“Players are the biggest liars going”

Andy Lyons talks to Rachel Anderson about being the only FIFA registered female agent, her clients and taking on the PFA

In the relationship between clubs and players it used to be that clubs held the upper hand. Has the balance now shifted in the players’ favour?
Only for a small minority. The majority of players are still paid slaves.There’s no freedom of movement until they’re 25, they can get fined two weeks’ wages for whatever misdemeanour the clubs decide. Clubs have always had it their way but there is an emerging sense now that clubs, players and agents have to work together. Even if I can’t agree on a contract with a club I still have to be able to do business with them. It’s no good anyone making impossible demands, so if I do a deal for a player it has to be something that the club can afford. Straight away, as soon as a deal is done, that boy has got so much pressure on him. If he doesn’t score the goals or stop them going in, he’s dumped and that doesn’t do me any good, or him. Backing the club into a corner over terms isn’t a very clever thing for an agent to do and the people who do that are here today gone tomorrow. Though when I first started people probably thought I was going to be like that and in fact I probably thought I was too.

There seem to be regular crises involving agents, a sense that they are becoming the dominant figures in football. Why has that arisen now?
It’s because of unlicensed agents. Look at Anelka – that whole situation was absurd. If clubs are prepared to carry on dealing with unlicensed agents then they will have this kind of thing happen and there’s no comeback. Agents can be banned and fined and quite rightly, but they can get involved again. Rune Hauge was struck off for two years but they gave him his licence back.

How much of the recent explosion in players’ wages is due to their improved bargaining position and how much is down to peer pressure?
They see what others are being paid, they all want the same and the clubs have to give in. But a lot of that is lies. Players are the biggest liars going when talking about what they earn. Agents like to say “Oh, so and so’s on £15,000 a week” to make him feel better. Then other players see it and say “I haven’t got that”, but they’re probably all earning about the same. Certain Premiership clubs like to give the impression that they are paying out more than they really are. Everton might be one example of that. Chelsea are one of the few exceptions in having a lot of players on big wages.

It’s often said that agents are responsible for encouraging players to move on at regular intervals. Is that true?
Well, they must like the aggravation if it is. It truly is aggravating. It’s much, much easier to renegotiate an existing contract. You know the devil you’re dealing with.

Yet sometimes it seems clubs have to persuade a player not to go when his agent is all for selling him. Rio Ferdinand, for example, seemed ready to go to Italy in the summer and had to be talked out if it.

I don’t think he’d be such a good player outside of West Ham. Financially he’d better off. But he could be stuck in the reserves, demoralised, away from home. It was short-sighted of the people helping him because he’s only 21. One of the biggest problems is when agents contact the players who are under contract, saying “We’ve got someone interested in you”. The players believe it and they’re hot to trot. Very often it’s the clubs who are putting out the feelers and leaking the story to the press. Then they blame the agents. So fans end up thinking that a player’s not happy and they get on to him. Now of course he’s not happy sitting in the reserves, but there isn’t a player who would be. There’s no point in someone taking their £10,000 a week for doing nothing if they could go somewhere else.

So if you’ve got a player who is out of favour you would always advise him to look for another club?

He has no choice. They put him in the reserves, have him training with the kids, it’s demoralising. I’d tell him to wait a while if a new manager has come in, but if there’s a personality clash, divorce is the only way out. You can’t live separately within a club. Don Hutchison and Harry Redknapp at West Ham fell out of love and that was the end of it. Individually they were great but they couldn’t get on together.

Was the dispute with the PFA over the dinner an indication of more widespread hostility towards you since you got involved in football?

Certain sections of the football fraternity, more among my com­petitors than anyone else, would have liked me to have lost. If the lack of moral support I got was anything to go by they weren’t too keen on my winning. But at the football clubs everyone has been supportive, from the chairmen down.

Was it not odd that the PFA, in other ways a liberal organisation, should be trying to exclude women?

What upset me about the PFA thing particularly was that it was a union. I’m a great believer in unions – it’s bad enough when you’ve got some stuffy old club chairman doing it but I didn’t expect a union to be like that. The players themselves are very liberal now. They’ve grown up in a multicultural country. Some might do this macho thing about “women should only be in the kitchen”, but they don’t mean it. You see players with their new babies and it’s often them that’s doing the cleaning and changing nappies. This old attitude is very alien to them. Although they might agree that it would be too much to have all the wives and girlfriends there, they certainly didn’t agree that I shouldn’t be allowed to go, any more than the sports minister shouldn’t be excluded because she happens to be a woman.

What about your own approach to the business. How do you get clients?

My secretary knows the name of every player and manager in the league and I have two guys who work for me and app­roach players. They might deal with someone, but if there’s no contract with them, they haven’t got an agent. If the agent hasn’t got the balls to sign him then there’s something wrong.

Do agents poach players from other agents?
Not so much the established agents. It tends to be the guys who offer their services free of charge until they do a deal, the wannabes.

What are you looking for in a player?
Players who aren’t represented tend to be the under 21s, knocking on the door of the first team or in the lower divisions. Places like Hartlepool are good for spotting good young players because that’s in such a great football catchment area. Sixteen-year-olds can be exceptional – Robbie Fowler was clearly going to be great at that age – but I rarely look at a player under 17 because you don’t know how they’re going to turn out when their hormones kick in. Clubs can be a little bit greedy when they weigh up a player’s value at that age too. Someone who’s played four games is hardly worth £1 million.

Julian Dicks, your most prominent client, was a very distinctive character. Do you find unorthodox players are more likely to approach you and do you take a greater interest in them?
Perhaps, because being an agent is all about problem-solving. They need someone to talk to.When someone’s form dips, it’s often because something is going on in their head. When Alan Shearer lost form I don’t think it was because he was carrying an injury. With players, any problems in the back of their mind are magnified because they work a few hours a day, get every afternoon off, and a lot of spare time off. A spot becomes a boil in no time at all.

Are there any problems that would be too much for you to work with?

Gambling. I worked with a gambler once and had to drop him. I tried so hard for 18 months, talked with everyone, his chairman, the other players. But when you’re a real gambler, you’ll let everyone down, you’re a liar, a thief and a cheat and it’s hard to help someone like that.

In cases like that you obviously have to implement damage control. But what do you see as the positive function of an agent?

Marketing the player. It helps everyone. He’s an asset to the club, so if you can raise the profile of a player outside the club as well as inside, then their value does increase.

Aren’t there players who clubs might prefer to be a bit less high-profile? Ian Wright, for example, who was hosting a TV show while he was still playing in the Premiership.
I have no idea how they allowed that. Even recording it earlier in the day. My rule is that a player doesn’t do anything on a Friday unless the club insists. Certainly no promotional work less than two days before a game and then it depends what it is. If it’s kicking a football around with kids, brilliant. If it’s sitting around for seven hours waiting to record a four-minute advert, that’s something else.

With some players, it would seem to be more important to keep them out of the press than get them into it.

With Julian Dicks, yes. There was an embargo for three months when I was first involved. No one outside the club was allowed to speak to him because he’d been turned over time and again. It wasn’t about being vindictive – I used to be a journalist and I understand a good headline – but it shouldn’t be a lie. Truth doesn’t have to get in the way of a good story.

Does the fact that some of your clients lead quite public lives off the pitch cause extra problems?

I wouldn’t wish a serious injury on anyone, but it’s always good if a player doesn’t play for a while because they then learn who their friends are. If he’s a footballer the most unattractive guy becomes a god, but when they have time off with an injury, suddenly they don’t have their buddies at the bar, the phone calls and the freebies don’t come. If they’re sensible they see that and learn.

Does every player need an agent?
They need an adviser, someone who knows the business outside direct contact with the club. They have to have someone he can confide in otherwise they can make silly mistakes, like threatening to rip the manager’s head off. You can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of real fisticuffs that happen in a year. I probably hear a threat of it once a month from somewhere or other, but it rarely gets any further than that. It’s also important that the agent is outside their immediate family. With families, it’s often the dads who are the trouble because they become like owners, their lad is always the best player in the team.

Would you agree that it’s the lower division players, the ones with the least money, who have most need of advice, rather than the superstars?
I think it should be compulsory for agents to represent players across the spectrum from Division Three to the Premiership, though I don’t how you could enforce that. When I first started I only dealt with the Premiership, then Sheffield United when Don Hutchison moved there, who were a Premiership club in waiting at the time. In the same way I’ve always believed that the chairman should walk through the turnstile, the kind where your bum gets caught, they should queue up for a cup of tea, pay £1.50 for a Mars bar, just to learn how others experience it. It’s not that they’re stupid, it just doesn’t cross their mind. I’ve learned about the other side through the simple process of players going down the league as they get older. But often they’re still big names, being paid more than others at their club and it’s not quite the same as learning what it is like to be paid £150 a week in the Third Division.

Do you offer business advice to players about what to do outside football?

Yes, I like to see them train for something else. But it’s not easy. What does a 21-year-old care about what he’s going to be doing when he’s 35? I make a conscious effort to find out what interests them, however obscure, and one of the brilliant things that the PFA has done is create a training scheme where every player is entitled to £3,000 a year for further education. Anyone who doesn’t take advantage of that is a fool. He can have computers bought him, he could be a heavy goods driver, learn the drums, be a cook, whatever. As long as it’s vocational, every year they can learn something new.

Should agents have a football background?
No. It can be counterproductive. A lot of ex-players are becoming agents – though they’ll still work with lawyers or accountants – but they are struggling big time. They can’t be dispassionate because they’re talking to managers they used to work for. How can you stand and say “I’m not having this” to someone you got used to calling “gaffer” for ten years? They might have great contacts but you try to get them to phone someone they’ve worked for. Whereas I’ll phone anyone. It’s better if I don’t know them.

But there are some managers who clearly work very closely with agents.

There are certain managers who will only deal with one or two agents, which concerns me a bit. Watch when a new manager joins a club – if he gets more than, say, three players from the same agent, I’d be worried. Sometimes it’s seven or eight. Of course they can have their favourite players, and they want certain types of personality in the dressing room, but seven from one stable – and then the club doesn’t do very well. It might just be coincidence, of course…

From WSC 153 November 1999. What was happening this month