Is their role in football getting out of hand?

Having a pop at football agents is a universally accepted truism, they deserve the scorn much in the same way that a traffic warden would, but it’s worth bringing into question just what exactly it is that they do for such exorbitant fees these days and are they starting to prevent more moves than they make?

Manchester United looked all but set to clinch the signing of the latest fad to be taking over football – the Brazilian ‘wonderkid’ – with Chelsea already having signed Oscar. The player in question was Sao Paulo’s Lucas Moura, who having played just over 100 first-team games for his club and made 15 appearances for his country is apparently worth upwards of £25m.

The club’s boss Sir Alex Ferguson was reportedly ready to pay that huge sum considering his relative lack of experience on the big stage because Lucas Moura is undoubtedly one of the top young prospects around the world, but the club were beaten to his signature by the moneybags at PSG, which led Ferguson to conclude: “When somebody’s paying €45 million for a 19-year-old boy you have to say the game’s gone mad.”

Here is what Lucas Moura’s agent Wagner Ribiero had to say on the transfer shortly after it was completed: “Everything was agreed between Sao Paulo and Manchester United. The contract had been written and just needed to be signed, but then (PSG sporting director) Leonardo called me and asked to talk to Lucas. They talked. Leonardo was helped by the fact he is Brazilian. He was very gentle with Lucas. The possibility of living in Paris – a much more pleasant city than Manchester – also influenced his decision, but it was PSG’s project that impressed Lucas.”

Of course, everything an agent has to say has to be taken with a ginormous pinch of salt – they’re essentially used car salesman on a larger scale, like Swiss Tony with a sharper suit – the thought that Lucas preferred to join PSG in a league which their money has since made something of a dead competition over United, an established European giant of the game, is extremely hard to believe, let alone prove.

The main stumbling block behind the move was that the player’s agent, Ribiero, allegedly demanded according to the Daily Mirror, a signing on fee of £6m to make the move go ahead, an astronomical sum for very little work given that the player would be likely to pick United over PSG in a straight choice if it were down to him and the club, rather understandably baulked at the price and walked away from the deal, clearing the path for him to move to France.

Let’s put this into perspective, though – agents fees are no new issue in the game, they’ve been large substantial for years but the fee reportedly demanded by Ribiero was equal to what Chelsea paid for Marko Marin this summer and more than what Steven Pienaar and Alou Diarra cost both Everton and West Ham – two season and experienced international footballers – and it’s now beginning to border on the ridiculous.

Is it any coincidence that the player moved to the club that the agent was set to pocket the most money from? Can Ribiero really be said to be acting in the best interests of the player by moving him to an inferior side (at the moment anyway) in a clearly worse and less competitive league?

Here’s what football agent Barry Silkman had to say back in the Guardian 2009 on why agents are needed nowadays: “If you walk in and start to negotiate your own deal – which is time consuming – and you can’t get what you want, it will affect the way you play. You’ll think to yourself, ‘I think I’m worth this, the club are only offering me this, and I’ve got to go out there and play every week’. Contracts are not done how they used to be, in 10 minutes. Contracts can sometimes take six months of negotiations. A player doesn’t want to be involved in that negotiation.”

When asked if some agents may look to exploit their clients for money, Silkman was very candid: “Some people would do that, it’s the nature of the beast. You see a club who are spending an enormous amount of money and you think, ‘I might have a player (for them)’. The player will have the last say but an agent can be very persuasive.”

Bearing in mind that the player is presumably already paying the agent for his services, I’m still at a loss to explain what exactly you’re paying for with an agent and why the club has to be the ones to fork out the  extra on top of the transfer fee? Are these players really so impressionable that a whisper in the ear from a man in a suit is enough to sway them one way or another regarding their future?

There are many instances where a player’s agent has hindered his career – Paul Stretford managed to get Wayne Rooney a pay rise at Manchester United when he asked to move over the club’s perceived ‘lack of ambition’ but he’ll never be held in the same regard ever again by the fans because of this mercenary move.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Anelka moved to a mid-table Manchester City, Fenerbache and Bolton during the peak years of his career on the say so of his brother Claude, who also acted as his agent during those deals and taking a slice of the action, meaning his career has always had a faint whiff of ‘what could have been’ about it, despite some good years towards the end of it at Chelsea.

I understand the need for representation during negotiations with football clubs for players; they don’t want to be ripped off and undervalued in terms of their contractual demands, which for some, may be slightly above what they might be able to comprehend, but this is why solicitor’s are used for legal matters, they have a set fee, they get the job done, what extra does an agent do? Are they not contravening some sort of freedom of movement laws by acting in such a wreckless and blatantly selfish manner?

Footballers are mollycoddled to such an extent that they use their representation to run and plan their lives just out of sheer laziness and in the long-run, while it may seem easier, it’s actually costing them potential moves to bigger and better clubs. Much like traffic wardens, you have to question whether the footballing world would just be better off without them and to put it more pertinently, if they weren’t here, would anybody really even notice the difference?