Secret agent

The shadowy world of the football agent is one that is cloaked in secrecy amid accusations of greed. Thankfully, we've got one of the good guys on board to lift the lid on what life really is like at the sharp end of a notoriously cut throat business.

Lifting the lid on football's dark arts

'I tweet therefore I am...' mused the philosophical old dog René Descartes, before muttering 'a #bunchoft****' under his breath. Footballers and social media are as compatible bedfellows as Neil Warnock and Stan Ternent.

Over the past few weeks/months the news agenda has been set more by what's been happening off the field than on it and that's a sorry state of affairs. Twitter is a minefield for verbal bombs that have a tendency to go off at the most inappropriate of times - usually during a presser. Football is already suffering a hangover from the Olympics in terms of how its protagonists are judged by the general public and the behaviour of Ashley Cole and co over the past few days has once again left the national game little more than a laughing stock.

Don't get me wrong, if I represented Cole I wouldn't drop him on the grounds of his behaviour (10 per cent of £4billion a year tends to play havoc with your moral compass) but I'd like to think I'd lay down the law. As a rule, the agent fraternity don't get the best press but if we didn't do the amount of fire-fighting and bomb-defusing that we do then some clubs would struggle to name 11 players every Saturday.

Footballers need to comprehend, and I'll say this slowly, that Twitter is effectively a global text messaging service. Sending a text to your best mate or the other half to explain your annoyance with what's gone on at work is normal - it's a good way to get it off your chest. But for the love of God, why would you want the whole world to see your ire in its full glory? Absolutely nuts!

A few players that I look after have had their wrists slapped for misuse of Twitter. Anything from a cheeky joke about a past-it footballer to a few choice drunken ramblings have been quickly dealt with and the fire put out before it takes hold. I've told all my lads that ending a tweet with #bantz doesn't negate the evidence of an accompanying pic that shows said player in a hot tub enjoying a kebab, Carling and a lady-friend the night before a game. #player

I was even given the proverbial blasting a couple of years back for tweeting the names of the players released by a club before they had been told themselves. Bit naughty of me, but I thought the club would have let them know before letting anyone else get wind of the list. Just ask Duncan Jenkins about getting a scoop first. This was in the early days of what has now become the most popular form of social media and was my warning that Twitter has the potential to cause more problems than it solves. I knew then Twitter needs to be handled carefully. Looks like I was on the money.

It's quite a new responsibility that has been bestowed on football agents - to guide and advise your players from sending potentially volatile messages - and frankly, is a headache we could all do without. I follow all the Twitter accounts of my players and I read all their tweets to make sure they are not saying anything which may start an argument with fans or even worse their manager. Like a good friend of mine discovered to his horror after mistakenly sending a text to the wrong women in his life, once a message is out in the open domain it takes a life of its own. No amount of deleting (or praying) will get you out of jail - or will it Ash?

You wouldn't intentionally send a tardy text to the whole of your phonebook, so why send a foul-mouthed tweet to all of your followers?

I'm not going to bore you with my thoughts on the intelligence of (some) footballers or rant about them as role models though; I'll leave that to the more sensitive/sensationalist members of the press.

They don't know it, but my players are allowed one strike when it comes to Twitter. I'll smooth out any problems that may arise the first time but then tell them to close the account. After that they're on their own if they continue to Tweet with abandon. Everyone's allowed a second chance, even a footballer, but if it's not a case of 'once bitten, twice shy' they're on their own.

Part of any agent's role is of course to resolve problems off the pitch as well as on it, but I've got my reputation to think about. If a player insists on sending tweets that offend then other than confiscate their phones, there's not much this plum can do about it.

For all its bad press of late, Twitter does have its positive uses. It's definitely a great way for footballers to interact with the fans and it has cast a number of them in a more favourable light. Those that show their interests extend beyond afternoons playing FIFA with their team-mates do a great service in dispelling the myth that all footballers make the cast of Geordie Shore look like University Challenge contestants. To read the reaction of players straight after a match is quite enlightening too. When they're clean that is...

Used properly Twitter is a great tool for football, footballers and fans alike but just as when the red mist descends on the pitch, an angry outburst off it can cause all manner of problems.

Think before you Tweet people...