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

There seem to be more and more outlandish and bizarre job titles within football clubs these days, all of which hide the actual level of influence they have behind the scenes when it comes to conducting transfer activity.

A few years back when I first got into this business if I wanted to offload one of my players the main point of contact was always the chief scout.

Away from the field this person was the manager's right hand man when it came to player recruitment. They were the old school type who would always complain about the club they worked for, the money they were paid, the miles travelled and the time spent writing up match reports.

Find a good player for them to present to their manager though and they were your mate for life. At least until their boss got the sack and the club brought in a new backroom team. Then they'll probably ignore your calls until the next gig.

This is far from the norm these days. With the advent of the "director of football", which a lot of clubs have tried and failed to execute to varying degrees, the widespread addition of random people having influence on the ins and outs at a football club is astounding.

To do a deal now I'll give the director of communications a bell, stop for a brief chat with the chief executive, have a brew with the head of recruitment, and the assistant head of recruitment of course, before shooting off to a meeting with the head of football strategy & club communications, before a little 'face-time' with the club liaison officer. I've not had to negotiate with a programme seller as yet but there's still plenty of time before the window slams shut.

When you add into the mix brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers it's no surprise transfers are often such protracted and often tedious affairs.

My little black book looks like a Dom Jolly prop these days but, in truth, it's no better for being crammed with characters who've often got a PHD in being a pain in the derriere. If interfering was an Olympic sport China and USA wouldn't have a prayer. At several clubs it's become a closed shop in terms of getting your foot in the door. To justify their presence in the corridors of power they need a 'trusted' list of 'go-to-guys' to show their bosses and, if your name's not on the list, you know the score...

An example of this reared its ugly head last week (apologies again for not naming names but you can imagine the trouble I'd be in). A well-known, experienced Champions League player from a club in Italy was on the market. His current club had over-spent on their playing budget and was looking to off-load a few players to enable them to pay for their new signings. It's common practice in an industry that seemingly prides itself on a buy-first worry later business model.

We had all the necessary paperwork in place - an exclusive mandate to sell the player in England - which is vital if you're to stand any chance of fending off agent sabotage. Working with our partner agent in Italy, who was negotiating with the selling club, a move looked as though it could be ironed out with relative ease.

With paperwork in place you've reached first base. We worked out which clubs would be interested and had the money to pay the significant wages the player demanded, not forgetting the agent's commission of course.

We targeted three clubs and contacted our usual go-to person at each outfit. After a few returned calls we had got one club very interested. They were happy with the player, his wage demands, the agent commission and paperwork. Most importantly the player was more than happy to move to England and why wouldn't he? Three years on huge wages to play on the biggest stage in the world, sounds okay to me.

Third base reached, I felt like Usain Bolt easing to the line. I kept the archer drawing back a bow celebration in the locker but had readied my bank details to send to our man in Italy.

I receive a phone call from the club in England: "For this deal to go ahead you need go through someone else at the club.

"No problem, who?

"Mr X, he's the head of Football Consultancy for the club. He conducts all our deals and he needs to take 50 per cent of the commission or the deal is off."

Like a Bolt from the blue, I am now Asafa Powell.

This was my Devon Loch at the Grand National moment. Lengths clear of the chasing pack on the home straight and my bloody legs inexplicably give way.

There was no way the other parties involved in the deal would agree to taking such a hit and the transfer was over quicker than the Specsavers appointment made for whoever who got the North and South Korean flags mixed up.

A deal collapsing at the last minute is hardly unheard of, but when it collapses because someone 'working' for a club won't sanction its completion until they're paid a huge commission for the square root of nothing then you know it's not for 'football reasons'. If the club want the player why would they possibly allow for such a scenario to play out? Madness.

I'm not naive to the fact things like this regularly go on in football but when a potential marquee signing fails to come off on the grounds the middlemen aren't being fed (yes, I'd have got a pay day but it was nothing like what this guy was demanding) it does become disheartening.

We move on and try again...

I've just about got enough space to give an update on the potential Del Boy deal I talked about in my last column. A week or two is a (very) long time in football.

During the last column I was all primed and ready to move a former England international to a new club and a new country.

Well that one has hit the buffers to the extent my mobile released an air bag last week. The player's agent wouldn't play ball with the necessary paperwork to even get the deal on the table from the interested club.

I knew the player was keen to try something new via various mutual acquaintances but his agent sat tight, expecting offers to flow in without our input. As we break into August they still have nothing in place. I'm hoping for a phone call in the next week to see what I can do to help. The temptation would be to tell them that the ship has already sailed, but in all likelihood I'll do my best Captain Birdseye impersonation and welcome them aboard.

More on that story in the next column. I'll also be talking about another big deal in the pipeline that is simmering nicely. It's all under the radar at the moment, but the paperwork is in place to get it done. Could I finally be there?

I'm not getting carried away. As an agent you become naturally pessimistic and while everyone seems on the same page for now, I wouldn't be surprised to learn the player in question isn't even reading the same bloody book as the rest of us further down the line. So forgive me if I don't book my holidays in Cape Verde just yet, maybe a weekend in Capel Curig, the wettest place in the UK, will suffice for now.

This time the year after next Rodney, we'll be...