The art of negotiation
The shadowy world of the football agent is one that is cloaked in secrecy amid accusations of greed. Thankfully, we've got one of the good guys on board to lift the lid on what life really is like at the sharp end of a notoriously cut throat business.
By Secret Agent - Follow me on Twitter @SSSecretAgent
Last Updated: 28/02/12 11:47am
The art of negotiation is probably the most important facet of being a football agent and it's also one of the most difficult skills to master. Modern day contracts have long since ceased to be about such trifling matters as a basic wage, appearance fee and a goal bonus if you're lucky. Hell no - having complicated stipulations in your contract is as de rigueur for a Premier League footballer as having a reality TV chick on the arm and a season ticket at Chinawhite.
Jeez, if it were the case that footballers had 'normal' contracts like the rest of us then they'd be no need for agents and I'd have to get a real job! Doesn't bear thinking about.
Particularly at the top end of the football pyramid, contracts inevitably have clauses and other agreements/loopholes in place that when combined with all manner of other legal bits and pieces, regularly complicate a transfer between two clubs and, quite often, are the real reasons why deals fall through.
Players and their agents often get short shrift from fans and the media when a transfer falls down. I'll concede that often it's the case that greed has come to the fore, with supporters right to conclude that a given player wanted more money or the buying club weren't prepared to be held to ransom to get their man. It's rare that a club is blamed for the protraction of a pending transfer.
However, more often than not, it isn't actually the case that it is the player's demands that are getting in the way of a protracted deal. Often, and the ethics of these stipulations is another matter entirely, it is the case that a selling club are unwilling to pay a player his loyalty bonuses that are legally due. They may do this because they feel that the player has sought to get a transfer by using the media to his advantage. Agents (and clubs too, heaven forbid) often use the press to try and set up a move for their client. Let's step into the real world, it goes on and all parties involved, including the punters with their heads in the gossip columns, know the score.
You will have seen the stories hundreds of times before when a friend/source of the player says 'he is not happy, misses his wife, worried about the club's ambition, is allergic to the North East etc...' Let's just say these sources haven't always been vetted via the most taxing of standards.
Such declarations of restlessness, albeit via a third party, are a tried and tested industry cue to alert other clubs to the player's availability and potential willingness to move. Let the bidding begin.
Often clubs will embrace a long-standing mantra of not keeping unhappy players and will look to sell for the best possible price. However, when it comes to severing any existing contract, the selling club will regularly claim that the player has tried to engineer a transfer (through media comments) and therefore forfeits any rights to a loyalty bonus. In a cut throat industry clubs hate nothing more than having to shell out loyalty bonuses to players who'd swear black was white if it earned them an extra few quid every pay-packet.
Here's where as an agent you have to earn your money. You have a few options to choose from.
1. Contest any suggestion that you and your client have tried to set up a move. This can prove time consuming and with the transfer window likely to be closing soon, your client may end up staying at the club until the next window. No one enjoys having an unhappy client on the books. Trust me, it's not pretty.
2. Go to the buying club and suggest to them that they increase the fee for the player, in order to cover most or all of the bonuses that he was hoping to receive. This is a risky strategy as it relies on the fact that bagging your client really is important to them. If it isn't, then your boy could spend half a season training with the youth team. No one enjoys having an unhappy client on the books. Trust me, it's not pretty.
3. Get your client to swallow his pride by taking a reduced pay-off or signing on bonus. You could always try to recover this deficit by way of introducing a few incentives at his new club. The key now is to convince the buying club to add bonuses on top the existing deal on the table. If both yourself and your player exhaust options one and two then this the only choice you're left with. Most probably resulting in an unhappy player...
There are legal paths to go down to get a player a transfer if they are not selected to play in at least 10% of first team games, but this is a route that is time consuming, costly and will almost certainly leave a sour taste all around. Don't forget you would like to deal with all parties concerned again in the future.
At this point the agent is the man responsible for keeping a deal alive. If a transfer that numerous people have presided over fails then ultimately it is your reputation that will take a beating. There's also every chance that your client may feel that you've not helped the situation at all and decide he wants a new agent. I shall refer you back to last week's blog about players jumping ship more often than Somalian pirates.
To keep all three parties happy you will have to spin more plates than at a Greek wedding and tease a little bit of give and take from all concerned. It shouldn't be difficult in theory as the selling club will want to get a disgruntled player off their books before word gets out he wants away and thus reduces his value on the open market. At the same time, if you can get the buying club to come in with a bit of an increase to kick-start a deal back into life you're on the right path.
Once an agreement is in place between the two clubs and the player's signing-on fee/severance package has been agreed, then as the agent you can start to work out the exact details of the contract content and this is where the fun begins.
This can be a long and complicated task. Apart from the basic salary, appearance fee and the length of contract there are lots of different bonus schedules that the player can work towards. As an agent it's your job to include bonuses specific to the player. For example it's not unusual if you're working with a young player to ask for a lump sum once they are selected to play for the Under 21 national side. Alternatively, a player like Yohan Cabaye - who is ripping up trees for Newcastle this season despite costing just £5million, may have asked (and this is purely hypothetical by the way) for a percentage of the fee the Toon would receive if one of the big boys bids for his services down the line.I'm currently in the initial stages of a potential transfer of a player from one Premier League club to another. It's early days but it's not too dissimilar to the example given above. The player is under contract but 'according' to the press has a number of suitors interested in his services.
His current club is telling the media that they are hopeful that he will sign a new contract, which they genuinely want to happen, and by saying this publically it covers their back in case the player tries to claim loyalty bonuses he thinks are due.
Meanwhile, the player hasn't once said he wants to leave, or got a 'source close to him' to suggest he isn't happy, despite the reports which are linking him to two or three other clubs.
A decision should happen this week as to whether the player decides to take the new contract on offer. While he waits to make this decision I have clubs primed and ready to jump into talks if he rejects their extension.
This is normal practice and is not considered illegal at all. If the player does decide against renewing his contract, his current employers will look to get the best price while the agent will find the right club for his client, not necessarily the one that pays the best - contrary to popular opinion. If the contract offered is fair, the only reason this particular player would leave would be for footballing reasons.
It's a delicate process getting to the end of a transfer like this, with the big money involved complicating matters further. One moment you're up thinking you can relax as everything is going through, but before you know it a snag materialises and the light at the end of the tunnel fades into darkness. It's my job then to keep the talks going and fire burning until an agreement is found.
I'll let you know how it pans out next week.