Ba humbug disrupts Pardew’s progress
My heart sank last week when I read the comments of Alex Gontran, the agent of Demba Ba, the Newcastle United striker. Gontran – “Alex Who?”, to you and me – expressed extreme displeasure that his “client” had started as only a substitute in the Premier League match against Everton at Goodison Park.
Not only that, even after Ba had risen from the bench at half time to score twice and rescue a point in the 2-2 draw, Alex Who? still rambled on about the alleged mistreatment of his client last season. Ba, poor lamb, had been forced to play out wide on the left by that nasty Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager.
“Since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, Demba doesn’t understand the management,” Gontran garbled. “If he continues to be a substitute all season, we’ll look at other solutions.” Trying to trigger the £7.5 million buy-out clause in Ba’s contract – believed to be worth about £50,000 a week – in the January transfer window is clearly one of those solutions.
Agents? Don’t you just love ‘em. Well, no. Not really. I was also taken by a report in one paper that labelled Gontran as merely one of Ba’s “associates”. Not, note, his sole agent. And that Ba’s brother Hamady, before his sibling’s goalscoring heroics at Goodison, had taken to Twitter to describe Pardew’s decision not to start him as “crazy”.
Yes, as with many foreign players, there would appear to be quite a few people who are paying – and will be paying – close attention as to how Ba’s career is developing, especially when January arrives. Other associates might be lurking in the shadows also, keen to claim a slice of the action when the none-too-subtle agitating bears fruit. As it often does. I will spare you Gontran’s subsequent gushing about how Ba, the Senegal striker, loves the Newcastle fans and always respects the selections of the manager. It really was pass-the-sickbag stuff.
I know not the original source of the Gontran utterances – at any one time, three or four papers can boast that the same story is their “exclusive” – but I suspect that he spoke to a friendly journo and effectively “planted” the article. And, of course, the friendly journo was more than happy to help out.
Indeed, for many years now, the agent-journo relationship is one of the few ways in which the former can represent his and his client’s views publicly – if, more often than not, anonymously – and the latter can get himself a “good yarn” and please the Rottweiler bosses in his office. The ruthless “Thought Police” at most clubs usually try to prevent such “leaks” and are regularly successful in that.
I’ve had to deal with many agents, associates and advisors – the “Three As” – of players down the years and a pretty motley crew they are, too. Yet I, also, had begun to feel the extreme heat from the Rottweilers on my desk and had felt the need to produce copy pretty damn pronto, for fear of an imminent P45.
I did draw the line when any of the Three As were blatantly on a “fishing expedition”, just angling for a move for their client and, from what they were telling me, I was able to swiftly deduce that there were few real facts on which to base my story. But as the extreme heat exploded into an inferno back at newspaper HQ, some of my ethics and morals became – let’s say – a little singed. I’m not really proud of that.
Mind you, there are some colleagues – so I have been reliably informed – who have entered an area where I could not and would not ever go. In return for the “placing” of articles in their paper, all of which involved players from the same agency, they might receive – how can I put it? – envelopes that were brown in colour and crammed full of paper things. OK, maybe the so-called “sweetener” was paid into a bank account somewhere, but you get the picture.
Like all good hacks, I checked my “sources” – fellow journos and usually over a few drinks in seedy bars on trips abroad – and the response was almost unanimous. “Yeah, of course it goes on. You know how much he [Journo X] gets?” came the replies. And quickly followed by: “Lucky bastard.”
It’s not much different, I suppose, from, say, the oil industry. UK company wants to secure a mega-contract in far-away country with plenty of the black stuff; far-away country with plenty of the black stuff needs UK expertise to get it out of the ground; and, eventually, a multimillion-pound deal is struck. But not before a bundle of brown envelopes have exchanged hands.
Believe me, I know this (I also have connections in that business). But everyone’s happy. It’s called greasing the wheels of industry. It happens everywhere, all around the world. Lucky bastards? Yeah, but not me. I will not sip from that particular poisoned chalice, not that I’ve ever had the opportunity to do so. Yet reproducing a little tittle-tattle, now and again, is harmless, surely? Or maybe not.
Perhaps I should make a career change, albeit rather late in life, and join the oil elite; perhaps I should sow the seeds of doubt with my present media employers and surreptitiously attempt to elicit a potential move to Dallas and all that black gold. No different, really, from the antics of Demba Ba and Alex Who?