As the European elite clubs attempt to squeeze through last-minute transfers, find out exactly what goes on behind the scenes of a modern-day deal from those truly in the know
By Sam Rowe
At 11pm on Monday evening, the annual carousel of transfer drama will finally creak to a halt. It will formally end what has been a record-breaking summer of saga, scandal, custom-built stages in Madrid and a pair of particularly revealing shorts – and that’s just Gareth Bale.
But, before football fans flick between yellow tickers and speculative tweeters, we at Goal wanted to show you under the bonnet of a transfer deal, as told through the tales of three experts who have not just been there and done it, but also faxed through the necessary paperwork at 10:58pm while wearing the club T-shirt. If it sounds stressful, that’s because it is – so feel free to make today the one day of the year you feel a small shred of sympathy for footballers. Well, at least until January, anyway…
|STEP ONE: BEWARE THE AGENT
Clifford Bloxham, senior vice president, Octagon sports agency: “I’d say the single biggest factor with football compared to nearly any other sport is that there’s a lot of agents that are small, one- or two-man businesses. So their motivation is that they have to do deals to pay for the lightbulbs, so you can understand why some agents recommend deals, because if they don’t they have no money coming in and no other source of income. But it shouldn’t be a factor, [as an agent] you should only do the deal that’s in the long-term best interests of your client. And that takes a confident agent and most likely an agent that’s already successful financially. To be able to say no is much more important than saying yes, in terms of being a good agent.”
|STEP TWO: LAY THE FOUNDATIONS|
Barry Silkman, agent: “First thing I do is see how good the player is and whether there’s clubs that would want him. If there are clubs that would want him, you pretty much know what the valuation is, and you know what price they’ll put on his head if they’re selling. Then you’ve got to have a look round and see what clubs are available and what clubs would buy him.”
|STEP THREE: FIRST CONTACT (AKA TAPPING UP)
Rohan Ricketts, former Arsenal and Tottenham attacker: “The player will be contacted by the buying club. They would’ve spoken to the agent, the agent would have spoken to the player, saying ‘This club wants you, they’re willing to double your salary’. The agent will then say to the buying club to contact whoever it is, and put in a bid. Once they know a bid’s been put in, they’ll be notified and they’ll leak it in the press.
“Once it’s in the press, it’s public knowledge to the player, though he would already know in private. If the player really wants to go but the club isn’t accepting the bid, he will go and speak to them, or the agent will go and speak to them on his behalf. And that’s when the ball starts rolling.”
|STEP FOUR: (QUIETLY) AGREE PERSONAL TERMS
Bloxham: “The first thing I would always recommend is discretion, so it doesn’t happen in public. As when it happens in public, there has to be some posturing on both sides. The club has to uphold their status and reputation, as does the manager. But, if no one knows what’s going on, the whole posturing is not the same.
“Then, our job is to negotiate the player’s contract, but you’ve got to minimise the impact that a contract negotiation has on their football career. To be honest, they shouldn’t even know about it. Some of the greatest sportsmen don’t even know how much money they’re getting. I bet you Andy Murray didn’t think for one second how much money he was going to get for winning Wimbledon – he didn’t even know what he did in the last game, so the last thing he was thinking of was the £1.3m [winnings].
“Whereas in football, what’s happening off the pitch becomes a bigger story than what they’re actually doing on it. All that does is divert away from what [the player] should be doing, which is playing great football.”
|STEP FIVE: COMPLETE A MEDICAL
Silkman: “I remember a few years ago I was taking Robert Huth from Chelsea to Middlesbrough. The deal was done but it was providing Ashley Cole was going from Arsenal to Chelsea. Ashley Cole wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and you’ve got this deadline day scenario where the player’s not even around to have a medical, because he was away with the England party – it was a complete joke!
“So they had to get him from the England party and give him a medical there, as what are you gonna do, get helicopters? It’s not like in Star Trek where you can transport somewhere. That deal didn’t get done until half past one in the morning – it actually missed the deadline by one and a half hours. [The Premier League] accepted the Ashley Cole one, but weren’t sure about the Robert Huth deal, though eventually they let it go through. It was so ridiculous, it couldn’t happen in any other walk of life.”
|STEP SIX: AVOID LATE, LATE DRAMA
Ricketts: “I was playing in the first team at Spurs, I’d won back to back Young Premier League Player of the Month [awards] and got a couple man of the matches. I’d never come off, and I was on the verge of the England squad – so everything was going well. But all of a sudden, Glenn [Hoddle] gets sacked, David Pleat is caretaker manager and I, an in-form player, am on the bench straight away.
“After a while of being on the bench and playing here and there, I heard Reading wanted me. They were top of the Championship, and [Pleat] said just before, ‘If you find a loan deal, I’ll let you go’. So I get the call from my agent, Eric Walters, [who says] Reading wants me. I call David Pleat and he says to me, ‘How did you get my number, you shouldn’t be calling me’. I said, ‘You told me I should call you if I got a club – Reading have come in for me, I want to go’. He says ‘No’, and hangs up the phone. And the deal was off. That’s the actual stuff that goes on behind the scenes.
“I stayed ’til the end of the season, playing a bit part role here and there, before eventually going on loan to Coventry. Why didn’t he like me? Maybe it was my personality, I’m really bubbly and I know he didn’t like that. I speak to everyone, whereas he’s cut from a different cloth, really old school. Maybe I should’ve just walked around and kept my mouth shut.”
|STEP SEVEN: SIGN THE CONTRACT
Silkman: “There’s no such thing as [a player] reading a contract, as every contract in every single league is identical. The thing that differs is if you have extras on it. Well, you don’t need to be a lawyer to read how much a week you’re on, what appearance money you’re getting or what your relocation money is. Or, if the club’s got an option, how much they give you to take up the option – you don’t have to be a genius to read that.
“The thing that keeps delaying things is that you haven’t actually done the deal. It comes up at the last minute, and you’ve got to try to see if he’s owed money – like a signing on fee by the club he’s leaving. Then you’ve got to see the club he’s going to and do the finance, what the salary is, and that can take ages. I’ve been on deals where it’s taken days, weeks to sort that out. So when you’re on a deal at the last minute, you’ve got to solve it within hours, and that’s when it becomes very intense, especially if you’ve got a chief executive that’s answerable to the owner. You can go round in a circle for hours, before the deal is finally done.”