Those Dirty, Greedy Secrets

Last updated : 21 September 2006 By Richard Oldroyd
Sam Allardyce - left with rather a lot of questions to answer
It did, admittedly, leave Sam Allardyce with rather of a lot of questions to answer – and its maybe that his career is now in jeopardy, especially should the forthcoming report compiled by Lord Stevens also point fingers in his direction. For three agents to independently implicate the Bolton boss creates, in the very least, a substantial smear upon his character.

Yet beyond Allardyce, the programme threw up very little to shock or surprise. It suggested that Harry Redknapp is tainted by suspicion when these matters are thrown into the spotlight, but it did not nail our ‘Arry. It implied that Chelsea and perhaps other big clubs bend the rules from time to time, but we already knew that after the Ashley Cole affair.

For the first time, the programme got agents on record as stating that bungs are rife in football, which everyone suspected anyway. But although this is significant, it isn't especially revealing. We've all heard pub gossip linking figures in the game to dodgy dealing of this type.

In the end, one was left with the impression that the programme makers had more to tell, but rowed back when their legal advisers told them that they simply did not have sufficient proof to protect the BBC in a court of law from the consequences of their accusations.

For the programme to achieve much more than fuelling Wednesday morning office gossip, toppling a couple of agents and possibly damaging the career of that single manager, the unseen footage from the show must combine with material from other investigation and stings to produce a truly convincing body of evidence on which the authorities can act. Otherwise, the value of the show will purely be in bringing the issue into live focus once more.

The one thing that the show did show with clarity is the bizarre and undefined roles that agents play within the game.

Everyone accepts that, gifted though footballers are with the ball, those gifts are unlikely to extend to understanding the minutiae of a legal contract, or to negotiating skills. So – like anyone buying a house, or committing themselves to any other contract – it is only proper that a player should engage someone with expertise to assist them whenever the need arises. In most walks of life that is where solicitors come in; in football, that was the original justification for the existence of agents.

Yet the film made it clear that agents have moved well beyond this sphere. Indeed, in most cases, agents are clearly wearing more hats than Boy George at a Culture Club gig: they are legal adviser and broker, publicist and agitator.

If you or I go to a solicitor, then we do so for help with a particular matter. Once it is complete, we would settle our accounts and end the relationship – at least until next time we needed advice. But footballers enter a continuous arrangement with their agent. Rather than employing one from time to time, to help negotiate terms upon transfer or the impending lapse of an existing contract, they are permanently engaged – even when there is apparently nothing for them to do.

Why? Why, as a player, have these constant relationships unless you expect to have a use for this agent in the near future? The train of logic makes it inevitable that, ultimately, all an agent can do in these fallow periods is to agitate, unsettle the player and then tout him around in flagrant breach of the rules. It is an unhealthy relationship, and one which results in the sort of conversation Redknapp and Arnesen were shown having in the programme.

If players and agents were banned from entering into these longstanding relationships, then a major aspect of the problem would be eliminated at a stroke. And at the same time, it might help reverse the decline in loyalty which many argue is a fault in the modern game.

And quite why the clubs need agents to help broker deals at all is anyone's guess. They too, of course, need to seek legal advice before committing themselves to potentially expensive deals – but given that they consult lawyers for these purposes away from the pitch, it is not at all clear why they are unable to do so where transfers of players are concerned.

As for all the myriad of middle men who appear to get involved, these are entirely superfluous, and a recipe for dodgy dealings. Of course, there will always be players without clubs in need of help to find employment. But these men, are performing a very different function, and should surely drop out of the equation well before the deal takes place - leaving two sides, each professionally represented, to sort out the terms. At the same time, common sense would require each party to pay their own representatives, in a change from the current confusing practices.

Indeed, there is no coherent reason why legally qualified individuals, abiding by the codes of conduct and practice required of legal professionals, shouldn't be doing the job that football has preserved for agents. The job of the agent is haphazard and anomalous; bringing it under the auspices of the legal regulatory bodies would at least help provide the clarity and integrity that the industry currently lacks.

Except, there is, actually, just one reason. Pure self-interest and greed. If the Panorama documentary was ultimately light on hard proof of corruption, it showed this, in glorious Technicolor, more explicitly than it has ever been shown before.