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 Post subject: Football Agent ~ misunderstood or leach?
PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 4:32 pm 
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High in the hills on the outskirts of Cannes, in a splendid villa that looks down on the azure blue seas of the French Riviera, Jonathan Barnett has been discussing everything from Gareth Bale’s relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo to the absence of any London 2012 Olympic legacy, when the conversation turns to his own industry and whether the public perception of football agents frustrates him.

“If I’m cold and callous, I don’t care,” Barnett says. “I think what frustrates me is the lack of understanding of what a proper agency does, by Fifa and the FA. That frustrates me more than anything else. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that they come up with rules when nobody knows what they’re talking about. I don’t understand why the FA haven’t sat down with agents, especially someone like myself, to find out what we actually do for a living, because they haven’t got a clue.”

Barnett is one of the most high profile football agents in the business. He set up Stellar Group with David Manasseh at the start of the 1990s and now has a vast stable of players that includes Bale, the most expensive footballer in the world, Joe Hart, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana … “We can go through them all, you’d run out of tape,” Barnett says, smiling. “We don’t want to name players, but we also have some of the best in Holland, some of the best in Germany, Spain, South America – we’re worldwide now.

“As far as global football is concerned, we’re the largest football agency, player-wise and everything else. Jorge Mendes is probably the only person close to us. But Jorge is different. He does much more work with clubs; we solely work with players. It’s a different operation, very successful, and I’ve got a lot of time for Jorge, I think he’s a brilliant agent. But what am I going to say? I think I’m better. Jorge may have his own say on that. But, listen, he’s got Ronaldo, I can’t knock that. He’s the biggest operation out there.”

A gregarious character, Barnett is generous with his time and forthright with his opinions, especially when the subject is the profession that enabled him to upgrade a beaten-up Honda for a hand-crafted Bentley. At a time when Fifa has handed over responsibility for agents to national associations, Barnett says he is on a “crusade to see all players looked after well” and to rid the game of what he describes as “second-rate” representatives. “Too many people are amateurs at what they do. I think we’ve seen some of the worst sides of it the last few months, certain agents just don’t know what they’re doing and make fools of everybody. It’s a professional job, there should be apprenticeships, even those stupid exams that people had to do … there should be proper courses, people should have to qualify to be an agent. It’s a very important thing to let somebody negotiate your contract, and I am so strongly in favour of regulations that make agents accountable.”

While fiercely proud of his own success, Barnett is fully aware that his line of work is “much maligned”. He tells a story about his late mother watching a TV programme featuring Eric Hall – one of the first breed of football agents and a man who took to waving £20 notes and barking “monster, monster” to anyone that would listen to him – and how she was left confused at the end of it as to exactly what her son did for a living. That stereotype that Hall created, Barnett says, is a little outdated now. “I don’t know anybody that has a camel coat and a cigar in our office.”

The potential riches, though, are there for all to see, in particular on the back of a summer when Premier League clubs spent a record £870m. Barnett, by his own admission, lives to a “high standard” but the 65-year-old also says “that’s what I’ve worked for”. So what does he think about the argument that agents are taking money out of the game? “Taking money out the game? Does the chief executive not take money out of the game, does he not get paid? There are chief executives of football clubs earning £2m-£3m a year. I don’t think they put too much back into it. I don’t believe the PFA chief executive puts too much money back into the game,” he says. “Listen, in 1966 we won the World Cup. It was our greatest moment and those 11 guys didn’t have agents, I don’t think. And the clubs were looking after them so well, a number of them had to sell their shirts to have money to live. And I’m not sure how many of that 11 were ever able to retire. Every player that works with me, we will make sure that they will not have to run a pub or go on television to do punditry. Their lives will be well looked after, and my life will be well looked after.”

For Barnett, a football agent’s job has clear parameters. He has no desire to socialise with the players – “I’m not looking to be their best friend” – and is adamant that parents should not interfere. What he promises to do is take care of every aspect of a player’s finances and be at the end of the phone 24 hours a day if they have a problem. “I will talk on their behalf and get it sorted out. But I always say to them: ‘Don’t come to me if the coach says you’re rubbish on the field and you need to head a ball’. I’m not there for that. They’ve got to put that right.”

Last season, however, Barnett made an exception to the rule that keeps him out of on-the-pitch matters. Bale, in his second season at Real Madrid, was getting a bit of flak, in particular after the Champions League semi-final first leg against Juventus. Roy Keane, speaking in his role as a TV pundit, said that the Welshman was so peripheral that his team-mates were effectively playing with 10 men. Armed with statistics to back up his argument, Barnett spoke out in Bale’s defence and said that the Real Madrid players were not passing the ball to his client anything like as often as they were giving it to Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. “I had an analysis made and it was true. I know Mr Ancelotti had a go at me. But then I’m still an agent and he’s not a manager. So one of us is right,” Barnett says, breaking into laughter.

On a more serious note, Barnett believes that Bale is in it for the long haul in Spain and suggests other factors were behind some of the criticism at Madrid last season. “I think there’s a great love of Ronaldo. I think that the new guard is coming and there’s some resentment, perhaps, to that. But I think things will change. Gareth’s now playing in a better position [more centrally], where he wants to play. I’ve always said it, I think he’ll be the best player in the world in the next couple of years.”

And what about Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo? “They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

Barnett dedicates a fair amount of his time to Bale and now leaves much of the day-to-day running of the business in the hands of Manasseh, whose father provided the finance to set up Stellar 24 years ago. Brian Lara, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were among their first clients – Manasseh was on Somerset’s books at one stage and Barnett had his own contacts in the cricket world – but getting involved in football, at a time when the Premier League was taking off, changed their lives.

“The truth is that we hit upon something because we were useless at it,” Barnett says. “David and I had never played professional football, so when we went to try and sign the so-called top footballers, they laughed at us: ‘Who are you?’ I had a beaten up old Honda and I used to hide it around the corner when we met footballers. “David said there was only one thing to do and that was to sign young players. We drove all around Britain – and nobody else was doing it – signing young players who we thought were quite good. We signed people like Ashley Cole when he was 15, Richard Wright, Ledley King and Kieron Dyer when they were young, and it went from strength to strength.”

Back in 2006 Barnett’s relationship with Cole ended up landing him in trouble with the FA, who banned him for nine months and fined him £100,000 for his part in organising a secret rendezvous at a London hotel with José Mourinho and Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea manager and chief executive at the time. Cole was an Arsenal player when the meeting took place, leaving Chelsea open to accusations of tapping up, with Barnett cast as the instigator.

How does he reflect on the episode now? “I think I made mistakes. But I also think I was harshly treated. I was made a scapegoat, because it goes on all the time. Also, if Arsenal hadn’t gone back on their word, Ashley would have stayed 100% and that would never have happened. I’m not justifying it, but explaining it. But it was probably the best thing that ever happened to Ashley Cole. Arsenal won nothing, he won everything and financially he was much better off. My job as an agent was done.”

A lifelong Arsenal fan – “I’m not sure Arsène Wenger realises that” – Barnett also has a vested interest in several other sports, including athletics, and he remains deeply frustrated with the fall-out from the 2012 London Olympics. “I think it was completely mishandled,” he says. “The people who put the Olympics on, Sebastian Coe etc, did a fantastic job. But all of them did a rubbish job of getting young people to carry on playing. With all due respect, all of them are completely out of touch with the young people today. There is no legacy, it’s just politicians saying it. The legacy was a block of flats. How many children do you know that went out after the Olympics and played sport? The grassroots is not looked after.

“I really would like to get involved with kids and youth. I think there are ways of doing it. We have such talent. I have an athletics division, track and field, in America. I go round America twice a year and I see the kids playing sport, it’s fantastic and it’s all to do with what we don’t do: seedings and making things exciting for kids; not whenever sports day comes round every kid has to win a prize – that’s crazy. When the school orchestra performs not everyone has to play the violin do they? Bring some excitement back to sport.”For Barnett, there are winners and losers, whether running on a track at school or working as an agent and being at the centre of the biggest football transfer in history. “I keep reminding Mendes of that Bale deal every time I see him. He ignores it. Absolutely ignores it,” Barnett says, smiling.

“I’m sure he’s looking for some way to break it. But it’s nice, the world record, I’m quite proud of it.”


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 Post subject: Re: Football Agent ~ misunderstood or leach?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 30, 2015 6:58 pm 
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Premier League clubs paid out nearly £130m to agents last year - a £15m increase on the year before.

Liverpool spent the most of any club, £14.3m, followed by Manchester United (£13.8m) and Manchester City (£12.4m) with the total reaching £129.86m for the year ending 30 September. Chelsea and Arsenal both spent £11.9m while at the other end of the scale newcomers Watford spent £1.6m.

The total spent in the Championship was £26.1m, £3.2m in League One and just £1m in League Two.

Fees are not just paid to agents when transfers happen, but also when players sign new contracts.

During the period in question, there were 172 inbound transfers and loans in the Premier League, 542 new or improved contracts and 573 outbound transfers and loans - a total of 1,287 transactions, all of which could have led to an agent’s fee being paid.

The biggest payers in the Championship were Cardiff (£2.8m), Fulham (£2.7m), QPR and Reading (both £2.3m).

Further down the pyramid, League One club Bury and League Two’s Accrington Stanley and Hartlepool did not pay anything at all to agents.


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 Post subject: Re: Football Agent ~ misunderstood or leach?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 02, 2015 2:51 pm 
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Only just read that interview with Bale's agent. I think people are less cynical towards agents in general now. I think it was largely a case of people not really understanding what it is exactly they did. They just heard about these faceless entities that were taking £xmillion out of the game every year. As far as most people knew all they did was turn up at contract negotiations and then leave.

It is now apparent that there is a lot more to their job than that, reading The Secret Footballer's books he touches on what they do in terms of a player can say to his agent 'I want to move, find me a club' or in the case of Mendes he obviously works on behalf of clubs as well. They are absolutely vital in the game now I believe, especially for youngsters.

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 Post subject: Re: Football Agent ~ misunderstood or leach?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 02, 2015 3:14 pm 
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Serbinator wrote:
Only just read that interview with Bale's agent. I think people are less cynical towards agents in general now. I think it was largely a case of people not really understanding what it is exactly they did. They just heard about these faceless entities that were taking £xmillion out of the game every year. As far as most people knew all they did was turn up at contract negotiations and then leave.

It is now apparent that there is a lot more to their job than that, reading The Secret Footballer's books he touches on what they do in terms of a player can say to his agent 'I want to move, find me a club' or in the case of Mendes he obviously works on behalf of clubs as well. They are absolutely vital in the game now I believe, especially for youngsters.


It depends on the type of management structure you have within your club for example West Brom who were the lowest PL spender said they didn't rely on agents to buy players because they have a sporting director who basically acts as the clubs negotiator.

In the modern game where you're buying players from all over the world they are a necessary evil as you need a guy to represent you who knows the right people to get the deal done. The players need them because they don't understand business they're not experts on this sort of stuff they hire the agent to protect their interests and look after their interests off the pitch so they can concentrate on the football.

My only real issue is why it's become the norm for agents to takea % fee of the final deal as all this does is encourage everyone to push the price up higher and higher surely they should negotiate a flat fee with bonuses if he saves you money.

The days of Howard Wilkinson ringing up Alex Fergurson to try and sign Dennis Irwin then agreeing him sell him Eric Cantona are over I don't think the modern manager has anything to do with negotiations for players or their contracts.


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 Post subject: Re: Football Agent ~ misunderstood or leach?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 03, 2015 2:39 pm 
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Every year, around this time, we get groundhog day as English clubs release the amounts they paid in agent fees. Whatever the number, it's nine figures and it feels huge. And, in unison, folks start moaning about the fact that millions have "bled out of the game" to a bunch of blood-sucking leeches (read: agents).

This year, Premier League clubs reported spending a combined $195.4m on agent fees between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015. That's up $22.6m from the year before. When you consider that overall transfer spend has actually declined -- according to Transfermarkt, it dipped from $1.4 billion to $1.26 billion -- it gets even more worrying. Why would agent fees increase by 13 percent when spending, a relatively reliable indicator of activity, decreased by around 10 percent?

Cue gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair as the commentariat get biblical and self-righteous on the role of agents, but maybe it's time for a reality check.

First and foremost, those commission numbers don't mean much. It's not that they're made up; it's just that without context, they're difficult to read. Commissions can be paid to intermediaries (the preferred term these days) in various ways.

Let's say I work for Ripondon Rovers (a fictional club, no need to Google it) and want to buy Carlos Kickaball from River Plate for $10m. Between my club and River Plate, we agree to pay commissions equal to 5 percent of the value of the transfer ($500,000) to the various agents and intermediaries involved. I can either pay River $10m and the middlemen $500,000 myself (in which case I'd show a spend of $500,000 in agent fees) or I can pay River $10.5m and then have them pay all the middlemen (in which case I'd be showing a big, fat zero in agent fees on that deal).

Or, indeed, anything in between. With more than half of transfer activity (by amount) involving clubs outside England, it's impossible to know how much clubs are actually paying. It could be more. It could be less.

Another factor is that this figure relates to what the clubs actually pay out in a given year, not what they commit to paying out. Commissions are often spread during the life of a player's contract, particularly when it comes to extensions. (This also makes sense: you don't want to pay Agent Andy 5 percent of Hank Hacker's five-year, $10m contract up front if you end up selling him in a year's time.)

For example, Liverpool's total agent spend was $21.5m. For all we know, it could include payments for commitments made three years ago or if they decided to "backload" commissions on deals they made this summer, the real number could be much higher next year.

In England, clubs don't actually pay agents directly. The Football Association acts as a clearinghouse for declared payments. They collect from the clubs, hang on to the money until it passes their money-laundering checks, and then pay out. These numbers reflect what goes through the FA. If a club owner has an off-shore slush fund and he's happy to pay an agent or another club owner off the books -- or as part of another deal involving, say, real estate -- the FA's clearinghouse will never know.

"I think for every pound that shows up in that list, there's maybe another 50 pence that does not," a British-based agent, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday. "It's just the way it is."

The fact of the matter is that the figures, in and of themselves, don't mean much at all. So why publish them?

In its 2013-14 Agents' Fees Report (PDF), the Football League said it "broke new ground for transparency in the football industry" and these payments should be "a matter of public record and debate." Something is better than nothing, I guess. But in truth, it's only a smidgen above lip service.

If transparency were the goal, they would itemize the payments and we would know who was paid for what deal and how much. And, in fact, we'd know how much the deal actually cost the club: none of this "undisclosed" nonsense. We might even discover that the same clubs use the same intermediaries over and over again for no obvious, discernible reason. Of course, that would mean treating fans like adults and recognizing them as stakeholders. Instead, clubs hide behind the lame excuse of "commercial confidentiality" and "competitive advantage" when, in fact, for most able-bodied agents or journalists, it only takes a couple of phone calls to get reasonably accurate numbers.

Richard Garlick, director of football administration at West Bromwich Albion, told the BBC that his club adopted a "sporting director" model to free themselves from the influence of agents. Having a guy on your payroll who knows the figures, the transfer market and the characters involved means you're not entirely dependent on agents, as many clubs are.

"We don't need agents to act for us, we can act club-to-club," Garlick said. Though, in fact, he concedes that in some deals it's inevitable while in other situations it's desirable. If you have a trusted agent working for you, you might be able to actually save yourself money -- even when you factor in commissions -- because you don't need to show your hand early.

The point is that agents serve a function and when club officials are honest, competent and accountable, there's no problem. Where you run into trouble is when clubs employ guys who don't meet all three criteria.

There's not much you can do about the first two. Dishonest people exist, it's a fact of life. So too do incompetent folks and, in fact, everybody makes mistakes. But that's where accountability comes in. When you have transparency, you're better equipped to have accountability and that allows you to spot both dishonesty and incompetence.

If that's the goal, we don't really need this half-baked meaningless junk which some are trying to pass off as "transparency." It doesn't really tell you much of anything. Instead, we need real numbers and real accountability. The folks who ultimately pay the bills -- the fans -- are, at the very least, entitled to that.

Gabriele Marcotti is a columnist for ESPN FC, The Times and Corriere dello Sport. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.



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