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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Agents Debate

Debate "Does football need a new way of regulating agents?
The Guardian Wednesday January 25, 2006The Guardian

Yes - Jon Smith; Chief executive, First Artist Corp management group
I don't think football is dirtier than any other business, it's just that its deals are carried out in the full glare of the media spotlight. As such men like Mike Newell can't just cast aspersions, they need to come up with some real facts. Ian Holloway talks about men turning up at his house with wheelbarrows full of cash but I just don't believe him.
Having said that, the Football Association's new regulations concerning agents as they exist at the moment simply don't work. For example, they bar club employees or officials holding stakes in football agencies. Well my company is publicly listed, so I can't stop people investing in it - and I'm not sure the Financial Services Authority would approve if I did.
Also the regulations state you can't represent more than one side of any negotiation, but First Artist are a successful global business and we acquire other companies around the world. Indeed, last year there was a deal in which we represented a buying club, an Italian subsidiary represented the selling club and a Spanish subsidiary acted for the player. I don't see any problem with that but the deals do need to be transparent.
The problematic situation now is that only one official representative needs to sign the FA forms on any transaction. Yet there can be any number of people actually involved. For instance, in South America a struggling club may sell shares in a player's registration to as many investors as it likes. When that player is sold those people and their representatives are all involved in the deal, and that is the time where a deal can go seriously wrong. Everyone involved in any transaction, agents - licensed or unlicensed (why these people are even involved in the first place, I don't know) - lawyers, financial advisors, all need to put their name on the dotted line.
Then there is the question of proper policing. The FA is just not set up to do this properly. I like the chief executive Brian Barwick a great deal, and it's good to see a real football man at the top of that organisation, but the FA is currently too "civil service". I believe the Professional Footballers' Association, the players' union, should police the deals as they do in America in the NBA, NHL and NFL.
They would have proper teeth: if someone steps out of line then the players, who after all are the absolute heartbeat of the game, will never cross their own union because if anything goes wrong they will get no protection. This idea isn't going to be popular with the PFA, because they want to remain agents themselves, but for the good of the game they are best placed to do it.
The world governing body, Fifa, is fully aware that its regulations need to be redrafted too. I had lunch at Fifa House last week and they realise the current rules are six years old, having been drafted in 2000, and need to be reviewed. When Fifa redrafts these regulations in the coming year, I believe that not only all football associations should be involved, but that the players' unions and agents themselves should submit to this process too. Then, for once, we will have one voice that speaks across all factions of the sport.
Jon Smith is a member of the new Football Agents' Association

No - Eric Hall; Football and music agent
When it comes to transfer dealings, I believe football is as transparent now as it's ever been - and I've been in the game more than a few years. So no, I don't think there's any need to increase the amount of regulation in the game. A deal is a deal; you are already required to fill in the forms and send all the transfer details to the FA's payments office - showing exactly who's paid what to whom for whom - so how much more can be done to improve the situation?
To tell you the truth, I was shocked when I heard what Mike Newell had said about managers being offered bribes. Reason being, I was at Luton the day before the news came out, doing a deal on the club's behalf to bring the young midfielder David Bell in from Rushden and Diamonds. I got to Luton early that evening and had a long chat with Mike in his office; there wasn't a mention of his allegations. Then when I turned on Sky Sports News the next morning, he was all over the television saying bungs were rife in football. I was amazed.
The fact is I've never been offered a bung - terrible word, that. In football and in music (I started out as an office boy in a record company) I've never asked for, been offered or given a backhander, and god's truth I don't know anyone who has. I work hard for my money - too hard. The sort of East End lad I am, if it was going on then you'd think I'd be just the sort of guy to be taking them - but no way, never on my life. Sure I want to make money - but my job is to make as much as possible for my client, whether it's a football club, a player or a manager, without breaking the law of the land.
A while back there were some unfounded stories about one of my clients, Terry Venables. Was anything ever proven? Of course not. I said at the time, and I was quite pleased with the quote, "The football authorities are looking for a needle in a haystack when there isn't even a needle."
The game is transparent enough; why should I disclose every last detail of what I'm doing? Every last bit of money I've earned has been through working my balls off, not by taking bungs or doing double deals.
I do, though, think it's disgraceful if agents are copping money on both sides of a deal. I've never done it and it's rightly frowned upon - unless, that is, all parties are aware and agreeable. Recently a new band that I represent asked the little production company I own to take them on, and I said not unless it's cleared by the record company and all parties. So I think it's right that the football authorities are trying to tighten up against double-dealing - if it's happening and the parties involved don't know, it's out of order.
But in all my years in showbiz and football, I've never come across a dodgy deal like Mike, Ian Holloway and Sven-Goran Eriksson have been talking about. They really shouldn't say these things if they're not going to take the next step and actually name names.
But of course, there's no evidence at all. What they've done is opened up a can of worms, only there aren't any worms inside.

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