Vultures or vital to the modern game?

Agent – that word in football has become as tarnished and disliked as ‘bungs’ – we all know how Big Sam took to being asked about those, ‘tapping up’ – yes Cashley we are talking about you, and ‘Tevez’ – the very mention of the Argentine causes most of Manchester to cringe into their pints.

Yet why is this? Surely agents are there to look after footballers and help the transition from club to club, aiding the game? Well not any more – in recent years, allegations of bungs, kickbacks, bribery and tax evasion to name but a few have made agents increasingly unpopular, and add to this the concern that agents are far more concerned with looking after themselves than their players and you have one of the most unpopular and controversial professions linked with the modern game.

Of course, back in the day, agents were not at all like they are now, and it was done on a much less serious basis, with genuine affection between footballers and agents – these days hardly a transfer window goes by without either a player dumping their long time agent when they have made it big – think Andy Carroll after his big money move to Liverpool, or an agent dumping a player for a less than valid reason.

In fact, more often than not people have wondered exactly why agents exist in football – could lawyers not be used instead, as Paul Gascoigne did, paying them by the hour for each individual bit of work? Agents, I suppose will point to what happened to Gazza’s career and his addiction problems,  but the wonderment remains – are agents much better?

Well ‘the secret footballer’ who writes a regular column for The Guardian certainly seems to think so, stating that especially when it comes to things like deadline day, having an agent who is sharp and on the ball makes all the difference.

Not to mention the fact that it is not realistic to trust a club to tell a player who is performing well that he is attracting interest from multiple rivals, or on the other side, a club would be more than willing to get rid of players past their sell by date with little regard for the individual – think Anelka at Chelsea, and essentially, football is a business and agents are needed to as the secret footballer quite rightly says ‘to get anything done.’

Given the reputation that the majority of footballers have over their intelligence or more accurately lack of it, I would strongly suggest they would not be suited to handling their own affairs – one can only imagine monosyllabic Rooney et al trying to negotiate a deal with the top brass at another club – the only thing they seem to understand and respond to are the number of zeros in their weekly wage – Robinho didn’t even know who he had signed for when he arrived in Manchester, and that was with the help of an agent!

Likewise whilst using a lawyer may be lucrative for the footballer in terms of paying out less, agents are much closer to the game with contacts and their ears to the ground, and are able to stay with a footballer throughout their entire career and negotiate not just transfer deals but the inevitable image rights and lucrative sponsorship deals that are now part and parcel of the modern game.

Of course there are always going to be agents like ‘Mr 20 percent’ who are dubious at best and in reality should be banned for life, looking out for themselves far more than their clients and doing very dubious deals to boot, yet there are – believe it or not – agents who are decent and genuinely care about the players. This may be an increasingly rare occurrence nowadays, but the fact remains, even if you feel agents are not needed in the modern game, they are wanted by the footballers, and look set to stay.

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