The Beautiful Game Essay
The beautiful game, for all its imperfections and flaws, never ceases to amaze. Whether it be a stunning goal, a shock result, a controversial transfer, or a shocking revelation, football’s unpredictability is what drives our passion for the game. In the first month of 2010, football threw up many surprises that have shocked the English game. From Leeds United’s outstanding victory at Old Trafford, to the John Terry saga that has reared its ugly head over the last week, football’s ability to keep players, fans and particularly agents on their toes is unlike any other sport.
The job of a football agent is to react to these surprises and cease the opportunities thrown our way. One such opportunity was handed to us last week when, following a tip off from a contact in Spain, we dashed up to a Premier League club’s training ground with the hope of speaking to a young Spanish trialist. Little did we know when we received the call, just what sort of a journey we were embarking on. It has taken us on a whirlwind adventure and a fast learning curve into a side of agency life that supporters rarely see.
Relationship building is part of the agent’s job, but when the player speaks no English and the best Spanish you can muster is to order two beers and paella, to say that this is difficult is a huge understatement. After a lot of pointing and speaking loudly (think English tourist in a Spanish restaurant but replace the menu with an FA contract), we enlisted the help of a translator and eventually came to an agreement with the player and are currently in the process of seeking trials to showcase his unquestionable talent.
The importance of an agent making the client understand that you are working on behalf on them and not the other way round cannot be stressed enough. We have been frantically contacting top flight clubs across the country, meeting with managers and moving the player and his mother across London. The language barrier has proved to be a major challenge and the amount of information that has been lost in translation has on many occasions threatened to break the relationship.
However, our work in keeping the player happy, organising hotels, trials, meetings and transport along with the player’s ambition to play in this country has turned us from strangers barely a week ago, to what feels like family. Our Spanish adventure has just started yet we are hopeful that the relationship will flourish and the player will go on to have a long and successful career. However, as we are well aware, nothing in football is certain and one mistranslated conversation can change the whole scenario.
What the agent must do is fulfil his brief and build a relationship of trust and loyalty with the player, irrelevant of the obstacles that obstruct the path to success. You might thinks that all agents are the scum of the earth but for a naive, young player entering the jungle of professional football, Mr. Ten Percent can be a life-coach, a philosopher and a father-figure all rolled into one. It’s getting to the business end of the January transfer window so naturally people are slagging off football agents. Everyone thinks they’re slimy, greedy middle men but there’s the other side.
Agents play a vital role for so many young players whose parents aren’t educated and can’t help them make the right career decisions. If my dad was smart enough he could have been my agent but he’s an electrician and so from the very start I needed someone to help me make the right choices. I got my first agent when I was 16 and his name was Eric Walters. At the time he had a very small business and used to also drive a black cab and some of the other players at Arsenal used to laugh at him because he wasn’t big time.
They used to joke and ask me “Where’s your dad Eric? because he’s a black guy. He would turn up in his taxi and when others took the mick, he would just say “I don’t need that flashy stuff”. But he was a really good person with strong morals and just wanted to provide a good service for players. When I was at Wolves I was tapped up by West Brom. They were playing nice football with players like Jason Koumas and they wanted me to join them in January to help them push for promotion. So they gave Eric a call but he just told me to sit tight and play my football. He wouldn’t dream of doing anything illegal.
He was like an agent, a life-coach and a philosopher all rolled into one. You could call him at one in the morning if you had a problem with your missus or something had happened to your car. He’d leave his house and come and help you. That guy actually loved and cared for me and even to this day, he feels like a father figure to me. Today I find myself once again looking for a new club. If I get picked up this will be my tenth club in ten years. Looking back I realise that a lot of the errors I’ve made in my career are because I didn’t listen to Eric Walters.
He said to me “Rohan, don’t be going from agent to agent, stay with one and trust them” and he was right. But I left Eric because I didn’t think he could get me the best deal and since him I’ve probably been through another 10 agents. I left him because he was telling me things I didn’t want to hear. He’d tell me what to do with my money. He’d tell me how to spend it, what to buy, what not to buy and who not to buy it for. But when you’re a young boy who’s come from nothing and you’re given money, you don’t want people telling you what to do with it. You want to treat your friends. I wanted my friends to live the dream with me.
I wanted to use my money to get them into certain clubs and meet certain people and enjoy a certain standard of living. But too late I realised it was all one way and when I stopped playing for the big clubs with the bigger salaries, all my so called friends disappeared… Since Eric, I’ve had sharks, I’ve had crooks, and I’ve even had agents that wouldn’t bother answering my calls. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s find an agent early who you can trust. Find an agent who understands you and who believes in you. Stay with that person and have a good relationship with them because in football you need that stability.