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Colm's Corner
Columnist: Colm Kavanagh


Gotta Pick A Pocket Or Two…
17 January 2006

 

The headline screamed “Honesty?  The clubs know it won’t pay”  - and indeed they most certainly do.  Which is why the game is in the state it is today, ducking and diving all over the place.  Pockets being lined, the price of your season ticket spiralling, annually, further out of reach as your club dons a public façade indicating the latest price increases a necessary measure in order to provide YOU with the type of quality player you want to see running out onto the pitch at five to three (subject, of course, to BSkyB allowing you to play a game at a traditional time).

Buying these quality international players costs money.  A lot of money.  It’s worth reminding that when the Premiership was first created, a mere fourteen years ago, a kid could stand on most Premiership terraces for as little as 90p.  Where the money goes, when a transfer fee is broken down, remains a mystery as football clubs cite “commercial sensitivity” on these matters.  Such reluctance to reveal the intimate detail of every transfer naturally leaves clubs open to whispers.  Until we see otherwise there will always be a degree of suspicion attached to some transfer dealings — particularly when clubs frequently trade using the same agent(s).  I read Mihir Bose in the Daily Telegraph claim that in the history of the Premiership only one club has ever disclosed the amount paid to an agent.  That, of course, was Manchester United — a club under severe pressure from the Coolmore Mafia (JP McManus and John Magnier) with their 99 questions for the United board.  Accountability called for by shareholders — sounds such a novel idea, I do pray it catches on elsewhere!

Ever since Luton manager (and ex-Blue) Mike Newell chose to make public comments about the bung culture in football we’ve witnessed a media frenzy — the inside back pages being filled with exclusives aplenty yet quoting unnamed sources and references made to alleged dodgy deals in recent times.  It all makes for interesting reading, even if some of it is regurgitated, the journo thumbing the pages of any David Conn opus for relevant quotes in order to comply with his editor’s demand for a two thousand word feature article on “Our Game In Disarray”, the topic of bungs in football being this week’s news.  Next week’s chip papers…

“I think Mike has opened a can of worms for himself” said Coventry City manager, Mickey Adams, when asked for a comment on the situation.  Adams’ words stink, an acknowledgement that football, as a business is rotten.  To the core?  Well, I genuinely don’t know but it’s a dog eat dog world and everyone has to look after number one.  Some do, literally. 

The reaction of some of the leading (self-serving) agents was hardly surprising either.  The Football Agents’ Association is a grand title for a bunch of spivs (not all mind you!) who include in their ranks the likes of Paul Stretford, described in a Court of Law by QC Lord Carlile as “a manipulative and dishonest man who will stop at nothing to enrich himself.”  Stretford, described by Bill Kenwright as a man who “we have a good working relationship with” continues to play the game by his own rules, bypassing the regulations set in place by FIFA.  Each and every registered agent is supposedly of “impeccable reputation” — that is the basic requirement.  Paul Stretford most certainly falls at the first fence.  He doesn’t even get to cross the Melling Road! 

The FA charged Mr Stretford in June 2005 for alleged breaches of FIFA’s Player Agent regulations and also FA rules.  Mr Stretford’s response was to take the FA to the High Court since the disciplinary proceedings brought against him are “in breach of natural justice and the European Convention on Human Rights.”  Marvellous!  This is one of the game’s leading agents — a man who lied under oath in a Court of Law (arthritis in the foot plays awful tricks with the mind!); a man who employed a former SAS man turned surveillance expert to sit outside a north west hotel with a brown bag containing £250,000 in cash, as he negotiated a proposed pay off with Wayne Rooney’s former associates inside; a man who lied under oath as another man’s liberty was at the mercy of a jury.  “If you looked up the definition of a dodgy agent in the dictionary then there would probably be a picture of Paul Stretford,” said one unnamed Premiership football agent, to The Observer newspaper back in October 2004.  We await (with baited breath) the outcome of Mr Stretford’s battle with the FA.  It’s rumoured that the FA’s legal team are searching for their balls in some dark room in deepest Soho Square.  Maybe they should employ Fariah Alam once more as she knew where to find balls when at the FA!  Incidentally, Mr Stretford is due back in court some time next month as matters concerning John Hyland, the Bacon brothers and Rooney’s former agent, Peter McIntosh remain unresolved. 

John Smith, from First Artist, who represents our own James Beattie, said “Mike Newell now needs to put up or shut up — come out of it with all and name names to the relevant authorities.  We really need a proper investigation to flush it out — for as much as the industry has been cleaned up, we don’t feel the FA have policed it properly.  If it is still going on we need to know who it is.  Newell can’t turn his back now, because it will mean there is going to be innuendo.  He needs to say who has been approached by — are they English or foreign agents?  And what did they offer?  We’re a public company and are transparent in our dealings.  But unfortunately there are unscrupulous people in the agency side of the business, and it would help if we all knew who they are.”  That’s absolutely marvellous - vacuous nonsense from a man standing shoulder to shoulder, a visible united front alongside the game’s leading agents — people like Jonathan Barnett (who represents Ashley Cole) who is still awaiting the outcome of a FA charge relating to his role in the tapping up affair (of Cole) involving Chelsea. 

Jerome Anderson’s another who has been pretty vocal in his condemnation of Newell’s allegations.  Mr. Anderson is a good friend of Arsenal Football Club, having represented many players at Highbury over the years.  He’s a personal friend of Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein (whose son works for Anderson), and via this friendship (through six degrees of Kevin Bacon!) he’s an associate of our own chairman, Bill Kenwright.  At the EGM in 2004 Mr. Kenwright described Jerome Anderson as “the chap who first of all came to me and said ‘I know some people who might be able to help you’, which I’ve got to tell you a lot of people do.  And Jerome Anderson introduced me to some people that I hope will help you and help this football club.”  Ah yes, Mr. Kenwright, these people you say “will help this football club”…  Their names?  Robert Steelhammer, Emily Willi, Guy de la Tour du Pin, Patricia German-Ribon.  Individuals all brought together by a Genevan-based ‘administrator’, how could we forget that lifelong “follower of Everton Football Club” himself, Mr. Christopher Samuelson! 

I asked Mr. Kenwright at that EGM if Jerome Anderson was involved with this Fortress Sports Fund and if so he would then contravene FIFA regulations preventing registered agents from having a conflict of interest and a financial involvement in any given football club.  Mr Kenwright was happy to state that Mr. Anderson had no involvement in the Fortress Sports Fund but I remain sceptical that an agent, like Jerome Anderson, could set in motion a process whereby new investment is found, and successfully brought into Everton Football Club (an initial £12.9M was the figure being quoted at the time) yet he receives no fee for his services.  Anyhow, it’s nice to see Mr. Anderson standing indignant alongside the august members of the Football Agents’ Association, appalled at the slur on their character from comments made by rookie manager, Mike Newell.

However, not all agents are up in arms, appalled by Newell’s comments and potential whistle blowing.  Colin Gordon, who represents Southampton’s last remaining prize asset Theo Walcott, once famously said that “football clubs and chairmen know who in the game is corrupt, so why do they still use them?  I would question the motives of a large number of managers, chief executives and chairmen in the game.”  What a valid shout.  I raised this issue at the EGM back in 2004, asking why do we continue to conduct business with people like Paul Stretford.  The chairman, mindful of being in a room full of shareholders (with the media also present) played safe, stating, “the players agents and the way they are paid is appalling.”  However, as the headline “Honesty?  The clubs know it won’t pay” indicates, Everton Football Club are no better — or worse — than any other club involved in the business of player trading. 

In the summer of 2004, Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan became incredibly irate when the proposed transfer of Millwall’s Tim Cahill to his club hit a snag:  the player’s agent demanded an extra payment of £125,000.  Jordan refused to pay the sweetener and lost out on securing the Australian international’s services.  His loss became our gain, as we paid “the going rate” — Cahill becoming our player of the season, top scorer with eleven priceless goals from midfield, a Champions League qualifying position secured.  Meanwhile, through the sliding door, Palace would look on with envy, slipping out of the Premiership, possibly wondering what might have been.  Football, as a game and an industry, it would appear is no place for taking the moral high ground.  Que sera sera…

Colin Gordon also claimed “if you picked any 20 foreign transfers, you'd find that a large proportion of them would involve over-priced players and money that's gone missing.  But who's going to stop that?”  Answer?  No one.  Pause for a moment, a time for reflection and bring yourself close to tears as you recall the list of foreign imports who have passed through our once wonderful football club.  Why scout the Sunday League playing fields of Merseyside (a noted hotbed of football talent, no?) when you can attract (sic) the likes of Peter Degn, Claus Thomsen, Ibrahima Bakayoko, Raymond Atteveld, Stefan Rehn, Alex Nyarko and Idan Tal to grace the hallowed turf at Goodison Park.  Will we soon add the name of Per Krøldrup to the Goodison Hall of Transfer Infamy?  Are we not allowed to ask a perfectly valid question about where the money’s gone or to query who has been paid for bringing these players and you’re most certainly not allowed to ask why do we use, repeatedly, the same agents all the time.  “There’s nothing dirty about this football club,” said Bill Kenwright at that EGM back in 2004, when questioned about members of our playing staff having shares in Stretford’s company and our then recently departed CEO, Michael Dunford, also being revealed as a founding shareholder in the same company.  Football?  It’s more than a game…

Kevin Keegan, famously, lost the plot in front of the Sky cameras as his faltering Newcastle United side slumped to another costly defeat, fuming that Alex Ferguson had gone “way down in my estimation” as the wily old Scot turned up the heat a notch or ten in the race for the Premiership title.  That image of Keegan may become, in time, the definitive recollection of Keegan the manager.  I prefer to recall seeing his face, when as manager of Manchester City he was out in Denmark on a pre-season tour.  Smiling for the flashing cameras and signing autographs for young children, he was interrupted by a television crew — “Mr. Keegan — why do you have shares in ProActive?”  It halted Keegan in his tracks, the colour in his visage fading to grey.  He legged it onto the waiting team bus, still in possession of a young fella’s football boot.  Unsigned. 

Keegan, as Manchester City manager, and ProActive shareholder was influential in ensuring ProActive clients were “passing through” Manchester City during his reign.  Danish defender (crikey, this sounds familiar!) Mikkel Bischoff was signed from Danish club AC Copenhagen for a fee reported to be £750,000.  ProActive “earned” £350,000 from that sale, just under 50% of the reported transfer fee.  Nice work if you can get it.  Even nicer when you can keep the detail away from the prying eye.  Bischoff played a total of ONE game for City in three and a half seasons before being farmed out.  Coincidentally, current City manager Stuart Pearce — another ProActive man — sold his shareholding in that company before accepting the managerial postion at Eastlands.

Roy Keane famously made a reference to Old Trafford’s corporate fan as the “prawn sandwich brigade”.  Some of today’s players might feel as though they’ve become part of the “pawn sandwich brigade”.  Marcus Bent was an Everton player when I first began this article, now he’s a Charlton Athletic player!  His ninth club in nine years.  West Brom’s want-away striker Robert Earnshaw recently wrote to the FA begging them to look into his transfer from Cardiff City.  Earnshaw’s not sure; he’s asked to know what fee was paid and which agents claimed to represent him!  Read between the lines!

The big players in the Premiership should be forced to adopt the same principles now in place throughout the lower (more competitive) divisions.  The Football League is proposing that agents who act for both club and player in the same transfer are banned.  End of story.  If such a rule existed amongst the so-called elite then we’d not have seen Manchester United paying Paul Stretford a seven-figure enticement fee when they signed his client Wayne Rooney from ourselves.  Stretford “earned” more from that one transfer, when pen met paper, than many of the game’s greats did throughout their careers.  Absolute madness.  The fact remains that the Premiership clubs all agree to openly flout the rules and regulations set in place by FIFA - a registered agent is not allowed to represent more than one party in any transfer deal.  If he does, then he’s breaking the rules and faces censure.  They do not want the tail wagging the dog, trying to implement policies in adherence with FIFA’s guidelines.  What are our Premiership clubs trying to hide?  Why are they so opposed to regulations being put in place that, in time to come, will make the product that is the Premiership a more competitive and attractive package than it is today — a one horse race, done and dusted, Chelsea already disappeared over the horizon…

Credit to Football League chairman Brian Mawhinney who has vigorously set about tackling some of the problems that have beset many of the clubs throughout the lower divisions in recent times.  Mawhinney said: "We in the Football League have pioneered an arrangement whereby League One and League Two clubs cannot spend more than 60 per cent of income on player wages.  It has worked extremely well and has stabilised finances at a lot of clubs who were previously in trouble. As a result, we are just about to start floating the idea as to how we might transfer this to the Championship but we have to be careful because it has its own unique requirements." 

It is sound economical common sense, to cut the cloth to fit the cap.  The sooner the very same policy is in place with the Championship clubs, seen to be working in a positive light, then the pressure will mount on the Premiership chairmen to accept necessary changes.  Only last week the Football League released their report detailing the fees paid by Football League clubs to agents in the six months from June to January.  If a similar report for Premiership clubs was released, detailing the total amount committed to agents, I suspect we’d view the figures with incredulity.  It would be a most noble gesture if the chairman of what’s masquerading as “The People’s Club” was to do what previous custodians of our Club once did:  lead the way, from the front — be the first.  He’s on record as saying that “the players agents and the way they are paid is appalling.” So, why not choose to do something about it?  It’s too easy, convenient; to say that all the wrongs in the game, the murky dealings that occur, the blame lying with dodgy agents.  It would be naïve to think, as Colin Gordon has intimated, that Premiership chairmen (all of them), their CEO’s and managers do not know of the unspoken world of shady deals. 

I don’t know if we can view the fees paid out by Leeds United to agents in the past six months as a guideline but consider them all the same.  Thirty-two transactions made, agents paid a total amount of £576,000 in those six months.  Wow!  Those figures, from a club in the Championship, not long out of administration — more than half a million paid in six months.  What are the figures for a Premiership club like Everton then?  I don’t profess to being an accountant so I can view our Annual Report again and again and our fees paid to agents will forever elude me unless some one takes me by the hand and shows me exactly what we pay.  I can view a figure of £10.4m listed as “increase in borrowings” and think to myself, “hey, that’s the BSkyB money Bill said Uncle Rupert had advanced us!” but nowhere can I view a figure (£Xm) opposite those two words “agent fees”.  Why not?  The opening line on page 10 of our Annual Report & Accounts 2005 begins thus, “The People’s Club is more than just a phrase — it is very much an ethos.”  Is that so?  Then is it too much to ask for some genuine transparency in next years set of accounts, a definite figure detailing all fees paid to registered agents.  Perhaps Mr. Wyness could then point to this suspected shockingly high figure as yet another reason for further cost-cutting measures, further displacement of long time season ticket holders and obligatory season ticket increases…

Finally, as noble a gesture it may indeed be to request transparency amongst Premiership clubs, I’m well aware that it is something that, for now, is not going to happen.  The Premiership clubs do not want change as change would expose the stark reality that the industry of football is little more than a slush fund for too many people intent on taking out of the game as much as they can, nothing given back in return.  We are left with more questions than answers, as those involved in the game remain unprepared to blow the lid on the sleaze. 

I’ll leave the final word with Alex Ferguson — “How do you prove these things?  The FA have probably got more evidence than Mike Newell.”

Colm Kavanagh


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