Ray Bloomfield explains to Andy Lyons how he was the middle man in certain deals and that not all agents are bad guys
The easiest way to describe what I do is that I am a go-between. I watch several matches a week, sometimes as many as ten. If a club is looking for a particular type of player, I have a look around and try to find them.
I used to work as scout and I understand the procedure that clubs go through before they sign a player. A lot of agents don’t understand the process. They just think ‘Oh, the club’s interested, let’s get the deal done or it’s off’. But clubs rarely sign a player unless they are really sure. They might watch him for years.
Slaven Bilic was represented by an agent in Switzerland, not the easiest person to get along with, often flying off the handle. West Ham wanted to have a look at Bilic for a week before they signed him. But he’d been given a load of lies by his agent and been told that he should go straight back if the deal wasn’t done straight away because clubs in Spain and Italy were interested. He was persuaded to stay, though, and they signed him as soon as he’d played a practice match.
With Suker, he was injured after France 98, lost his place in the Real Madrid team and they did well without him, so he was available for a reasonable price. At first I got bad vibes about him from people here who had the idea that he was a troublemaker but I’d been around the Croatian team for a few years and I knew he was a nice guy. He’s the best finisher I’ve seen since Jimmy Greaves and I knew he was a bargain. The money was still a problem for West Ham, and Spurs dallied, so Arsenal got him.
I can’t conclude a deal like that myself so that’s where the agent comes in. I could get a licence but FIFA may face a legal challenge over their rule that only licensed agents can handle transfers, so I’ll wait to see how that works out. At the moment their criteria for issuing licences to agents are wrong, in my view. They should have some experience within football, maybe some time spent working as an employee at a club, or they should at least have someone working for them who has that experience.
A lot of accountants and solicitors have now got licences and they’re among the ones I won’t deal with because they just cause disruption. If a player gets left out of a team, his agent might nurture his grievance, play on his ego so that the player comes to think that it’s not his fault. I don’t do that. Sometimes the players don’t like what I say but they have to be told if they’re in the wrong, that it’s down to them not playing well.
I left Arsenal at 19 after a row with the manager. I’d played for England youth, been in the reserves at 16, and it was the first time I’d had a bust up. I didn’t know how to handle it. I left because I had no one to advise me to sit tight.
Now you get a lot of young players signed up willy-nilly by agents, but if they’re not in the first team at 19 or 20 they’re left in limbo because the agent hasn’t got time to deal with them. You could spend an entire working week dealing with one player so the agents neglect the ones that need help and focus on their big stars.
I wrote to Gordon Taylor at the PFA a while ago to suggest that they get involved with representing players themselves and now they have set up their own system, which has to be better for young players.
You read all the time in the press now that managers don’t like agents and that’s got to be dealt with soon because it can’t be healthy for football. Some agents, for instance, will claim that managers will only deal with certain other agents but that’s not been my experience. If you’re desperate for points and you can’t score but there’s a striker available then you have hardly any choice other than to sign the player, whether he’s connected with certain people or not. Managers want to keep their jobs, so they’ll buy anyone who they think can help.
I’m not opposed to the idea of agents getting properly paid for the work they do, though. Frank McLintock, for example, was the middle man in a lot of deals and was involved in the Teddy Sheringham transfer to Forest, which got written up in the press as this big bribe scandal. But Frank’s flown all over the place, working to sort out deals for clubs. If someone sells a house for you, you’d expect to pay them. There’s much less concern in European football about that than there is here, where the media are looking for every chance to talk about ‘bungs’, like trying to pin things on Alex Ferguson over the money passed on from Kanchelskis’s agent.
As far as I’m concerned, people outside football are trying to make it seem as though it’s more corrupt than it really is, because that’s always going to make a good story.
From WSC 153 November 1999. What was happening this month