Mel and I go back a long time, he was one of the first agents and has looked after some of England’s best players over the years, he is also a quality writer and excellent at complaining which I am sure he will not mind me saying, with one of his books being based around that art. I asked him if he would give me some insight into how players are managed nowadays against the past, the game has surely changed with the amount of money that has been poured into the game, heres what he had to say….
This weeks guest blog is from Mel Stein. Follow and message him here @melstein13
Looking back some thirty-five years to when I first began representing footballers, it’s hard to believe I had less than half a dozen competitors. And now there are some 500 chasing a finite number of players. Do the arithmetic. 92 clubs. Say about 2500 players. Divide by 500. And even though maths was not my strongest subject at school that works out to about 6 players per agent. Or does it?
Too many cooks
Well. If it did then I guess I wouldn’t have needed to ask the question. There are about ten agencies of any real size and they represent on average about 100 players each. So now we have 1500 players to be divided and we are down to 3 players per agent! And then we have to consider the commerciality of representing players below the Championship level and by now my limited mathematical skills are stretched too far. You get the picture though. Too many agents chasing too few players of commercial potential which leads to a ruthless, cut-throat industry. Or does it?
The birth of the AFA
I was one of the founders of The Association of Football Agents nearly seven years ago. Together with Jon Smith of First Artist we gathered together a disparate group of people most of whom didn’t speak to each other. In fact the first meeting was a bit like a scene from a Western where the rival gangs leave their guns at the swing doors to the saloon. But from that the AFA has grown into a powerful group, regarded by The FA as a stakeholder in the game and as the spokesperson for the large majority of those gallant band of agents I mentioned above. Now, there aren’t in fact 500 English men and women with Football Agent Licenses. There are, in fact, about 350, but then there are a whole bunch of registered lawyers like myself, close relations (dads, uncles, brothers etc.) looking after little Johnny (doubtless with the help of mum too!) and then a host of overseas agents who have registered here as well as in their own home countries in order to participate in an English transaction and take the bread from the mouths of yeomen Englishmen.
So diverse interests, diverse approaches and what the AFA has sought to do is to unify them into what is more of a profession than a free for all. And to a certain extent it has succeeded. There are, of course, still rotten apples in the barrel. But for the most part everybody knows who they are and they try to steer clear of them to avoid contamination. That is making for a much cleaner atmosphere in which to work. That’s not to say it’s not competitive. There’s money involved so of course it is.
The early days
But it’s all a far cry from where I started. Walking into the late Reggie Burr’s office at Millwall for Paul Stephenson of Newcastle and being told that he didn’t want any of my “Fancy Dan Spurs’s negotiating tricks.” I told him that Spurs came marginally lower on my like list than did Millwall and we did the deal and became firm friends. Later when Theo Paphitis and I had major differences of opinion Millwall slumped well below Tottenham. Or when Bobby Gould made me sit in a car in the club car park ( Coventry I think it was ) and conduct shuttle diplomacy by sending my player ( Rikki Otto if I recall ) in and out of the meeting. To be fair he did invite me in for a cup of tea at the end which is more than some managers have done in the past. Fergie (I can’t bring myself to call him Sir Alex) blaming me because Gazza went to Spurs rather than Man U. An unforgiving sort Mr F who I am reliably informed later said that if he saw me on a crossing he would hit the accelerator rather than the brake. A man to bear a grudge? I don’t think so.
Alan Shearer responding to a phone call and inviting me and my accountant friend Len Lazarus down to Southampton for tea at his house. I remember him being very embarrassed when he tried to offer me and Len (both Orthodox Jews) a bacon quiche that his lovely wife had cooked specially. He was less embarrassed when he terminated my representation by letter when I was off sick for over a year. Thanks Al. Yet, on the other hand I can’t see any other player of today of his status and potential inviting an agent around just because he called him. But then as I always say the only thing you won’t be disappointed about in football is that you will be disappointed. There are exceptions. I’ve acted for Jonathan Greening, Richard Cresswell, John Oster and Craig Beattie for the whole of their careers and a nicer, or more loyal, group of people you could not wish to meet. The same applies to the likes of Paul Warhurst and Wayne Jacobs and probably others I’ve omitted (and to whom I apologise).
I acted for Chris Waddle throughout his entire playing career and still regard him as a good friend. and even though Gazza also wrote me a “Dear John” letter after 15 successful years of acting for him I still cannot think of him unkindly. The good times far outweigh the bad when he was struggling with his own demons and I was just another bit of collateral damage. If I saw him today I would still want to throw my arms around him. Has it been good? Yes, it has despite some of the bad things that came with it. Headlines I never sought, journalists waylaying my kids at school, paparazzi camped outside my house during dark times. Would I encourage others to take the same path? Well, I am now Chairman of the Association of Football Agents and whenever anybody calls me for advice I always take the call and offer them a meeting. You won’t be surprised to learn though that I don’t offer them a bacon quiche.