football


Raheem Sterling – take a look inside this football agent’s head and be scared, very scared

The Football Agent - front cover

The Football Agent – front cover

“Rich Dinero is the world’s richest football agent. His job is turning modest young men into money-grabbing mercenaries earning two hundred grand a week. It’s brought him a champagne lifestyle of fast cars, beautiful women and private jets. The secret to his success? He never takes no for an answer. Until he meets Fliss, a pretty young receptionist who won’t play ball. And the game is on. .”

So runs the gist of The Football Agent. Rich Dinero is one of the new breed of Machiavellian movers and shakers who’ve become such an integral part of the modern game. Or as some might describe them, a plague. As we draw close to the business end of another English Premier League season the spectre of agent power has raised its ugly head again. The much publicised PR disaster for Liverpool’s 20 year-old striker Raheem Sterling is a case study in how to piss off fans, club, and team-mates. Liverpool’s new contract offer of £100,000 a week was reportedly thrown back in their face, despite it being close to a 200% pay rise on Sterling’s existing £35,000 a week. Minimum wage, Raheem? As I write, word on the street has it that Sterling’s ‘advisers’ are encouraging the greedy oik to hold out for a figure closer to £150,000 a week. You heard that right. One hundred and fifty grand a WEEK. Not a year. A week. And there are fifty two of those in a year. Nice work if you can get it.

Back in the day when player loyalty was taken for granted, such mercenary greed would have made fans’ blood boil. But with the amount of money now swilling around in the game, greed is becoming the norm. Nowadays even a five year contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. It can be ripped up the following week, and the player toddles smugly on his way in pursuit of the filthy lucre. In Sterling’s case, he has basically handed Liverpool a ransom note. A hundred and fifty grand a week, or I walk.

Raheem Shaquille Sterling is not the first young footballer to have had his head turned by an exploitative Svengali type posing as an ‘advisor’. Let’s face it, many of us would find it hard to turn down the kind of rock-star lifestyle being dangled in front of these testosterone-fuelled young men. Once an agent latches on like some sucker fish, all notions of ethical behaviour go out the window. The players are taken to West End clubs, wined and dined at movie star restaurants, showered with expensive gifts as a demonstration of the millionaire lifestyle awaiting them, IF they put themselves in the agent’s hands. For most of these impressionable youngsters, it’s game over.

The result has seen an astronomical rise in player wages in recent years. Not to mention transfer fees. It’s become such a phenomenon that the BBC have built a special web-page where you can compare what you earn to modern footballer. Just make sure you have a stiff drink first. I tried an annual figure of £30,000, which is close to the national average wage in the UK. The comparison that came back shocked me, at a time when there’s so much poverty and austerity around. We’ve built a world where even a person in a decent job earning £30k a year would need to work for 617 YEARS to earn what Real Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo earns EVERY YEAR. That’s a footballer we’re talking about. Not some Nobel Prize winner. Not a brain surgeon. Nor a brilliant nuclear physicist. If I’d started in the 14th Century and earned £30k a year, I’d only just be nearing the total of £18,200,000 Ronaldo earned last year alone. For kicking a bit of leather around on a muddy field. I’ll leave you to work out the madness of a world where that’s considered perfectly normal.

Of course it wouldn’t be fair to pin all the blame on agents. The kind of money Sky have been injecting into football over the last ten years has attracted some notable multi-billionaires with huge cheque books. Rich sugar daddies who have been buying up clubs like toys, fuelling the expensive bidding wars for the biggest stars. And let’s all hold up our hands. We’re the ones queuing up to hand Sky a shedload of money each month for their wall to wall sports coverage. There are genuine push-pull forces at work here, from which none of us can be absolved.

That said, there seems little doubt that agents are pouring petrol on the fire. By turning players’ heads, spreading rumours, deliberately unsettling them at their clubs, they are manipulating a lucrative game of musical chairs where footballers are flogged from club to club like knocked-off jewellery. Each move driving the player’s perceived value ever higher, eroding player loyalty to the point of extinction. Notable exceptions like Liverpool and England legend Stevie Gerrard who has remained a one-club man throughout his career, must shake their heads and wonder when jumped up young money-grubbers like Sterling (who couldn’t lace Gerrard’s boots as a player) put in wage demands higher than Gerrard ever earned in his entire career. Clearly the disparity in the sums involved has nothing to do with talent. It has everything to do with agents. And greed. And it’s not hard to see why.

Every time a multi-million pound transfer fee is agreed, the agent takes his cut. Every time he quadruples the wages of his client, he quadruples his own percentage. It is absolutely in an agent’s interest to be constantly moving a player from club to club as often as he can. To put ideas in his head. To make him feel he can always get more somewhere else. Next year. The year after. In such a world it’s hardly surprising that many big name agents have grown wealthier than the ‘portfolios’ of millionaire footballers they represent.

You could be forgiven for thinking things couldn’t get much worse. But here’s the thing. It used to be that football agents were required to pass tough examinations and have all the proper insurances in place. Not anymore. Only last month (on 1 April 2015) FIFA actually took the brakes off, by deregulating the licensing system for agents even further, incredible though that may seem. And no, it wasn’t an April fool’s joke. It was FIFA, perhaps the most corrupt old-boy’s network on the planet, run by the grand-daddy of dodgy deal-making himself, Sepp Blatter. Thanks to Blatter any old used-car salesman can now get a letterhead made up and call themselves a football agent. God help us.

Like many a fan who hands over a grand of their hard-earned cash every year for a season ticket, there are times when all this greed and disloyalty make you want to give up and walk away. But for most of us there is no choice. It’s in the blood. We’re as likely to give up on our team as we are on our parents. So that’s why I’ve written this book, for football fans everywhere. To get one back on the agents, and expose them for the greedy, unscrupulous gits they are. The Football Agent is an attempt to look inside an agent’s head from a fan’s point of view. If you’re an agent, sorry, but this is how you look from the terraces to us, the fans you treat like scum. Have a look in the mirror. It ain’t pretty. I’ll leave the last word to Dinero himself.

“I was thinking like the other day, how having any woman you want in the world can be like a massive responsibility. For instance. I’ve had Hollywood actresses round here with egos the size of Old Trafford. What a pain in the arse they were. You wouldn’t believe half the shit they make you wade through just for a simple poke. Sometimes I think fuck it, who needs that kind of shit after a hard day at the office. I am Rich Dinero. The most successful football agent in the history of the beautiful game. If I want to go down Orgasmic and pick up a local slapper with great tits and an accent like Eliza Doolittle, who’ll bugger off back to Topshop in the morning with a century in her knickers and no questions asked, fuck it, I will. Who needs some spoiled charley snorter whose agent is gonna wake you up at five in the morning waving a confidentiality clause under your nose, and they can’t find their Blahniks under the bed, and they look at you through mullered eyes as they chop up their breakfast on the dresser with a Barclaycard, and all their slap has worn off and you look at them and think, jesus, how did you ever get into films?”

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Since when has grievous bodily harm been part of the beautiful game? 1

Barnes tackle on Matic

Anyone who was at the Chelsea v Burnley game yesterday afternoon, or watched the highlights on TV, may have come away thinking, like me, that there is something seriously wrong with the way football is being run in this country. Let me start by saying I am not personally a Chelsea supporter. But I am a fan of football, and what happened at Chelsea, and to Nemanja Matic in particular, disgusted me.

The two tackles by Burnley thug Ashley Barnes on Ivanovich and Matic are supposed to be the kind the authorities have pledged to root out of the game. They were cowardly, sly, to all appearances pre-meditated and could have seriously injured both players. Particularly Matic, who was lucky not to have had his leg snapped in two.

Chris Waddle described the tackle on Matic as ‘horrific’. While Jose Mourinho, when interviewed on Sky’s ‘Goals on Sunday’ this morning described it as “criminal”, and I can’t disagree with either description. “Matic is a lucky guy,” said Mourinho, “this was a career ending tackle… I can’t find words to describe what the guy did. The consequences for Matic could have been the end of his career”.

Barnes first ‘assault’ on Ivanovich (I hesitate to distinguish it with the word ‘tackle’) was little better than a flying kung-fu kick of the kind Eric Cantona received a lengthy ban for back in the day. At least Cantona had an excuse, as he was reacting to a thoroughly abusive fan in the crowd. But the way Barnes deliberately tried to hurt Ivanovich was criminal. Ivanovich was in mid-air, trying to head the ball, and couldn’t defend himself when Barnes jumped into him, ramming his studs down into the back of Ivanovich’s leg. It was a malicious lunge, clearly intended to injure the Chelsea player, and but for the grace of god could have done serious damage.

The worst thing about this kind of thuggery, as anyone who has ever played the game will know, is when it’s done in such a cowardly way. Barnes is clearly no hard man like a Norman Hunter or Nobby Stiles, not man enough to go into an honest fifty fifty with the likes of Ivanovich or Matic. His lunges yesterday were done from behind or the side, studs-up, trying to injure players while they weren’t looking. In short, the kind of player football would be better off without.

Even the way Barnes threw himself to the deck when pushed from behind by an incensed Matic was clearly calculated to get the Chelsea player sent off. Barnes wasn’t punched, kicked, or even grabbed round the throat (any one of which would have been a justifiable reaction from a player who had almost had his leg broken) yet he hit the deck like he’d been steam-rollered. And such are the farcical FA rules that Atkinson had no choice but to send Matic off for ‘raising his hand’ to an opponent. To compound this miscarriage of justice, Matic will now miss next week’s Capital One Cup Final, while the real villain of the piece (a journeyman thug who would grace a few of the pub teams I played against in my amateur days) has so far gotten off completely scot free. So laughable are the FA rules (which are frankly turning English football into a laughing stock), that if Martin Atkinson claims he saw both tackles but thought they didn’t merit punishment, then Barnes may well escape any punishment whatsoever, despite video replays clearly demonstrating to millions of viewers that he deserved not just one red card, but two.

The fact that Barnes remained on the pitch after his assault on Ivanovich clearly affected the result of the game, doubling the injustice to Chelsea. Paul Merson summed it up perfectly on Soccer Saturday, when he refused to fall for the ‘plucky Burnley deserved something from the game’ crap that was being trotted out by some.

“They had a go but they were absolutely dominated. And they get by with the sending off. I can’t give credit for that… I’m not giving them credit for a geezer who could have broken the lad’s leg and they get a result through that. That’s how they get a result, because 11 v 11 they wouldn’t have scored a goal in a month of Sundays.”

The fact is, Barnes deserved a straight red for his flying stamp on the back of Ivanovich’s leg, plain and simple. That would have reduced Burnley to 10 men and Chelsea would have been out of sight by half time. More importantly they’d have finished with 11 men, three points, and Matic wouldn’t have been robbed of his Wembley cup final appearance next week. Shame on Barnes, Atkinson, and the F.A.

This brings me to the equally farcical spectacle of an intelligent man like Mourinho having to resort to ever inventive linguistic charades in his after-match press conferences, to speak the truth without falling foul of the FA’s totalitarian dictat against any criticism of match officials. With almost childish petulance they punish any such ‘infractions’ under the blanket crime of ‘bringing the game into disrepute’. Stop to think about that for a moment. What brings the game into disrepute more? A manager being able to criticise an abysmal performance by a referee, or bunch of faceless football mandarins who sit in judgement behind a wall of anonymity, whose pronouncements often fly in the face of common sense and justice? Who are these dictators to hand out harsh fines to a manager for merely exercising his right to free speech in a so-called liberal democracy, while protecting their own sycophants from any criticism whatsoever? Are we living in North Korea? It would seem the FA have styled themselves on Sepp Blatter’s joke regime at FIFA, where a self-appointed clique wield totalitarian power, are beyond rebuke and accountable to no-one but themselves. They might do well to remember that the mistakes they and their officials make can have disastrous consequences for football clubs, and cost many a manager their job.

I’ve often wondered, if video evidence can be cited retrospectively to award or rescind player punishments, why couldn’t it also be used retrospectively to judge whether a manager’s comments were fair, before condemning them out of hand? If a manager lambasts a referee without justification, fine him. But if the evidence supports his case, why punish him for merely pointing out to the F.A. the errors of their officials? If football were a court of law, the F.A. would be laughed out of it.

On the subject of using technology, I still can’t for the life of me understand why the football authorities don’t put more of it at the referee’s disposal. Refs are only human. They get things wrong, just like you and I. They see things at normal speed, without the benefit of slow-mo replays. There are a hundred and one things they have to keep an eye on all over the pitch. It would be a miracle if they WERE able to see every tackle in real time, with a kind of superman-like freeze-frame infallibility. They never have and they never will. So why not help them out?

To my mind it’s simply daft that more than half a century after we put a man on the moon referees are being denied simple technology that would enable them to make the correct decision on practically every major incident in a game. I’m talking goals, penalties, sendings off, critical offsides, and so on. Bring in tech and overnight you’d rid the game of the majority of refereeing blunders which cause so much controversy and bad blood. They may even, dare I say it, lead to MORE respect for officials, not less, reversing the current downward spiral.

When asked about it on ‘Goals on Sunday’ today, Mourinho was unequivocal. Technology would actually help “protect the integrity and honesty of referees… if I was a referee I would welcome it.”

I know the issue of video technology splits fans and pundits down the middle, but I believe a majority of fans are now in favour of it. And but for the clown Blatter repeatedly blocking it over the years, it should have been implemented many seasons ago. However, it’s depressing to think that the even more Luddite Michel Platini, President of EUFA, seems determined to bury this particular head even deeper in the sand, ensuring football becomes a technological dinosaur among sports for many years to come. You only have to look at the way rugby, cricket, tennis and American football have all been enhanced by their early adoption of technology, to see how mistaken that view is.

To those who argue technology would slow the game down I would say this: look at the amount of time lost when players surround the officials when they get a decision wrong, often for several minutes at a time, many times during a game. With tech at their disposal referees could have the correct call relayed to them within seconds from the fourth official, who would have seen each incident from every beneficial angle. Players would know that, the managers would know it, so they’d have to respect the decision there and then. It’s been proven by the one small concession to tech that’s been (reluctantly) brought into the game, goal-line technology. It’s made a massive difference. Gone are the days when players chased the referee all over the pitch claiming the ball had or hadn’t crossed the line. They know the technology has got it right now, so they no longer question the decision. If technology were utilised more widely in football there’d be less dissent and more respect shown to officials across the board. Plus fairer decisions and game results. Isn’t that supposed to be the end goal all along? I hope you’re listening, Mr Blatter and Mr Platini.

I’d like finally to return to the incidents at Stamford Bridge yesterday afternoon, and say this. If Barnes doesn’t receive a retrospective ban of the harshest possible length, following his grievous assault on the two Chelsea players (which, had it occurred outside a football pitch, would have resulted in a prison sentence) it will be beyond a travesty. Beyond farce. It will be a sick joke. And that is what the F.A. will have turned themselves into, and our beautiful game with it.

Personally, I’d be happy never to see that nasty piece of work on an English football pitch again. I don’t mind hard tacklers per se. Football is a contact sport. And players get hurt. But there’s a world of difference between a reckless or miss-timed tackle from an honest player (like the Ryan Shawcross one on Aaron Ramsay) and a malicious one trying to deliberately hurt a player. Players like Charlie Adam drive me nuts for the same reason. So much talent, yet when I see him accidentally-on-purpose raking a player’s Achilles, treading on ankles or going over the top in studs-up tackles, for me it cancels out all his good points.

And lest anyone think I’m a closet Chelsea fan, Diego Costa definitely needs to cut that side out of his game too. I’m not referring to the ‘no-nonsense, I’ll give as good as I get’ attitude which has endeared him to fans up and down the country, but using a player as a stepping mat when they’re underneath you isn’t part of the game. However, there’s a clear distinction between Costa’s lightweight treading on a Liverpool player’s calf in a previous game (which had more naughtiness about it than a serious attempt to cause injury) and Barnes’ pre-meditated thuggery yesterday.

On that note, and returning finally to the theme of ‘plucky Burnley’, I confess that before yesterday I had a bit of a soft spot for them. I warmed to their indefatigably cheery manager Sean Dyche who seemed a breath of fresh air. After the events of Saturday, I’m not so sure. What I am sure of is this. For me, either Barnes was sent out with instructions to get about the Chelsea players, take someone out of the game or get someone sent off. Or, he did it of his own volition. Whichever is true, when their manager tries to defend that kind of thuggery, Burnley Football Club are tarnished, in my eyes. And if that’s what it takes for them to achieve Premiership survival this season, personally I’d rather they got relegated.

As for Mr Dyche’s post match comedy routine, it was frankly beneath contempt. “Barnes was involved in something earlier in what sense? Playing football? A charge in the back? Is there anything else? The grass was too short?” Sorry Sean, but you’ve gone from amusing nice guy to sarcastic dick.

I’ll leave the last word to Paul Merson, who summed up his feelings to Geoff Stelling on Sky’s ‘Soccer Saturday’: “For me Geoff it’s a bad tackle, and that’s not the way to play football, I just don’t like it.”

I couldn’t agree more Merse, absolutely spot on.

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Football fans are being ripped off by the clubs, Sky and BT

Football fans are being ripped off

I really hate the way Sky, BT, the Premier League, the clubs and the football authorities in this country are totally ripping football fans off. Season tickets can now cost a month’s salary for some low-paid workers. Single game tickets can go for anything from forty to a hundred quid. To sit on your arse on a plastic seat in a cold stadium for 90 minutes, often watching a lacklustre bore draw. A hundred quid a pop. My first motor didn’t cost that much. Now it’s four quid for a pint, three quid for a pie, two quid for a coke, coffee or cup of tea (aka, £2 for a teabag that tastes like floor-sweepings in a styrofoam cup of tepid water). Then there’s the travel to away games. If you’re paying for yourself and the missus or the nipper, you can easily be out of pocket two hundred and fifty quid, for a single game. No wonder working class culture has been ripped out of the heart of British football. Even without the recession it’s just getting too bloody expensive for poor people to follow their teams. The game has been sold out to the middle classes. It’s not the same in Germany, Spain, France or South America of course, where greed hasn’t yet been allowed to hijack football to the same extent.

There was an interesting article in today’s Independent on this very subject, which included this priceless quote:

“German fans can watch Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich all season for only £104 – less than the price of some tickets for a single Arsenal game.”  Says it all really.

Even for footy fans who can no longer afford to go to games, watching from home is becoming equally expensive. Take Sky. I have satellite TV with Sky. I pay Sky £25 a month for their ‘Sports Package’.  Now you would think, wouldn’t you, that paying Sky £25 a month for their ‘Sports’ package would mean I wouldn’t have to pay again if I wanted to watch a sporting event on Sky. And by the way, you can’t have the Sports Package on its own, you have to have it with one of their main packages, like the ‘Variety’ one I’m on, which costs another £30. Add Sky+ on top so I can record programmes while I’m out, add HD so I don’t have to watch programmes that look like they’ve been filmed through the bottom of a steamed up glass, and add multi-room so my lad can watch his own favourites in his room, and Sky are basically into you for £70-£80. A month. Okay, so I get to watch Game of Thrones and Nigella Lawson dangling spaghetti over her pearly gnashers, on demand, but it’s still a lot of money.

Now, I’m first and foremost an English footy fan, as in, a fan of English football. What I mostly want to watch is Premier League games. ESPECIALLY those involving top teams. I’m talking your Man U’s, your Arsenals, your Chelseas, your Liverpools and your Man Citys. Maybe Spurs on a good day. What I’m LESS interested in, are the middle and bottom of table scraps, unless there’s a top team or one of my own teams are involved (Wolves & Norwich, don’t ask). Similarly I have next to NO interest in watching lower league games unless my own teams are involved. That means the Championship, League One, League Two, just doesn’t cut it. Sorry Huddersfield, Doncaster and Accrington, I know your fans are going to hate me but I didn’t agree to shell out getting on for a ton a month to Sky to watch lower-league football in half-empty stadiums. Even if they do try and sell it to me with a wanky title like FL72 Live. WTF, grow up Sky and stop trying to treat me like an idiot.

Here’s how it goes on most Saturdays when I’m not actually at a game. Or Sundays, or on week-nights when there are Premier League fixtures on. Say Arsenal are playing Man U, or it’s Liverpool v Chelsea, or Man City against Spurs. So I’m rubbing my hands thinking, I’ll have a bit of that. So I get the kettle on, or knock the cap off a bottle, settle down on the sofa and what happens? I fire up the telly, remote over to Sky Sports and wouldn’t you know it, the only Premier League game on offer is West Brom against Fulham, or Stoke v Sunderland. No offence meant guys, I know you feel the same about my lot. That’s the point, apart from our own teams, we only want to watch the top teams with the best players. We can go down the local park and watch rubbish.

If Sky are really taking the piss they won’t even have a Premier League fixture on offer at all. It’ll be something scarily exciting like Birmingham v Leeds in the Championship, or god forbid Hearts v Aberdeen from the SPL. I mean, WTF x 2? WTF squared? I’d rather be in the garden, or doing some knitting. But wait, scroll down a little bit to the BT Sports channels and eureka, up pops the Arsenal v Man U game. Which, if I want to watch that I have to cough up AGAIN! That’s right, ANOTHER TWELVE QUID to Sky for the privilege. Or I have to switch my perfectly functioning Plusnet broadband to BT, which I have no intention of doing because BT broadband is as reliable as a Lib Dem promise on tuition fees and the customer service is a joke. I mean, am I being a bit thick here? Am I being completely unreasonable? Because I was under the impression that if I paid £25 a month for a ‘Sports’ package, I should’t have to pay again to watch sport.

Today was a classic case in point, the day of the traditional Community Shield fixture between last year’s Premier League and FA Cup winners, i.e. Man City v Arsenal. Traditionally the big curtain-raiser to the new season. ALWAYS, but ALWAYS, the Community Shield fixture used to be available for footy fans all over the country to watch live, as in, free, on terrestrial TV. I mean, there’s a bit of a clue in the title, ‘Community’ Shield, or as it used to be known, the ‘Charity’ Shield. A traditional annual match that the whole country looked forward to watching on telly. So I checked on BBC, nowt. ITV, the same. Sky Sports, not a sign. Scroll down to BT Sport and there it is, live at 3pm. If you want to watch it, get your hand in your pocket, again. It’s enough to make you bloody weep.

Sky treat their football punters like right mugs. To add insult, they’re trying to palm off their brand new channel on us, Sky Sports 5, as some kind of favour they’ve giving us out of the kindness of their hearts, “included as part of the standard price of Sky Sports, at no extra cost,” said the smarmy email they sent me a few days ago. It went on to say, “Sky Sports 5 will be your new home of European Football… you will be able to watch 128 exclusive live matches from the UEFA Champions League and over 100 more from Spain’s La Liga and Copa del Rey. There will also be live coverage of the European Qualifiers and the Dutch Eredivisie”.

Oh really, well woo fucking hoo with knobs on. Now, if anyone at Sky is reading this, in case I didn’t make myself clear, or you are in any doubt, I don’t really give a flying monkey’s foreskin about whether Malaga earn a hard-fought draw at Getafe on a Sunday night, or ADO Den Haag slip up in a tricky home fixture against PEC Zwolle. You might as well televise live Morris Dancing for all I care. I’m not stupid, and I’m not falling for your Sports 5 bullshit. If you thought it was any good you wouldn’t be giving it away, anyone who knows you greedy bastards will have come to that conclusion already. If you thought real British footy fans would be queuing up to watch it you’d be charging us a premium. But you know, and we know, we’ll never watch it. So why don’t you take it and shove it where the Spanish sun don’t shine, and give us back our top Premier League football games, before we throw in the towel completely and send you back our Sky boxes and start reading books and listening to music again. Now there’s a thought.

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