Guest Post: A look inside an agent’s head by Frank Bukowski
Take a look inside a football agent’s head and prepare to be scared, very scared
“Rich Dinero is the world’s richest football agent. His job is turning modest young men into money-grabbing mercenaries earning two hundred grand a week. It’s brought him a champagne lifestyle of fast cars, beautiful women and private jets. The secret to his success? He never takes no for an answer. Until he meets Fliss, a pretty young receptionist who won’t play ball. And the game is on.”
So runs the gist of my latest novella, The Football Agent. For fans of football the world over (that’s ‘soccer’ in the USA) the book is an attempt to get inside a football agent’s head. Rich Dinero is one of the new breed of Machiavellian movers and shakers who’ve become such an integral part of the modern game. Or as some might describe them, a plague.
As we draw close to the business end of another English Premier League season the spectre of agent power has raised its ugly head again. The much publicised PR disaster for Liverpool’s 20 year-old striker Raheem Sterling is a case study in how to piss off fans, club, and team-mates. Liverpool’s new contract offer of £100,000 a week was reportedly thrown back in their face, despite it being close to a 200% pay rise on Sterling’s existing £35,000 a week. Minimum wage, Raheem? As I write, word on the street has it that Sterling’s ‘advisers’ are encouraging the greedy oik to hold out for a figure closer to £150,000 a week. You heard that right. One hundred and fifty grand a WEEK. Not a year. A week. And there are fifty two of those in a year. Nice work if you can get it.
Back in the day when player loyalty was taken for granted, such mercenary greed would have made fans’ blood boil. But with the amount of money now swilling around in the game, greed is becoming the norm. Nowadays even a five year contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. It can be ripped up the following week, and the player toddles smugly on his way in pursuit of the filthy lucre. In Sterling’s case, he has basically handed Liverpool a ransom note. A hundred and fifty grand a week, or I walk.
Raheem Shaquille Sterling is not the first young footballer to have had his head turned by an exploitative Svengali type posing as an ‘advisor’. Let’s face it, many of us would find it hard to turn down the kind of rock-star lifestyle being dangled in front of these testosterone-fuelled young men. Once an agent latches on like some sucker fish, all notions of ethical behaviour go out the window. The players are taken to West End clubs, wined and dined at movie star restaurants, showered with expensive gifts as a demonstration of the millionaire lifestyle awaiting them, IF they put themselves in the agent’s hands. For most of these impressionable youngsters, it’s game over.
The result has seen an astronomical rise in player wages in recent years. Not to mention transfer fees. It’s become such a phenomenon that the BBC have built a special web-page where you can compare what you earn to modern footballer. Just make sure you have a stiff drink first. I tried an annual figure of £30,000, which is close to the national average wage in the UK. The comparison that came back shocked me, at a time when there’s so much poverty and austerity around. We’ve built a world where even a person in a decent job earning £30k a year would need to work for 617 YEARS to earn what Real Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo earns EVERY YEAR. That’s a footballer we’re talking about. Not some Nobel Prize winner. Not a brain surgeon. Nor a brilliant nuclear physicist. If I’d started in the 14th Century and earned £30k a year, I’d only just be nearing the total of £18,200,000 Ronaldo earned last year alone. For kicking a bit of leather around on a muddy field. I’ll leave you to work out the madness of a world where that’s considered perfectly normal.
Of course it wouldn’t be fair to pin all the blame on agents. The kind of money Sky have been injecting into football over the last ten years has attracted some notable multi-billionaires with huge cheque books. Rich sugar daddies who have been buying up clubs like toys, fuelling the expensive bidding wars for the biggest stars. And let’s all hold up our hands. We’re the ones queuing up to hand Sky a shedload of money each month for their wall to wall sports coverage. There are genuine push-pull forces at work here, from which none of us can be absolved.
That said, there seems little doubt that agents are pouring petrol on the fire. By turning players’ heads, spreading rumours, deliberately unsettling them at their clubs, they are manipulating a lucrative game of musical chairs where footballers are flogged from club to club like knocked-off jewellery. Each move driving the player’s perceived value ever higher, eroding player loyalty to the point of extinction. Notable exceptions like Liverpool and England legend Stevie Gerrard who has remained a one-club man throughout his career, must shake their heads and wonder when jumped up young money-grubbers like Sterling (who couldn’t lace Gerrard’s boots as a player) put in wage demands higher than Gerrard ever earned in his entire career. Clearly the disparity in the sums involved has nothing to do with talent. It has everything to do with agents. And greed. And it’s not hard to see why.
Every time a multi-million pound transfer fee is agreed, the agent takes his cut. Every time he quadruples the wages of his client, he quadruples his own percentage. It is absolutely in an agent’s interest to be constantly moving a player from club to club as often as he can. To put ideas in his head. To make him feel he can always get more somewhere else. Next year. The year after. In such a world it’s hardly surprising that many big name agents have grown wealthier than the ‘portfolios’ of millionaire footballers they represent.
You could be forgiven for thinking things couldn’t get much worse. But here’s the thing. It used to be that football agents were required to pass tough examinations and have all the proper insurances in place. Not anymore. Only last month (on 1 April 2015) FIFA actually took the brakes off, by deregulating the licensing system for agents even further, incredible though that may seem. And no, it wasn’t an April fool’s joke. It was FIFA, perhaps the most corrupt old-boy’s network on the planet, run by the grand-daddy of dodgy deal-making himself, Sepp Blatter. Thanks to Blatter any old used-car salesman can now get a letterhead made up and call themselves a football agent. God help us.
Like many a fan who hands over a grand of their hard-earned cash every year for a season ticket, there are times when all this greed and disloyalty make you want to give up and walk away. But for most of us there is no choice. It’s in the blood. We’re as likely to give up on our team as we are on our parents. So that’s why I’ve written this book, for football fans everywhere. To get one back on the agents, and expose them for the greedy, unscrupulous tribe they are. The Football Agent is an attempt to look inside an agent’s head from a fan’s point of view. If you’re an agent, sorry, but this is how you look from the terraces to us, the fans you treat like scum. Have a look in the mirror. It ain’t pretty. I’ll leave the last word to Dinero himself.
“I was thinking like the other day, how having any woman you want in the world can be like a massive responsibility. For instance. I’ve had Hollywood actresses round here with egos the size of Old Trafford. What a pain in the arse they were. You wouldn’t believe half the shit they make you wade through just for a simple poke. Sometimes I think fuck it, who needs that kind of shit after a hard day at the office. I am Rich Dinero. The most successful football agent in the history of the beautiful game. If I want to go down Orgasmic and pick up a local slapper with great tits and an accent like Eliza Doolittle, who’ll bugger off back to Topshop in the morning with a century in her knickers and no questions asked, fuck it, I will. Who needs some spoiled charley snorter whose agent is gonna wake you up at five in the morning waving a confidentiality clause under your nose, and they can’t find their Blahniks under the bed, and they look at you through mullered eyes as they chop up their breakfast on the dresser with a Barclaycard, and all their slap has worn off and you look at them and think, jesus, how did you ever get into films?”