It was one of those anecdotes told in jest that had a serious point buried beneath the mirth.
A few years ago, a journalist colleague stationed outside the North East was given a tip-off from someone very senior at a Premier League club about a player his club was interested in. After piecing together an article he decided to ring the star-in-question’s stated representative, who promptly threw a spanner in the works.
“That move will never happen. He’s signing a new contract,” the fairly friendly agent said. So back he went to the Premier League official, who couldn’t mask the surprise in his voice. “Is he?” he exclaimed. “Right. Thanks for that – got to go,” he continued, before the phone clicked off.
This was not a Joe Kinnear-style figure of fun, you understand. He was a respectable and pretty widely respected figure in the world of football. His mobile phone contacts book would make your eyes water and he’s done some impressive deals in his time. But here he was, swimming with the piranhas in the deep, dark waters of the transfer window, paddling furiously in an attempt to keep his head above water.
Another scenario to consider: in January 2013, Loic Remy flew into London to finalise a deal with Newcastle United. Alan Pardew and Derek Llambias were waiting. There was a pen and a contract there that he had agreed in principle but incredibly, QPR gazumped the Magpies. Remy knew very little about any of this.
It happens all the time. Last summer, Benjamin Mendy posted a picture of himself on board Ellis Short’s private jet en route to the North East. Eagle-eyed supporters enlarged the route map and noticed his planned destination. Two and two seemed to make four. He ended up signing for Marseille.
When people wonder where football’s money goes, it might be worth considering how the transfer window remains the game’s equivalent of the Wild West.
There are rules and regulations but the FA and Premier League maintain a very hands-off approach on transfers. Gazumping can and does go on. It is no wonder clubs look for every advantage they can get, a fact that plays into the hands of agents and players looking for the biggest payday.
It’s largely unregulated, chaotic and completely and utterly unpredictable. And if it can make a monkey out of respectable and experienced people like Llambias and my friend’s friend, is it wonder so many clubs end up getting their fingers burned? A few people seem to be getting rich while the English game itself is moving further and further away from the common fan – and dragging the England team down with it.
This is not intended as another polemic against agents or greedy players.
There are plenty of decent agents and most have worked incredibly hard, playing the contacts game perfectly to maneouvre themselves into a position of strength. But football clubs have never been more beholden to them than in the days when every second transfer is an intercontinental one.
Agent Willie McKay was in charge of player transfers at Doncaster for a season. Jerome Anderson worked with Blackburn in an advisory capacity, during which time the club signed his son Myles. Last year Sunderland actually appointed a licensed agent in Roberto De Fanti as director of football.
They are not alone – at a lot of clubs it just simply isn’t as open or acknowledged. There is a better, more honest and open way but it doesn’t seem in anyone’s interests to bring some order to this chaos.
Transfer deadline day is now a business in itself, driving hits and 24-hour coverage as supporters and us journalists scramble for more information.
This whole column feels like a turkey arguing for Christmas when I know that Twitter followers always go up during transfer windows. But is it any good for the English game? In a summer where Ross McCormack has moved from Leeds to Fulham – a club desperately attempting to jump back into the Premier League at the first attempt – for £11million it feels like something has short-circuited somewhere.
I’d start with more openness in these deals.
Do away with the ‘undisclosed fee’ business and, if you’re the FA, make it a matter of record who has been paid and at what stage in the deal. We currently get a breakdown of agent’s fees that have been shelled out in the last year but at the moment it’s just a block of information: it doesn’t really tell us what we need to know.
We need dates, people, amounts. A new period of glasnost in football transfers might restore an smidgeon of order to a business that gets more and more worrying by the window.