Ghana's No. 1

MARTIN SAMUEL: Even in this time of crisis, agents remain shameless

Published on: 09 April 2020

It's a crowded field but perhaps the most risible intervention in the stand-off between clubs and players this week came from Dr Erkut Sogut.

He is the agent for Mesut Ozil and - leaving aside that in the current climate nobody should be allowed to call themselves doctor unless they wear a white coat and can fit a ventilator - negotiated Ozil's £350,000-a-week deal at Arsenal.

Sogut said that agents should have been involved in the negotiations over wage cuts and deferments. He then demonstrated exactly what he would bring to the table.

'I wouldn't recommend agreeing a cut today, because I don't know if tomorrow the league will be played,' Sogut said. Well, thanks for the info, Doc, but we really have our full complement of people stuffing up the process with intransigence.

Strategists, mediators, moderators, those who can see a bigger picture, are welcome. Agents, not so much. Agents have never been readily confused with life's problem-solvers, unless there's a slice for them. And as no money can be siphoned from a deferral, this really isn't their field of expertise.

Yet still agents are weighing in. Stijn Francis, representing Toby Alderweireld, delivered a consistently self-serving rationalisation in The Guardian in which, like Sogut, he appeared to blame the clubs for paying the wages he and other agents had demanded.

Seriously. Here's Sogut: 'Clubs are in trouble because they mismanage their finances. Some owners do not care if they lose £50million or £200m. They just want to win a trophy, and the club for them is a gaming centre, like PlayStation.'

And now Francis: 'A lot of clubs do not have a financial cushion and face stress because they tend to over-invest in players in the transfer market.'

Shameless, isn't it? No doubt if Arsenal season-ticket holders were asked to name the greatest mismanagement of finances in recent years the phrase '350 grand-a-week contract' might be heard more than once.

Francis's logic continues down the clubs-as-mugs path, too, peddling all the suspicion and spurious logic that has brought football to this impasse.

At one stage he argues if players help clubs with deferments, they will only use the saved money in the transfer market, replacing the very personnel who aided them in a crisis. Is this the advice he gives his clients? That any generosity will be used against them? Leeds players took a deferment and have been promised a two per cent wage increase when football returns, so how does that work?

'Let us not forget in 2017-18 the Premier League clubs made a joint profit of around £285m before tax,' Francis noted, piously. 'None of the players got a part of these profits.'

No, they got humungous wages. Is that what the players would prefer? Lower basic and a profit-sharing scheme? The clubs would certainly agree. The figure Francis quotes works out as an average £14.25m profit per club - before tax, do not forget. And each first-team squad has 25 players. Are you all doing the maths here?

One imagines if players were relying on profit-sharing, the first expense to take a hit would be agents' fees. Francis should be careful what he wishes for. Mino Raiola wouldn't be getting £41m out of the Paul Pogba transfer if that money was coming from Pogba's pocket. Fees like that are the sort of mad nonsense only executives do.

Francis' conclusion is that the players who take a cut should be furloughed - which undermines his point about all the lovely tax going to the NHS - and would then be granted free transfers.

And who would that benefit? Step forward those selfless agents, now able to oversee a bidding war between rivals for their clients, no doubt with competing parties offering greater and greater incentives. Francis and his peers may have had to take cold showers after coming up with that one.

Is this really what the negotiations are missing? More self-interest? More one-dimensional viewpoints? Maybe save it for the difficult conversations coming up in July.

That is when many of the commissions on contract negotiations are due - just at the point when cash flow at clubs is potentially reaching crisis levels if there is still no revenue stream. Some clubs are already warning that, without deferments or adjustments, they might not be able to meet those commitments.

Daniel Levy, at Tottenham, may even find this is one financial responsibility he can temporarily default on without attracting public opprobrium.

As for the agents, faced with banking a cheque from those reckless, spendthrift clubs or supporting clients in their fight for justice, no doubt they can be trusted to do what is right.

HATS OFF TO WIMBLEDON DUO WHO GOT IT COVERED

With so little sport being played this year, and so little prospect of it resuming, individual awards across the industry may offer slim pickings. Step forward Michael Gradon and Richard Atkinson.

Gradon is the former director of P&O Ferries who was chairman of the All England Club's risk and finance committee, while Atkinson was the company finance director. They are said to be the men behind the insurance policy that it is estimated will pay out in the region of £114million to cover this year's Wimbledon cancellation.

That does not meet all losses, which will be roughly £230m given what is spent on site, but it explains why the All England Club are not in the swirl of panic that has consumed the French Open, or UK Athletics over similar cancellations.

The policy cost more than £1m annually and was introduced in the wake of the SARS scare in 2003. One imagines it must have been a rather hard sell to some committee members and executives in the years when the prospect of pandemics seemed expensively remote.

Yet Gradon and Atkinson were visionaries. If there is a trophy spare, chuck it their way.

COULD TOTTENHAM HAVE SCORED ANY MORE OWN GOALS?

Remember at the start of this, the club it was thought would benefit most from football's lockdown? Tottenham.

By the time the sport resumed, it was reasoned, Jose Mourinho's injury worries would be over. He would have Harry Kane fit, he would have Son Heung-min back. Tottenham would be at full strength again, ready to take advantage of the hiatus.

Since when, the coronavirus crisis has gone a bit, well, Spursy.

Furloughing non-playing staff on the day the chairman, Daniel Levy, announced a £4million wage, and £3m bonus, was a PR disaster. Kane has given an interview hinting, for the first time, that he is growing tired of his empty trophy cabinet. Mourinho was pictured flaunting the lockdown and social distancing rules, during a training session with three players on Hadley Common, earning the condemnation of, among others, London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

A story has appeared suggesting Levy is considering employing underused Tottenham staff to work on his estate. Finally, industry experts believe the economic crash will greatly reduce what Tottenham had hoped to bank for a naming rights deal on the new stadium.

Much of this is beyond Levy's control. He cannot put a tail on Mourinho, or affect the inevitable financial collapse that follows a modern pandemic. As for mowing his grass, if Levy is so tone deaf that he would consider such a measure - having so far refused to top up the 20 per cent of salary missing after furlough - then he might find people heading his way with pitchforks and flaming torches rather than hedge-clippers. The furloughing decision, however, is the nub of it: Tottenham's worst business since making Roberto Soldado their record signing in 2013.

It alienated the club overnight: from its supporters, from the casual fan, from the wider public. If Tottenham really are in such a parlous state that they cannot afford to pay non-playing staff for a matter of months, then the merit of Levy's bonus is questionable.

There is, however, an interesting issue around Kane this summer. His answer to a question about his future was hardly mutinous. He merely said that he had ambition and would not stick with Tottenham indefinitely without evidence of progress. What player, in his position, would?

In the past, however, Kane's language has been more cautious. This seemed like an opening gambit from a player who will be 27 in July and may feel he misses the boat if he stays another season. Perhaps he considered the state of football when it emerges from this crisis and wondered if he had already waited too long. Equally, knowing what Spurs will want for him, and the depressed state of the market, how could any agreement be reached?

'Daniel loves a deal.' That is the perception of Levy inside football, certainly at Manchester United, who could be among Kane's suitors.

But Daniel also effectively shut down Tottenham's recruitment department at the time of furlough, and his statement explaining the wider decision did not suggest spending time and money searching for a decent striker when he already has an extraordinary one on the books.

'When I hear stories about player transfers this summer like nothing has happened, people need to wake up to the enormity of what is around us,' Levy said. 'We need to realise football cannot operate in a bubble. We may be the eighth largest club in the world by revenue, but all that data is irrelevant.'

That does not sound like a man, or a club, having a 'good' coronavirus. That sounds like a man who thinks the world is about to end.

SAINTS DEFER TO COMMON SENSE

There will always be those for whom nothing is ever enough; who will not be happy until footballers are paid a pittance, as they were in the good old days of the maximum wage when the board pocketed the revenue from full houses. Yet the gesture of Southampton's players and management, a 10 per cent deferral to ensure the rest of the staff remain on full pay, was timely and appropriate.

A temporary solution to what, we hope, will be a temporary problem.

Later, if July has been reached without resolution to the crisis, the situation can be reviewed. It shows how easily this could, and should, have been done.

NO MASTERS IS A BLOOMING BLOW

You should be watching the Masters this week. Of all the events in the sporting calendar, its absence is going to be felt most.

The Masters is special because it is the first flowering of spring: all sunshine, colour and promise. It is a glorious glimpse of what is ahead. Not just the summer sports - the cricket and tennis - but the football finals, the climax of the season. Games played in sunshine or on balmy nights. Maybe a tournament, too.

The Masters, with its green expanses and riotous blazes of pink and red azaleas, brings a sense of future joy. Not this April, sadly. Maybe later. But it won't feel the same.

REDS FURLOUGH BLUNDER WAS HARDLY A SHOCK

Liverpool did the right thing on furlough in the end but why the surprise about the initial misstep? Fenway Sports Group are venture capitalists, not missionaries. They sold Philippe Coutinho because the price was right. No doubt they would do the same if the numbers added up for Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane.

Some think the error of judgment over furlough will have harmed the club's relationship with Jurgen Klopp but he is an intelligent man; he knows who his employers are. And so should we. They're very good at running sports businesses, but they don't do it for fun.

VINDICTIVE EFL AND A BRUM DO

Rick Parry, it is widely agreed, is doing a fine job as chairman of the Football League.

So why is the EFL pursuing Birmingham in a time of financial crisis? The club was charged with misconduct for failing to stick to an agreed financial plan. Fair enough. That charge was dismissed by an independent commission last month. Also fair.

Now the EFL have exercised their right to an appeal. Why? Aren't clubs in enough trouble without being pursued through the courts by their own administrators? It's not as if Birmingham escaped justice. They went to court and won. There it should have ended. This postscript seems vindictive.

Tom Lehrer was 92 on Thursday. If you would like to sprinkle a little wit on your lockdown, this column heartily recommends An Evening (Wasted) with Tom Lehrer among many recordings. We Will All Go Together When We Go is perhaps his most appropriate title for the times, although a personal favourite is the psychopath's anthem Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. Just so long as you don't try that this weekend. Stay safe, stay home if you can, everyone.

Source: m.allfootballapp.com

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