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.
By Secret Agent - Follow me on Twitter @SSSecretAgent. Last Updated: June 22, 2012 4:37pm
Lifting the lid on football's dark arts
Being in the position of having an in-demand player on your rostra is like having the choice of donuts from a 12-box of Krispy Kreme. And getting paid for the privilege of eating them. The propaganda machines in the basements of most football clubs will tell you otherwise, but trust me, rare is it that the tables are turned and non-star players can enjoy a feeling of being in control.
It certainly makes life easier when you have managers ringing asking for your player to sign, instead of having to do more crawling than Vivian Ward for a kid who is down on his luck and without a club.
It's funny how it changes when you have something that a club wants. You're suddenly the manager's best friend, instead of him letting the phone ring off the hook when you call. He's now the one calling to make small talk, asking of the wife and desiring the company of you and your player over a 'quiet bite'. The guided tour of the stadium comes next and then it's a slap up meal in the best fish restaurant in town. Enjoy it while it lasts I tell my boys because once you've put pen-to-paper, the gaffer will be calling you 'a lazy little sod' within days.
When I was starting out in the game these mean managers wouldn't give me the time of day. You take the rough with the smooth because that's all part of the business, but when you got the cold shoulder you'd feel worse than one of those AA salespeople (is it any wonder they turn to drink?) stood outside Marks and Spencer's, pitching their wares like blind men shooting fish in a barrel.
On the odd occasion you're flavour of the month the temptation is to be smugger than Piers Morgan, while quoting Cuba Gooding Jr's character in Jerry Maguire: "You're loving me now, aren't you!"
If you were that way inclined, dining out every day for a week talking to clubs about your player wouldn't be an issue. And you wonder why agents get fat!
Of course eating seared scallops and foie gras, washed down with a nice bottle of brunello di montalcino, is the life that all agents are perceived to lead and if it's on offer, why not take it? Well as you know I'm an agent with a conscience and despite my weakness for posh grub, being straight with managers (despite them not answering my calls in the early days) is what I'm all about. Not forgetting I miss my wife's cooking, of course...
Don't get me wrong I will make sure we are looked after while we are considering a decision to join a new club, but once you've spoke to all interested parties you have to quickly narrow it down to just two teams, maybe three at most.
The normal process is to first get verbal offers from each club. Glean how much they are going to offer your player and once you know roughly where you are in terms of wages, head out to each club for proper talks.
They become the ones trying to sell to you. How they see your player fitting into their style of play and how much of a difference he will make to the team could sway it in their favour - or do the opposite, should their vision fail to match your own. When they ask your player what shirt number he wants then you know you're in business.
At this point the player will be ushered away with club officials to have a look around the local area and to check out a couple of houses. The tour of the stadium and the training facilities follow before we all meet for lunch.
Once your player is out of the boardroom it's showtime. I'm left with the person responsible for making the money and contract decisions. Sometimes that's the manager but more often than not it's the chief executive. The starting point from the negotiator is usually along the lines of 'so, how much will it cost us to get your player signed?'
The conversation of ball park figures has already been had over the phone, if it hadn't you wouldn't have got this far, so it's then a case of thrashing out terms. You start high and they come in low. It's the agent's job to be strong because you know, and it's your job to make sure the club knows, that they are not the only party interested in your client.
Agreeing a figure and a deal at that first meeting is not the best policy. You take away their verbal offer and discuss it with your client, along with his initial impressions. It's not just the cash that matters. The player has got to get a good feeling about the manager, the club, training ground and whether geographically it suits him and/or his family. It's a big decision to make and not to be taken lightly.
Before you conclude your first discussions with the 'chief negotiator' you can guarantee another standard line: "We have other targets in that position in mind, but we'd prefer to get your lad in. If we can wrap a deal up quickly that would be the preference." With that line you know you can get more leverage for your player's basic salary; we are in control of these negotiations.
I don't like to drag things out over a prolonged period though. At the end of the day I've other clients to manage and further deals to make. Speak to the other interested parties to see what they have to offer and remember to thank the first club for their offer. It's then a case of advising them that you need to have a couple of days to mull things through.
Buying yourself time is the chance for you to speak to other interested clubs. Remember that for each different team you have to go through the whole process again. So that's the club visit, tour, negotiation, more talks, ad nauseam...
When you've got your two or three offers on the table you and your player have to evaluate each of them. Apart from the finance side of things you have to weigh up how well you think each club will perform next term. Nobody wants to join a side who just managed to escape relegation on the last day of the season. Perhaps we are going to use the club as a stepping-stone for a bigger move in a year or two's time. Maybe the manager is renowned for getting the best out of his players and selling them on to bigger clubs.
There's no knowing that the club you've chosen is the right one until you've spent a few months there. Hopefully, as a decent agent, you've done your homework in terms of the club you've picked for your client.
Once your player has signed, as the agent, it's courtesy that you let the spurned clubs know before it's announced to the press. Just like in a job interview, you have to let down the unsuccessful candidates. It's a delicate situation. You have to give them a fair reason for not choosing them, so as not to put them off for possible future deals.
Anyway, I'm off now for a lunch meeting. I fancy the ravioli of langoustine and salmon poached in a light bisque and chervil veloute (like all good agents I've done my research). Tough life...enjoying it while I can.
I'll be back on beans on toast next week, no worries on that score.