Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 August 2019

The football agent heralding in a new era for Irish players aiming to plot a route into the English game

Football agent Lee Mudd is pictured, right, with former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand
Football agent Lee Mudd is pictured, right, with former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Football agents have been cast as the enemy of the game at a time when one deal can generate millions of pounds for a single transfer, yet a new era has dawned for players in an agency aiming to open doors for some of the brightest in Ireland.

With the backing of Manchester United and England legend Rio Ferdinand, the Belfast office of New Era Global Sports Management has been opened to offer a pathway to the best of Irish talent to make it in the English game.

The Irish branch of the highly successful New Era agency that boasts the likes of Everton defender Michael Keane and Irish-born Inter Milan youngster Ryan Nolan (below) also works with former players turned TV pundits Ferdinand, Robbie Savage and Fara Williams, with Ireland viewed as a captive market top tap into.

Belfast-born former footballer Lee Mudd is spearheading the New Era Irish office and he admits his motivation is not to secure big money moves, as he has his eyes on a more rewarded prize.

"We feel we are offering a service to Irish players north and south of the border that is unrivaled as we have a network on this island and can also tap into our contacts and make things happen for players in England," Mudd told the us in an exclusive interview.

Ryan Nolan

"I have felt for a long time that young Irish kids are slipping through the net of English clubs partly because they are not getting the opportunities and also because they struggle to adapt to life away from home when they make the big move.

"You get the dream transfer, head off to England as the departing football hero after a big leaving party and then a couple or three years later, you might come back having not made it and it can be very difficult to deal with that.

"Our model is very different from the super-agents we see getting millions of pounds for every transfer because we are looking at the long-term and hopefully working with boys to give them every chance to build a successful career in the game and that means more than just your ability on the field.

"This is a cutthroat industry and from my experience, some Irish lads that maybe come from a small place in Ireland and have lived with their parents all their lives are not ready for what hits them when they get there.

"If your agent is based in Ireland, he will tend to send you off to England after setting up a move and you are left to work it out for yourself after that, but we feel more is needed to give Irish kids a chance and that is what we are doing with the New Era operation in Ireland.

"Too many lads are coming back from England after not making the grade with league clubs and a lot of that is down to their failure to adapt to life away from home, so hopefully we have a model that will make that side of the transition a little easier to negotiate and give them a support network.

"Agents have a bad reputation and for some of those working on the biggest deals in the game, that may be justified, but we are looking to do things a little differently and hopefully we can have a positive impact in helping players realise their dreams."

Mudd admits many youngsters suffer from mental health issues when they return to their Irish homes after failing to make their mark in English football and his motivation to help them runs deep after a personal story that highlighted the loneliness of life as a professional.

"I went through the YTS scheme at Stockport Country when they were in the second tier of English football and got a professional contract with them," adds Mudd.

"After that, I had spells at Brighton and Bolton and then had a spell with Lyon and while I was in France, my Dad suddenly passed away when I was just 21.

"He was the reason why I was a footballer in the first place and my world fell apart when he died. After that, I struggled to get back onto the football ladder and was just cold calling people hoping I would get another break in the game.

"That lonely experience was my fuel to get involved with New Era's Belfast office because I feel that if I had someone I could call and lean on to give me that helping hand I needed, maybe things would have been different for me and I would have had a different career.

"Since then, I have enjoyed helping kids starting our in their careers in football and going on a journey with them. It's the Jerry Maguire experience of hopefully being with a player who goes on to have a great career in the game and that is what inspired me to do this job."

Mino Raiola. AFP/Getty Images

Paul Pogba's adviser Mino Raiola (above) represents the modern football agent who will aim to maximise their player's value, yet Mudd and his New Era Belfast office have a very different approach.

If their efforts to offer the best talent on this island a pathway to the English game succeeds, this could be a good news story for all Irish youngsters north and south of the border.

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