The game foot­ball agents play

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By IAN YEE

In over two decades at Manch­ester United, Alex Fer­gu­son has crossed swords with some of the biggest per­son­al­i­ties in the game – Arsene Wenger, rafa Ben­itez, Jose Mour­inho, roy Keane and Sepp Blat­ter, just to name a few.

He’s dealt with all of them with that same stoic, au­thor­i­ta­tive swag­ger. So, it’s kind of sad to see him hav­ing to meekly con­form to the schem­ings of a pudgy, greedy man over Wayne rooney, one of his favourite sons at United.

Make no mis­take, and ig­nore ev­ery­thing you read in the tabloids that might sug­gest oth­er­wise – the whole saga over rooney want­ing to leave United was com­pletely the do­ings of Paul Stret­ford, the vac­uum cleaner sales­per­son-turned foot­ball agent ex­traor­di­naire.

Think about it: rooney hasn’t said a sin­gle thing since the whole thing blew up. ev­ery­thing came out in the form of ex­tremely well-worded state­ments, and we all know the roo-natic ain’t the most ar­tic- ulate bloke. It was all or­ches­trated by Stret­ford.

The role of foot­ball agents to­day is to make sure ev­ery­thing is taken care of for their young, multi-mil­lion­aire clients – con­tracts, en­dorse­ment deals, brand­ing, Pr – so they can get on with play­ing foot­ball. rooney, 25, would be no dif­fer­ent, hav­ing re­lied on Stret­ford ever since he was 17 in all mat­ters in­volv­ing his ca­reer.

So all that pub­lic pos­tur­ing about United not hav­ing enough “am­bi­tion” was just a ploy by Stret­ford to get rooney, and ul­ti­mately, him­self, the most money he could out of the deal.

And Fer­gu­son (and prob­a­bly rooney him­self), sadly, had no choice but to play along. There was no room for him to come out swinging against Stret­ford, hav­ing come to terms with the power that agents hold in the mod­ern game. In­stead, he played the con­trite, heart-bro­ken fa­ther plead­ing for rooney to re­con­sider.

Thank­fully, when the time came to ac­tu­ally put pen to paper, rooney was more than ea­ger to ded­i­cate his fu­ture to United, con­trary to what he had been “say­ing” all this while through those state­ments.

ev­ery­one from Wenger to David Beck­ham to Ger­rard Houl­lier has come out since say­ing they weren’t sur­prised by the news at all, prob­a­bly be­cause as peo­ple in the foot­ball in­dus­try them­selves, they knew it was just Stret­ford try­ing to play hard­ball with United. even be­fore rooney had signed, Mour­inho was al­ready 100% sure rooney wouldn’t leave and even laughed off the whole af­fair; but then again, when is Mour­inho not 100% about any­thing?

You have to hand it to Stret­ford, though. His job is to make sure his clients earn as much money as they can in their rel­a­tively short ca­reers, and he seems to be darn good at it.

one of his ear­lier clients, for­mer United striker Andy Cole, signed with Stret­ford af­ter he promised that Cole would “never have to work again af­ter foot­ball”. Stret­ford would go on to en­gi­neer Cole’s seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble and ul­ti­mately highly lu­cra­tive move from new­cas­tle to United, fierce ti­tle ri­vals at the time.

There is, how­ever, the moral­ity of it all. In eng­land, foot­ball clubs are in­sti­tu­tions. They are a part of peo­ple’s lives, part of the very fab­ric of their so­ci­ety, and the play­ers in those clubs are lo­cal he­roes.

But agents like Stret­ford con­ve­niently ig­nore all that in the name of their duty to add ze­roes to their clients’ bank ac­counts, as well as their own. They muddy the wa­ters be­tween clubs and play­ers in their never-end­ing quest to squeeze ev­ery penny out of the club, hold­ing them hostage to ever-in­creas­ing wage de­mands for play­ers – from which the agents will be en­ti­tled a cut.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, Stret­ford stands to earn around £2.5mil (rM13mil) from rep­re­sent­ing rooney on his new United deal.

With so many mil­lions at stake, the fight to rep­re­sent rooney six years ago be­tween Stret­ford and the foot­baller’s for­mer rep­re­sen­ta­tives quickly turned ugly. It in­volved black­mail, gang­sters and law­suits – just a murder short of a CSI sto­ry­line.

It’s a long and com­pli­cated story, but Stret­ford was found to have bro­ken seven of the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion’s agent reg­u­la­tions by the end of it, and slapped with an 18-month ban from be­ing an agent. That’s how des­per­ate he was to rep­re­sent rooney.

And that just goes to show how unim­por­tant foot­ball can be to agents, how mean­ing­less the re­la­tion­ship be­tween their clients and their clubs can be, as well as how im­por­tant it is to the fans, when there can be mil­lions of pounds to be pock­eted.

It’s no sur­prise that for­mer eng­land man­ager Gra­ham Tay­lor once asked that all foot­ball agents to be “lined up against a wall and shot”.

Stret­ford and rooney’s case might be an ex­treme ex­am­ple, but it’s a grow­ing prob­lem, and Stret­ford’s lat­est bit of busi­ness would have set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent.

Wenger, the most fi­nan­cially sound man­ager in the world, has, like Fer­gu­son, grudg­ingly ac­cepted this new world or­der, say­ing last week­end that there’s no telling how high play­ers’ wages could go now.

Speak­ing about whether his play­ers would now com­pare their wages to rooney’s, Wenger said: “The play­ers al­ways com­pare.”

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