To gain a more detailed insight into the life of agents and football transfers, Ste Hoare interviewed Simon Dent, the Managing Director of ROAR Sport Limited.
As it’s January and the transfer window is open, most football related talk is focused on players potentially moving clubs, and therefore we’ll hear and read plenty regarding player agents and representatives. To help understand more about what an agent does and how the process of a player moving clubs works, I spoke to Simon Dent, the managing director of ROAR Sport Limited.
Hi Simon, first up is a nice, easy question. Why exactly do players need an agent?
That’s a question I’m regularly asked, especially when I’m going to meet young players. The older, experienced players tend to understand the need for agents but young academy players and their parents often ask “What can you do for my son and why does he need an agent?” and for me there are two major benefits for a player. Firstly, an agent is likely to have plenty of contacts in the game. If for example a young player is at an academy and for whatever reason their club decides to release you, if they don’t have somebody willing to act in their best interests who has contacts with other clubs, the likelihood is he’s going to struggle to find a new team, whereas an agent can often find more opportunities for the player.
Secondly, if an opportunity does present itself for a player then a deal has to be done. As agents, we can negotiate deals on behalf of our clients as we have particular skill sets that they don’t have and often clients don’t have time to work on negotiations as they’ll rightly spend most of their time concentrating on their football. Also, at the high end of the game, there’s often a lot of rumours and speculation regarding what other players are earning and about 90% of that is absolute rubbish! A footballer might see these reported figures and want to earn a similar amount, when in fact the likelihood is the information he has is incorrect. Therefore if he tried to negotiate a deal for himself armed with this false information, a CEO would basically laugh him out of the building.
It’s well publicised how little time managers now get at a club, what affect is this having on players?
It’s having a massive effect. Any time a new manager moves to a club, he’ll often have favourite players who he’ll want to bring with him. You’ll often see a manager buy a player he’s worked with before as he knows what he’ll get from him. In a lot of these cases, the player will want to follow his manager as he knows he’s likely to play, whereas the new manager at his existing club may not fancy him. Like you say, managers are now moving so often that there’s almost a merry-go-round of players following them.
I’d like to talk about how clubs go about valuating players. There seems to be a premium put on English players. Does a player’s nationality play a big part when a club is valuing them?
I think the main factor now used to value a player is the length of time they have left on their contract, and I think certain deals in the not too distant past have put an end to the premium on English players and I don’t think that trend of paying high fees for English or British players will continue going forward.
It does seem that clubs seem to look at foreign players more than English players though. Why do you think that is the case?
I guess it just depends on the way the club is set up. If you look at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho for example, most of his contacts will be in mainland Europe. Also, most footballers in smaller European countries will probably accept smaller wages than their English counterparts to secure a move to the Premier League, and once they are here, they can then earn themselves bigger, more lucrative contracts – Thierry Henry and more recently Luis Suarez are great examples of this.
Speaking of transfers, can you explain how a transfer deal is done, from start to finish?
Well every deal is different, so there is no clear process but I can go through some different scenarios:
Firstly, bar a few teams at the top of the Premier League, the budgets at most clubs are so tight that they might want to get a player off the payroll if they feel that’s what is best for the club as a whole. In most of these type of deals, especially for players in the Championship, League One & League Two, players don’t really get sold. Instead a club might negotiate a deal with them to allow them to be a free agent. For example, a club might decide they no longer want a player with 18 months left on his contract, who if they keep, they’ll have to pay £1million over that time frame. Now the player might be happy earning his wage but also he’ll want to play so if a manager doesn’t want the player, then there’s potentially a deal to be done. They club obviously won’t pay him £1million to leave, they might as well keep him if that was the case, but they might say “Here’s £500,000, you’re free to find another club.” That benefits the club who will save £500,000 and also the player who can find another club and could possibly play for a lower wage as he has just been paid a large amount. Ideally from the player’s perspective, his agent would find him a club and negotiate a deal similar to what he was already earning, and the player will be better off financially.
I have an example of another scenario too; last year I was involved in a deal where a player decided a few months before the end of the season that he wanted to move and although his club would have liked him to stay, they accepted that he had less than two years on his contract and felt that if he was going to leave then it’d make more sense to cash in on him rather than let him run down his contract and leave for free. It was decided that the summer would be the best time to do a deal so they allowed me to look for another club for my client to potentially join. In the few months leading up to the summer window, I spoke to numerous clubs on the player’s behalf, most of whom were Premier League clubs. Although we spoke to the club’s, we couldn’t actually do a deal because so much can change in those few months. The club could potentially be relegated, they could sack their manager or their manager could decide to move to another club, so there’s obviously hesitancy on both sides to agree to something early on. Once the summer came, it was then my job to effectively take the buying club to the selling club and negotiate a deal on the behalf of the two clubs.
We often hear about potential transfers hitting stumbling blocks and taking a lot of time to complete. What are the most common occurrences that delay potential deals?
The main cause of delays often come from the buying club. In the last ten years, things have become very confusing as most clubs have different set ups. There’s always a manager/head coach of course, but there can be a Director of Football and/or a CEO and/or a Chairman all of whom can potentially be involved in a deal depending on how a club does its business. At each club the most pivotal person regarding transfers can be different so there’s no set way of doing any deal which means the process is different every time. Therefore if a club decides to sell a player and as an agent I look for a potential buyer, it can be really difficult as for a transfer to actually take place, you’ll require more than one person to agree to it as it’s very rare for just one person to be solely in charge of transfers, and getting everyone involved to agree to a deal can take time.
Also, once the two clubs are looking to do a deal, things can become tricky. There can often be a lot of cat and mouse, toing and froing and quite often some macho bravado as the people involved both look to get the deal that is best for them.
Another potential issues is that of course, once a bid has been accepted, the player still has to agree personal terms. This is something that I think is quite often misrepresented in the press. Often when a bid is accepted, it is presumed a deal is pretty much done, but if the player doesn’t agree to the terms on offer, he can simply refuse to sign the contract and the deal is effectively off, so negotiating things such as salary and contract length can often take time.
You say there are often plenty of people involved in a transfer deal which can obviously lead to leaks etc. How likely do you think it is that a member of the public would get wind of a deal from a ‘credible source’?
The most fascinating thing that’s happened recently regarding this type of thing is social media, and Twitter in particular. Twitter has changed the game incredibly and transfer windows have now become an almost theatrical event. In truth about 80% of transfer rumours have absolutely no truth in them at all and I don’t think the public realise this, and that just because a deal is reported in the press or on Twitter, that doesn’t mean it’s true at all.
I think eventually people will get a bit fed up of transfer rumours and people on Twitter looking to make a name for themselves, but at the minute it’s still fairly novel and exciting.
Deadline Day in particular has become an almost an event itself. What are your feelings about that day?
As a day it’s quite fun for the television watching public but as much as we all like to sit and watch TV as reporters stand outside training grounds etc, there are actually people’s futures at stake and the whole drama around the day can make things quite tricky. As an agent it can be quite frustrating as there are now plenty of clubs who will wait until the last day of the window to do business as they feel they’ll get the best deals. That can make it quite tough as I am meant to be planning a player’s potential future. I think for fans the deadline day is exciting and entertaining but commercially, some of the fees paid on deadline days, especially in the January window, make no business sense.
Why is it that deals can take weeks to get done throughout the window but other deals can seemingly be done in hours on deadline day? Are clubs cutting corners and if you can, please explain how a deal can be done in such a small time frame?
I have an example of this from not too long ago. It was 8pm on deadline day and I’d just been involved in what I thought would be my last deal of the day. I was literally waking out of the office when my phone rang. It was a younger client of mine who was at a Premier League team and he’d been informed by his manager that a Championship club wanted to take him. I was in London at the time and this deal involved clubs in different locations, neither of which I could feasibly get to on time so everything was being done by telephone. I’d gone from thinking I was finished for the night to having an executive from the player’s current club calling me to tell us they wanted to do a deal which involved paying up some of my client’s contract and moving him on. I then had the Championship club’s manager on the phone to me telling me that they obviously weren’t willing to pay him the wages he was on at his current club, in fact they were willing to pay about a third of his current salary. I then got back onto the phone to the Premier League side and told them the player doesn’t want to move to a club who will pay him less than half of what he is currently earning. So in this situation, we had two clubs looking to do a deal but the player effectively holding all the aces. In that situation, negotiations obviously took some time to sort out, which meant there was then little time left to do the actual deal. In these type of cases it’s up to the Club Secretaries, who are usually very quick, organised and efficient, to ensure all the paperwork gets done and sent off etc.
I’d like to thank Simon for his time and I recommend that you follow him @RoarSport1 on Twitter.