Agents keep on coining it in
Years ago, the news would have made screaming headlines. “Agents’ fees go through the roof” or “Agents fleecing the game.” Such was the contempt in which many players’ “advisors” – whether they be friend, family, hanger-on or Johnny Come Lately – were held, the newspapers would not have needed prompting to have a major go.
And yet last week, almost under the radar, the latest figures were published for the money earnt by agents for the period – spanning two transfer windows – from 1 October, 2011, to 30 September, 2012. It included payments made by clubs “on behalf of players”, not that I’m really sure what that means. Probably another tax dodge of some sort.
In many papers and on many websites, this revelation merited only minor coverage. I mean, we all now know it goes on, we all know the amounts are humungous, we all know the leeches of the game are getting richer and we all know that the players – at least those near or at the top – continue to gorge on football’s gravy train.
So, it was no surprise to learn that Manchester City were the biggest contributers to the agents’ coffers, shelling out a mind-numbing £10,537,982. Liverpool took second place on £8,600,444. Pretty gross, too. But wait. In third spot, with a relatively obscene £6,818,688, stood Queens Park Rangers.
Yes, you couldn’t make it up. No, I know, that’s not an original response, but I use the phrase a fair bit when discovering something that truly blows my mind. Add to that the cost of the player fees between the clubs – I’m sorry, if I tot that up I think I might be physically ill – and you can see why the football world has gone bonkers, again, and bears little relation to reality or the often humdrum lives of the ordinary fan.
Tony Fernandes, the QPR chairman, is a hugely successful businessman, media-friendly in the extreme – which is a rarity for us journos but most welcome – and a fully paid-up member of the Twitterati. But, I’m sorry, how on earth did he sanction this madness? Was there no one at Loftus Road who had the power or good sense to rein in Fernandes? Apparently not.
In the 2010-11 period, the West London club spent only £2,499,214 on agents. Only? Give me strength. Are they now not reaping what they have so ridiculously sowed? And the pay-off to Mark Hughes, their former manager, will have been substantial, too. And what about the hasty enlisting of Harry “Houdini” Redknapp, their new manager, who never comes cheap? I repeat that word … bonkers.
My suspicion of agents has been well documented in this column over the past year. OK, they may give the under-pressure journo a “line” or a “steer” on occasions, but it is mostly out of self-interest and often has only the merest grain of truth in it. Check from alternative sources once, twice and even thrice … and it will frequently be exposed as a scam.
One of the most dubious episodes I have ever had the misfortune of finding out about involved a manager who, suddenly, embarked on a mega influx of players into his club in a very short space of time. These signings were – how shall I put it? – rather out of left field and comprised mainly a group of individuals who few had heard of.
It transpired, months later, that most of the players had the same agent as the manager. I kid you not. And most of them went on to cause nothing but trouble for the club, offered little on the pitch and swiftly disappeared over the horizon. That club took a long time to recover from the fiasco.
I’ve also encountered a fledgeling agent, wide-eyed and naive, who had set himself up as the next best thing and filled his “stable” with similarly young players, none of whom were known outside of his or their kitchen. He admitted to me that he viewed the kids as his “meal ticket” and yet, years on, he is still starving. Some of the kids have been ditched or will be soon. It is that cut-throat.
Go back to the initial figures spent. Man City £10.53m, Liverpool £8.60m, QPR £6.81m. On agents, on those shady figures who do the deals which both sides want done anyway and yet receive monstrous rewards for settling the obvious. Nice work if you can get it.
Players get stick, quite rightly, journos get stick, quite rightly, and agents get stick, even more so. Yet it is the first and third of those, not the second, who bleed the industry dry and, with no one able or willing to do anything about it, why shouldn’t they continue? Carry on counting the cash, guys.
It is the Premier League who were willing to disclose the figures last week but, at the same time, offered little comment, no solution, no shame. Small wonder that the sport that we love spirals out of control and into the hands of the money men, many of whom don’t give a toss about where the game is going. As long as their bank balance keeps swelling, that’s fine.