Patrick Barclay’s ‘Toast Talk’

Platinum One Chief Executive Fintan Drury, writes…

Patrick Barclay’s Kitchen Address is a valuable exercise in challenging something in football that bothers more than just him. It even bothers some agents and players too. Mr. Barclay has a long established reputation as a commentator on the game and – while the surroundings may have been less Gettysburg and more Gettoeseque (poor attempt at a joke Patrick would love to come around for a cup of tea) – his disgust at how agents are profiting at the expense of football fans is something that will strike a chord with the hundreds of thousands who will attend games this weekend. Sometimes journalism is about capturing the public mood, sometimes it is about agenda setting and in his challenge to fans to ‘rise up’ and make their views known he has unquestionably done the game a service.

The problem with simply playing the populist line – and I accept that doing a piece to camera in your kitchen with the toaster still warm in the background – makes it difficult to address issues of substance in a detailed and considered fashion, however some of his points warrant closer attention. One of them is that people should be more agitated by the payment of £130 million to agents by Premier League clubs than the apparent ‘bung’ paid by Sepp Blatter to UEFA President Michel Platini. Surely this is to miss the point. The payment by Blatter was “discovered” as part of an investigation. The payment to agents is now reported annually and is transparent to the point that it is the quantum that has, understandably, raised Mr. Barclay’s ire. It is hard to blame him at one level but the £130 million represents a percentage of the gross player wage bill and transfer activity so, with transfer fees “exploding” and player wages increasing exponentially, so too will the quantum paid in fees to the men and women who manage the players and broker the deals. Time doesn’t allow me research this but I am sure that, as a respected football scribe, Patrick Barclay would have called for greater transparency around the involvement of agents, or intermediaries as we are now called, in the British game.

Another point Mr. Barclay makes is that it is the players and not the clubs who should be making these payments. This too has validity but again it lacks depth of analysis. Included in the total figure published by the FAPL are payments made to agents retained by clubs to recruit and secure targeted players on their behalf. Agents do not only work for players. Some are trusted by clubs to provide a service which might actually save the club money. The greater consideration around his point about players having to pay 100% of an agent’s fee is that it would not resolve the very issue Patrick Barclay is so exercised about – that fans’ money is going to pay the professional intermediary retained by the player, because in many cases it is the club that is paying. Were the FAPL to determine that clubs could no longer make these payments, the club and the agents would simply increase the players gross income by the amount required to cover the agents fee and the very transparency that is, however slowly, creeping into the game would be eroded.

There is value to Patrick Barclay’s anger. However, the problems with agents or intermediaries is less to do with what is reported and more to do with what is widely known but is not. The problems are more deep-rooted, more to do with a general lack of standards in the game and particularly, as I have argued before, a complete absence of leadership within the agency/intermediary world of which I am a part for as long as Patrick Barclay has been writing about the game we both love.

PS – not sure about the T Shirt sentiments. I mean cricket? Better than sex..?