Football agents are jeopardising their players' careers by demanding high sign-up fees or offering them to other clubs without their knowledge, research shows.
The British Sociological Association's annual conference in Manchester today [Thursday 6 April] heard that there is a "widely held view by many people in professional football that agents are damaging the game".
Graeme Law, of York St John University, and Dr Daniel Bloyce, of the University of Chester, interviewed 34 players and former players in clubs in the Premiership, Championship and One and Two leagues.
Mr Law told the conference that while some players were happy that agents found them better pay and opportunities, many had found them untrustworthy.
One Premiership and international player told him: "I fell out with him [his agent] because he tried to shaft me, he was trying to sell me to another club without my knowledge or the club knowing."
One League One player told Mr Law that a Championship club were interested in signing him, but his agent "asked for a backhander behind my back. He asked for a £15,000 signing on fee, which I didn't know about, it killed the deal and my name got blackened and damaged and I ended up at [a non-league club] at the end of pre-season. I never played higher than League One, I was young and it could be argued I lost my best years."
A former player interviewed, now manager of a Championship club, said that one agent had tried to persuade him to take a player he didn't want to sign by offering to get another and better player to sign up with his club at the same time.
"I really dislike agents," he told the researchers. "I honestly don't know what they bring to the game other than hiking wages. They show no loyalty to players."
Another player said that when he left his Premiership club, "I had a lot of offers and my agent was on the phone all day discussing what was best. Then, as the years went on and I wasn't playing or if I hadn't scored many, he would hardly call. You know when you're on fire they call you and get you deals – when it's not looking as promising or it could be tough for them, they go a bit silent."
Another Premiership and international side player said: "You hear some horror stories about agents, not just in the media but from other players, so I was always really cautious. Trust was the most important thing for me and it took me a long time before I agreed to sign anything. I think recommendations or knowing them is the key. If you don't have trust you are in big trouble."
Mr Law told the conference: "The findings suggest that many players had negative experiences with agents, with some being offered to other clubs without their knowledge. Players discussed how agents had ignored them and terminated contracts when the player was seen to have little value to them or was going to be difficult to make money from.
"There are a few top agents who have grabbed the market but 80% are fighting over the crumbs that remain – this has lead to some agents acting in a way that is unprofessional."
Mr Law said that other players had found agents were useful for helping their careers.
One Premiership player told him: "I got an agent and the gaffer was fuming because I got more money. Simple as that. Agents are in the know aren't they? They know what to say, what to do, how much people are on. Players don't have a clue so they are negotiating blind. Managers don't like them because they can't be rolled over or told it's a good wage when it’s not."
Another Premiership player said: "I use an agent because he knows what he is doing. That's what their job is. Mine is to play football, not negotiate contracts, so it makes sense really."
Mr Law and Dr Bloyce noted the growth in the use of agents. In England in 2008 there were 560 registered agents in England, compared to 253 in France and 259 in Germany, with approximately 80% of Premiership players using them.
In the two transfer windows between October 2013 and September 2014, £115 million was spent by Premier League clubs on agents' payments. This was more than the entire wage bill of all League Two clubs over the same period.
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British Sociological Association
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1. The British Sociological Association's annual conference takes place the University of Manchester from 4 to 6 April 2017. Around 700 research presentations are given. The British Sociological Association's charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235 www.britsoc.co.uk