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Harry Kewell’s acrimonious move to Liverpool marks a seminal moment in English football. It is proof positive that it is becoming more European in the buying and selling of players.

On the Continent, the figures talked about during transfers are not only the amount paid to the selling club, but include the large dollop of cash that the player or his agent receives up front.

This has not been the case in England where, since the scrapping of the maximum wage, football has been a deceitful business, a world of ‘spin’.

The classic example was the ‘free transfer’ of Sol Campbell from Tottenham to Arsenal two years ago. True, Tottenham got nothing but, when I asked Peter Hill-Wood, chairman of Arsenal, he said: “It doesn’t feel like a free.” Campbell’s ‘package’ — signing-on fee and wages — was going to cost Arsenal £16 million.

The basic problem is that efforts are made to pretend that football transfers are different from those that take place in business and commerce, and therefore require special rules.

In business, a company wishing to acquire a high-flier would have no problem agreeing to pay a ‘golden hello’, a capital sum meant as an inducement to join. In football, this is called a signing-on fee, which is spread across the length of the player’s contract in the hope that it will keep the player at the club. It does not, and when the player moves, the unpaid sum can often become a problem. This was the case when Tottenham went in for Dean Richards two years ago and not only had to pay the transfer fee to Southampton, but Richards the unpaid signing-on fee.

In ordinary business, there is no shame attached to appointing a headhunter. But in football, such an approach is ‘illegal’, so the fiction is maintained that transfers take place only when the chairman of the buying club picks up the phone to his counterpart at the selling club. In order to maintain the fiction, the role of the agent is given an importance way beyond its true worth.

When Barbara Cassani was appointed London Olympic 2012 bid leader, she was chosen with the help of a headhunting firm who would have got a good commission, probably a cut of Cassani’s £150,000-a-year salary. Nothing wrong in that. But imagine if it turned out that they were also Cassani’s personal agent. There would probably have to be a parliamentary select committee inquiry into how such a thing had happened.

Yet, in the Kewell transfer, his agent Bernie Mandic is saying this is what happened in order to justify the £2 million that his company, Max Sports, are getting from Leeds.

Mandic has said that, in January, Leeds had instigated the transfer of Kewell, asking him to seek out potential buyers. This, he argues, justifies his fee.

A lot has happened at Leeds since January. Peter Ridsdale was the chairman then and the present board cannot be sure what he said to Mandic. But if he did use Mandic, it is a remarkable way to conduct a transfer, although characteristic of English football. And if he did not, then it is remarkable that Mandic should use it to justify his fee as, in any other business, the headhunter becoming the agent of the person who is moving would be considered an outrageous situation.

Leeds sources tell me that Mandic and the player always made it clear that they wanted a cut of the transfer money.

Perhaps the cheekiest words have come from Kewell, who said: “I haven’t received a fee. I’ll get my money from Liverpool and let my agent get whatever he gets. That’s up to him. I know nothing about that.”

How innocent Kewell sounds, but what he does not tell us is the signing-on fee Liverpool are paying him. Could this be the £2 million that McKenzie thinks Liverpool are paying?

Leeds have done a service by disclosing some of the details of this dark, secret trade, but, until we get a transfer system which more accurately reflects ordinary life, we will continue to get such acrimony and the fans will feel cheated.

© Mihir Bose

      

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