Wednesday 21 March 2018

Former Sunderland CEO launches sport management firm

Margaret Byrne quit as Black Cats' CEO following the Adam Johnson conviction, writes Simon Rowe

Margaret Byrne of First For Players
Margaret Byrne of First For Players

Simon Rowe

Irish businesswoman Margaret Byrne, the former Sunderland FC chief executive who quit over the Adam Johnson scandal, is back in the game as a sports agent.

Byrne, who hails from Dromintee in south Armagh, has set up a new sports management agency, First For Players, scoring two big deals in recent weeks.

First For Players negotiated the transfer of DR Congo international midfielder Yannick Bolasie from Crystal Palace to Everton on a five-year deal for £25m. Byrne also secured a new two-year deal for another player on her growing roster of clients, Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone.

With agents typically earning around 5pc of any deal, these deals represent a good day at the office for Byrne's fledgling firm.

Byrne resigned from her £663,000-a-year post at the Stadium of Light in March this year, admitting she made "a serious error of judgment" in allowing Sunderland FC player Adam Johnson to play for the club while on bail. Johnson was later jailed for six years for grooming and sexual activity with a child.

In the aftermath of the case, Byrne stood down, after five years as CEO.

Describing her UK-registered firm as "specialists in top-flight sports management", she says First for Players offers clients "an experienced agency with a player-centric philosophy" which "puts footballers first".

It's some turn of events for the no-nonsense boss who, when she was an elite football manager, had a more sceptical view of sports agents.

Speaking in 2012, she said: "There is definitely an art to buying and selling players. The problem is, every player thinks they should be playing for Barcelona and have the equivalent salary so it's about lowering expectations."

"It can be frustrating because they [agents] all claim to be working on behalf of their players but some don't contact them from one contract to the next. Sometimes I wish players were stronger themselves and stood up to the agents more. The best agents are the ones who look after the players and their entire families - they can help them to have long, successful careers."

Former Sunderland FC chairman and Ireland legend Niall Quinn tweeted his best wishes to Byrne: "Best of luck Mags with this exciting new venture, I know you'll be great for your clients. You'll be a busy gal."

Sunday Indo Business

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