We get the politicians we deserve, the referees we deserve and we get the football agents we deserve.
The revelation this week that Premier League clubs outlay on agents’ fees has reached £261 million was greeted with sighs and expletives and not just because that is an awfully huge sum of money. We simply do not believe agents offer value for money. They are intermediaries who — because they went to school with a player’s brother or dated their sister or lent them a tenner aged 11 when they lost their bus pass — become the trusted aide who skims off a percentage of all earnings. They have even evolved so that they take a fee from the clubs too, something that the Premier League would like to be banned.
There are of course good and bad agents. There are those who inflate a player’s worth but who would argue that they are doing the right thing by their client. There are those who offer much more than a neat line in bargaining banter and find their player a club at which he can thrive and flourish.
However, the more rounded and hard working the agent the more difficult it is for them to find clients. We get the agents we deserve because greed usually wins the day.
Agents are needed in the game. They are not a curse but a blessing when used appropriately. A good agent will plot a career path for a player, secure sponsorship deals, listen to his concerns, keep an ear to the ground when the inevitable rumours swirl. And then comes the big moment. A club makes an offer and the player has to decide whether to accept it and the advice given will depend on why the agent was appointed in the first place.
Consider the following scenes in the life of a player. He has come through an academy and is spoken of as having potential. His parents sit down with a recommended agent who delivers a friendly, detailed presentation on how vital it is to make the right moves, not be seduced by the first offer that comes in, to perhaps develop outside the Premier League or to spend another year in the current academy. The agent stresses mental welfare, career satisfaction, patience, how to invest their earnings sensibly for the long term.
The parents then meet the agent no one has recommended but represents a player who is known to be on big wages and is about to move to a top six club. This agent does not mention happiness or development but makes a promise. It is a promise all about money. It is seduction via instant gratification and perhaps the parents shrug and think it a shame that they cannot have the money and the carefully constructed career path at the same time but they usually opt for the big cheque in the hand rather than the long-winded game of patience.
I know many football families who do not treat their offspring as an asset but the academy system is set up to reward obsessive parents who often give up their own jobs to drive their prodigy to training and to be able to watch every coaching session, every youth match. Along the way the young player is the main hope the family has of substantial earnings. It cannot be healthy to be 16 and to know your mum or dad or both gave up their careers in order to ensure your own blossomed. When so much has been sacrificed it is inevitable that an agent who is good at inflating a player’s price will be embraced by families who cannot afford for the dream to turn sour or be deferred.
It is, in the end, about the traits we choose to reward. It is terribly seductive to be represented by someone who can drive up your value, secure three lucrative moves in four years. It is far healthier to be represented by someone who can look at a big bid and decide to ignore it knowing the player is better served by minimal upheaval. If agents end up losing money as a consequence of Premier League lobbying, it will probably only result in yet more transfers that players should not be making in order to compensate for it.