Thursday 21 September 2017

Manic Monday

Daniel McDonnell investigates how to seal a last-minute deal before tonight's deadline

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THIS morning is the wrong time for agents, lawyers, chairmen, accountants, and all the other money men involved in British football, to ignore the alarm clock.

Chances are that those who will be doing business today, as the transfer window draws to a close, will be tired enough after putting in a late one last night.

In fact, for the majority, it's been a draining fortnight, as the shadow boxing draws to a close and the serious business takes place. Transfer windows are rarely conducive to eight hours sleep.

As today develops, breaking news tickers will go into overdrive. Clusters of people will huddle around Sky Sports reporters standing outside training grounds. Mediocre loan signings are greeted with frenzied celebration.

Excitable TV presenters live out their 'Soccer Saturday' fantasies by sitting in studio, staring at their phones and announcing the details of earth-shattering text messages. Sometimes, Joey Barton sends a text. Behind the scenes, however, there actually is fast-paced drama going on, often away from the training grounds and other landmarks where the cameramen set up camp.

As the deadline looms, tentative offers are firmed up. Players desperate to move suddenly realise they are going nowhere unless they relax their demands. Agents pound motorways, or conduct business by phone. Doctors are on call for rapid-fire medical checks, even though a standard Premier League medical should take around six hours.

"Nothing much really happens for the first two weeks of the window," explains one agent.

"There was very little cash going around England at the start. Manchester City spent big money on Dzeko, but that was going to Germany, so it didn't have much of a knock-on effect. Generally, one move happens, and it sets off a domino effect."

Darren Bent's move to Aston Villa sparked other clubs into life, and there's been an acceleration of activity over the last week, building up over the weekend towards the countdown to 11.0 tonight.

Yet while most of the interest and attention will go towards the higher end deals, the real graft for the fixers is in the lower leagues, where multiple loans and undisclosed switches will go through today.

Agents are increasingly being employed by clubs to remove players they want to dispense with. Once the manager has identified who he wishes to release, an agent will step in, use his contacts to try and find a buyer and then take a cut of the deal. Job done.

English rules allow an agent to act for both a player and a club in the same transfer, legislation that has been exploited particularly well by super agent Jorge Mendes, who represents stars such as Jose Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Carvalho.

It means an agent can move a player to a club, collect a fee from the buying club for securing the deal, in addition to the monies from the terms of their arrangement with the client.

When Mendes moved Carvalho, Tiago, and Paulo Ferreira to Mourinho's Chelsea for a combined £41m, the Stamford Bridge club paid £2.9m to Gestifute International Limited, a wing of Mendes' Gestifute agency. The company in question is registered in Ireland, to capitalise on this country's generous corporate tax rates.

In that sphere, the money for the middle man is staggering. At a lower level, agents need to build a host of clients to make ends meet.

Twitter fans have been able to follow the life of an anonymous agent, going by the name of FootballAgent46, who drops hints about his identity, but stresses that many of his transactions are intended with the long-term profit in mind.

"Got some younger players sorted," he tweeted last week. "Going to SPL, L1 (League One) and League 2 clubs on loan from Prem and Champ. No money in it for me, absolute graft."

Agents climbing onto the ladder have no option but to start from the bottom.

When the Irish Independent visited Stoke's training ground in October, Wicklow man Clive Clarke, who spent the majority of his career at the club, but retired early after suffering a heart scare while on loan to Leicester from Sunderland, had dropped in to watch an academy match.

A key part of his early work in the industry, where he has linked up with Beswicks Sports, revolves around identifying talent with the hope it will eventually pay off. There are no guarantees, though. Transfer window business is a different kettle of fish. Generally, the clubs agreeing the fee is the easier part on deadline day.

"After that, it gets complicated," explains another agent. "It's about more than the basic contract. Some players will look for a salary that gets bigger year by year.

"Others will look for a loyalty bonus -- or might feel they are due a loyalty bonus from the club they are leaving -- and then there's the signing-on fee, appearance bonuses and the rest."

At Premier League clubs, image rights ownership is another issue. Other complications surround the layers that exist around players. It's not always as straightforward as a footballer being represented by a single party.

One Irish player, who has been subject to transfer window interest, doesn't employ a specific agent.

Instead, his affairs are handled by a group with legal and financial expertise, who therefore have to employ a couple of agents to act as intermediaries between the various clubs.

It's a rigorous process, which is why a lot of the deals that go through today will have been set in motion over the past fortnight. Cramming it all into a few hours is close to an impossible task.

Nevertheless, there are anecdotes that prove the exception to the rule. Robbie Keane, inevitably, is involved in a couple, but one of the most dramatic Irish deals of recent times related to Stephen Kelly's loan switch from Birmingham to Stoke two years ago.

He got a call from his agent late on the Monday stating the clubs had finalised the terms of their transaction. Kelly wasn't expecting it, and heavy snowfall trapped him in his house.

So, he ended up sitting on his own computer, taking in forms and then looking to fax the relevant documentation off to the FA. He faced an anxious wait for clearance. The deal might have collapsed if he didn't own a scanner.

Similarly, Andrei Arshavin's switch to Arsenal from Zenit St Petersburg was rushed through at the last minute, so much so that the Russian star wasn't aware he had agreed a deal which resulted in less take-home pay from the London club than he was receiving in his homeland, where there are generous income tax rates.

The agreed £80,000 a week looked good on paper in a hurry, but it wasn't the case when he received his first payslip. That's what happens when you rush things, though, and as the minutes tick by this evening, and panic sets in, the respective negotiators call on skills traditionally associated with the world of poker.

Someone has to fold, or else no chips will be cashed. In this game, however, it's rare that anyone leaves the table without cash in their pocket.

Irish Independent

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