or a supply of football boots is seen as worthwhile; for others the good advice regarding length and terms of contracts, relocation and future investment is viewed as paramount.

Of course, those agents, and there are several, who offer the latter are hugely beneficial to players and therefore by no means a scourge on the game.

There is another perhaps unseen advantage to agents in that they seem to possess a far greater ability to prise open a door at a club than a player attempting to do the same thing.

From my experience, any trialists who are given an opportunity at your club have their trial organised by an agent, with it being very rare that the player has simply contacted the club directly and been offered the chance to impress.

As much as managers like to bemoan the presence of agents it would appear that most are more than happy to trust their judgement when recommending players, thus surely necessitating their roles in football.

In conclusion, agents are a lot like referees - there are good ones and bad ones and they are always a favoured subject of football criticism...

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Football has become to expensive for the ordinary working man , i,ve been going to watch Celtic for 40 years or so ,when i was younger you could lift in kids for free saving there parents money ,if i want to take my grandkids now its costing me the best part of £15 each and theres 2 of them so far , my season ticket costs me £565 , which i pay in 1 lump sum beginning of the season ,but i feel as though agents are just another burden on the game

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I agree with the comment re the expense of watching football and would fully support any reduction in admission prices. The question is if prices are high to justify wages to players, who is responsible-agents or the clubs who agree to inflated salaries?

  • Comment number 4.

    The problem with agents is how they are paid, not whether they provide a useful service. They should not be paid by clubs.

  • Comment number 5.

    Jack

    You ask – “The question is if prices are high to justify wages to players, who is responsible-agents or the clubs who agree to inflated salaries?”

    For me it’s a ‘No Brainer’. It’s the clubs. They pay they money after all and they should be spending what they can’t afford.

    An up front policy on wages would sort all of this nonsense.

    You also wrote – “when I was first courted by an agent I looked upon it as an acceptance of good performances”

    If footballers had a Professional Body that was the true marker for performance and ability you wouldn’t need an agent to promote you.

    Contract negotiations could and should be provided by your Trade Union.

    The economies of scale from these approaches would surely benefit everyone and reduce the pressure on gate prices.

    As for a Finder’s fee, that is also a matter between the club and the agent.

    I’ve always seen agents as predatory opportunists, little more than a glorified scout and certainly not good for the long term health of the game.

    Their modus operandi is divide and conquer, and it is time that players started initiatives for their own collective good.

  • Comment number 6.

    #5

    Well said and I'm in almost total agreement.

    Their modus operandi is indeed divide and conquer and you would think that contractually the PFA would be better placed than some 'carpetbaggers' to handle negotiations between players and clubs.

    We have all seen the role of agents in 'hiking' transfers as much for their own benefit as for the player. Wayne Rooney? And Nicholas Anelka whose early career was punctuated by 'financial' moves that also made his agent (his brother) very large pots of money. Now while I have every sympathy with players testing and then appreciating their 'market value', agents have a direct interest in stimulating transfers which may well be at odds with the interests of their own clients and the clubs.

  • Comment number 7.

    Agents just do their job, they are to blame for nothing.

    If a player who has no experience in contract negotiations goes into the managers office, he will feel uncomfortable and get a worse contract than he deserves.

    The only reason agents came into the game was because the clubs were fleecing the players.

    Its supply and demand. Im disgusted by the wages, but us punters pay at the gate every week.

    Im disgusted by ticket prices, but i still pay to go!

    Thus, supply and demand.

    The demand is so high that prices can be high too, unfortunately.

    Until fans start talking with their feet, nothing will ever change.

  • Comment number 8.

    There has been recent representation provided by PFA Scotland when member players have moved clubs. It is certainly an area which they are keen to expand and they are hopeful that players will see the benefits to being represented by this body. The ideal scenario would be the PFA being involved in a considerable number of transfers and being able to invest any fees paid back into the game and the players.

    It is certainly a fair point that clubs can take advantage of those players not comfortable with negotiating their terms hence the reason why a need for agents was created. Often younger players can sign long term deals which look a lot more appealing at the age of eighteen than they do at twenty three.

  • Comment number 9.

    A lot of very sensible comments made such as clubs cutting their cloth to suit their player's wage demands, getting players to pay their agents purely from their own pocket etc, but these issues would only ever be resolved if there was greater conformity in the financial running of the game (worldwide) and this will never happen.

    In a free market players like Rooney and Beckham will demand excessive wages and add-ons simply because of the media attention they grab (often for negative stories) whilst players at the other end of the scale just interested in football continue to flap around simply to find a decent club and wage.

    Agents have become too showbiz in a media driven world and even you Jack talk about the 'Kudos' and 'Glamour' attraction. That's why the average 'JoC' doesn't respect or like them.

  • Comment number 10.

    Your right Jack when you say there are good and bad agents, but I'm firmly in the camp that believe there are significiantly more bad than good ones.
    Obviously they are not to blame for all thats currently wrong with the game, they are just part of the problem and a symptom of the sky/premier league era.
    As you said before the money that goes around at the top of the game is so large that sometime those kinds of people are needed to negotiate a secure future for the players.
    What concerns me is agents coming in to the lower regions of the game, like the conference or the lower reaches of the sfl, convincing those players that they need an agent, negotiating a new contract and effectively taking away that payrise with there commission.
    This happened to a friend of mine 2 years ago and he's still paying for it.

  • Comment number 11.

    Agents are a useful scapegoat for players' greed.

  • Comment number 12.

    In recent times the new 'player' voice I was listening to on Radio was immediately intriguing to me, moreover perhaps because it offered a slightly uncommon level of articulation alongside a commentary that was consistently and cohesively strung together in triple sentence paragraphs!

    I was interested to know who this latest luminary was!

    To learn it was yourself probably motivated me to nosily visit your blog Jack just as I was exiting my latest visit to the BBC football website.

    Your contribution on agents and their influence on the game caught my eye, most notably because as one the UK's longest-serving licensed agents myself, some of the observations you made were not only completely & interestingly accurate to me but were also, not exactly 'mainstream' views that I've ever seen 'aired' before.

    I therefore thought that this was worthy of endorsement by someone like me - from the other side of the fence if you like and so for the first time ever, I'd like to offer your readers my own thoughts on the subject.

    With all these compliments flying around let me continue in that vein just a wee while longer by saying that I thought that your perspective was as insightful and balanced as I've heard from any player in all my near twenty years as a working agent and so just wanted to say so!

    There are many things to say about the general reputation we agents carry and indeed this is best amplified within the variety of additional comments on offer from some of your other contributors on the subject.

    Let me immediately say that there of course good and bad agent/operators - as there are in all walks of life 'tho regretably, and I will concede this, that through the popularity and publicity our sport enjoys, we do seem to attract more than our fair share of inexperienced, unprofessional and even unsavoury people who offer little more than confidence and arrogance as they enter an arena where vulnerable victims are ten-a penny and where they will be able to exercise their own agenda way ahead of the people they purport to represent conscientiously!

    However, and as you highlighted, sometimes.. no,strike that, on many occasions, it can be the case that the media will regularly choose to hang the agent out to dry simply because it's the easier and softer option to choose for any writer who is more anxious to retain his otherwise 'cosy' relationship with the Player/Manager or Club in question!

    But there is another point to highlight here Jack and it relates to your passing inference and comments on what it actually means to a player and/or his parents in terms of their association with an agent!

    In my experience, I have long-since questioned and indeed challenged the motives of the player himself - particularly a young player - I'm interviewing, on what their rationale is for having an agent, of what their understanding is of why they might have or indeed need an agent or perhaps most important of all...of what they EXPECT from the agent or from the association/relationship itself!

    The answer to the last question is without doubt the most illuminating of all because if you are indeed favoured with a concise and clear response from either the player and/or his guardian, this WILL go a long to revealing how 'real' or maybe that should be how 'long' your involvement with that player will be!

    Confidence is a very necessary component for any player but over- confidence or 'stratospheric-like' confidence is a different type of problem for the player - or the father of the player - who believes he is Man.Utd, when everyone else knows he's more Rotherham Utd, is a problem that sometimes that will forever remain unresolved...until of course it's too late!

    It's easy to immediately contend that if a contract is to be negotiated or if there's a need to promote your name to another Club for example, then an agent connection is obvious. However, and as you so succinctly put it via your reference on how some representatives are often nothing more than fair-weather friends who's only obvious immediate talent is that of being able to gain the player free entry to a nightclub, then surely the player and his parents method of selection is the thing that needs to be highlighted more robustly here!

    A huge number of players think that having an agent is akin to all those other must-have 'ancillaries' - you know what I mean...the things that make you a perceived 'Star', things like rainbow coloured boots, BIG watches, tattoos, extreme haircuts and oh, maybe even a WAG or two!

    I know this all sounds more than a little cynical but with decades of experience behind me I've witnessed many things in players' careers and sadly most have been heavily infiltrated by 'junk' influences instead of good old-fashioned staples such as application and self-disciplne with just a smidgeon of humility thrown in!

    I welcome the fact that you offered an 'inside' perspective on this and as such trust you may likewise welcome my own thoughts from a slightly different one.


    Cheers



    Raymond Sparkes









 

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