Tick tock, transfer clock
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 The Secret Agent - @SSSecretAgent
Last Updated: 28/02/12 11:54am
Tick tock. The clock is ticking. Deadline Day. Tears and tantrums. And I've still got a blog to write before the close of a window that never really shuts for an agent. In reality it's left perpetually ajar to allow for the breeze of a January transfer to keep you from sleeping. I'll be glad when the clock strikes 11pm all the same.
Like the Boxing Day sale at Next you know it's coming every year. It's always chaotic, lots of jostling for position, but the people who queue up the night before, those who have checked the catalogue for what they want and know the price they want to pay, are the ones who go home happy with their purchases.
The rest of us turn up a couple of days late in the forlorn hope of picking up something the shrewd shopper has missed. We return home with a pair of comedy cufflinks and some flip flops. In December.
In the current window it was Manchester United and Liverpool who did their research, watched the players they wanted, made enquiries beforehand and pounced as soon as the door swung open. Contrast this with the approach adopted by the likes of Tottenham, Blackburn and especially Arsenal, and it's not difficult to work out which of Sir Alex or Arsene will be wearing Homer cufflinks at the weekend.
It won't be panic shopping exactly, few managers buy entirely blind, but I'm sure at least one or two may end up making duff purchases and unlike Next, there's no returns policy. You don't even get a credit note in this business. Instead a season of disappointment, early Champions League exits and even the tin tack could be around the corner.
Every year the same questions are asked and the same comments are passed: Why do we have a window?
The common consensus seem to be it's ridiculous that it's stretched out until the end of August when it could be shut at the end of July just before the season starts. Of course we all know the window was brought in by Uefa so we agents could make obscene amounts of money out of clubs desperate for players at the last minute... only kidding!
Aside from the hectic nature of the window and the two days of the year when Sky Sports News presenter Jim White manages to get as excited about Reading signing an Icelandic left-back as he does Man City bagging Robinho, the window represents a real test of a club's business skills and a manager's ability to juggle player recruitment with his day-to-day activities on the training field.
I think doing away with the window and its chaotic last couple of days would take a big part of the theatre out of the game. Although it does me no favours at home, I can go on holiday with the family but the wife doesn't look on too kindly when the phone keeps ringing while we are sat having tapas, I would hate to see an end to a date on the football calendar that the punters look forward to as much as they do the first game.
You may or may not have seen the annual report on agent fees paid by Football League clubs which was published last week. Click here for the summary and full report. Basically it gives brief details on how much each club paid agents last season, although it doesn't include this summer's deals.
Only eight clubs out of the 72 Football League clubs didn't pay agents fees last season. That's a drop from the season before when 14 didn't pay anything and overall the amount of money paid to agents went up from the previous campaign.
The Football League chairman Greg Clarke commented on the report by saying: "These figures show that a considerable amount of money (£16.7m) continues to leave the game through payments to agents."
I don't know what the Football League hope to achieve from this report. Do they do a similar report on how much a club spends on non-playing staff including directors' wages? No. Aren't these wages also money 'leaving' the game? Yes.
I don't feel the need to know what players are getting paid. Likewise, I don't need to know how much the groundsman is on either. The point is that agents are a part of football. As well as bringing players to a club or renegotiating player contracts, clubs often need to move players out - especially when they've gone over the budget. I've saved a number of clubs money by shifting out overpaid players brought in by a previous manager.
But does Mr Clarke factor this into his report? Does he buggery. As usual agents are an easy target. Yes some agents do soil our reputation but the majority are here to do a good job. We may take money 'out' of the game but most of us are here to help our players AND clubs. As an industry we accept we are unlikely to have our names chanted by supporters on the terraces, but equally we don't all hold a gun to football's head. In a game of Russian roulette, trust me, it'd be the agent who took the bullet.
If a club can make deals happen without agents, like the eight clubs on the report, then that's through good management and fair play to them. But as the number of clubs doing this is going down and the amount spent is going up, it's time to realise that agents are here to stay.
A number of correspondents have asked how you can become a football agent, what advice and help I can give them etc...
My first bit of advice is don't give up your day job. It's hard enough to make a living in this business when you're up and running, so don't stop your normal income for a good few years as you will need the money you already earn to pay for petrol to get around the grounds and setting-up costs.
Contacts and relationships are the most important part of this business so use your initiative to get hold of the mobile numbers for managers, assistant managers and probably most importantly, chief scouts. Go on club websites, find out email addresses of staff who may pass on your messages - which may lead to a manager or chief executive getting in touch.
Of course you will need a player or two to try and sell to the clubs, so at the same time go and watch as many games as possible. Reserve matches are a good start and youth team games are usually on Saturday mornings. You need to have an eye for spotting talent of course, just because a kid can do step-overs for fun it doesn't mean he will be a superstar in the future.
Then you need to see if you can recruit a player to your agency. There is a good chance any given player has an agent; you will get knock backs, that's part of the business. But the more players you spot, the more you ask, the chances are you will get lucky sooner or later.
Do favours for non-league managers. Don't forget these bosses are likely to be ex-footballers and will have contact with former team-mates and managers still in the game. Do a bit of scouting of an opponent or a player for free and in return you'll soon find a few numbers being thrown your way.
That's enough tricks of the trade for one week. I'm off now to put Arsene Wenger in a headlock and keep rubbing until he buys one of my lads!
I'll be blogging throughout the summer for skysports.com so if you've any questions or feedback fill in the feedback form or catch me at @SSSecretAgent and I'll look to address them in my next column.