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THIS morning at the Royal Courts of Justice Gary Lineker will give evidence in the libel action brought by Liverpool’s Harry Kewell.

The case, which has shed light on the arcane world of football agents, concerns comments made by Lineker in his Sunday Telegraph column regarding Kewell’s transfer from Leeds to Liverpool in July 2003.

The court has heard testimony from Kewell and Bernie Mandic, the player’s ‘personal manager’. The testimony has been largely concerned with the deal that earned Kewell a £13.5 million five-year contract at Anfield. Liverpool paid £1 million to a company owned by Bernie’s brother Nick, a FIFA-registered agent, while Max Sports, an Australian agency Bernie represents got £2 million from Leeds.

Kewell told the court he did not care what his representatives earned: “If that’s what Bernie arranged with Leeds, that’s fine. I got my financial package I wanted, I’m not greedy.”

The Kewell case also reflects how the role of the agent has changed. There have always been middlemen to help clubs find players, but as Ron Noades, who has owned Wimbledon, Crystal Palace and Brentford, says: “Until the mid-Eighties the middleman was normally a journalist. A football chairman trying to find out if a player wanted to move to his club would get a journalist to tap the player in return for which he was given exclusive stories.”

When Tottenham signed Chris Waddle from Newcastle in 1984 it was a well-known Fleet Street journalist who acted as the middleman.

Noades believes the first real agent was Dennis Roach, a former player who now represents Glenn Hoddle. Noades remembers one of the first deals that Roach was involved in. In the early Eighties, Noades got friendly with Gino Santin, an Italian restaurant owner, and they helped AC Milan sign Luther Blissett from Watford. A year later, on Noades’s recommendation, Milan returned for Mark Hateley, then at Portsmouth. “Gino and I met Milan at a restaurant in the West End with Portsmouth chairman John Deacon,” he says. “As we walked in we saw Roach at the bar. By the end of the night he had produced a document saying he was acting as Hateley’s agent.”

When Paul Gascoigne was sold by Tottenham to Lazio in 1992 both Santin and Roach acted for Tottenham, collecting vastly different fees. Roach earned £27,000, Santin £200,000. That deal made history for producing two successful libel actions. Spurs chairman Irving Scholar sued the Daily Mail for comments it had made about his role in the deal. Then Santin sued Panorama about comments made about him on the programme.

At the time, many players were advised by a different agency: the Professional Footballers’ Association, whose fees were usually a flat £10,000.

The launch of the Premiership in 1992, followed by the Bosman ruling of 1995, ushered in the era of the modern agent proper. So many curious deals were being made in the early Nineties that the Premier League set up a bungs inquiry and tried to bring in regulation for agents.

A case in point is the transfer that took Teddy Sheringham from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham in August 1992. On Aug 27 Frank McLintock, the former Arsenal captain, then Sheringham’s agent, collected a shoe box containing £58,750 in cash from White Hart Lane, which he put in the front seat of his car. Sheringham sat in the back and the pair drove to a hotel in Luton where they met Ronnie Fenton, then assistant manager at Forest.

McLintock maintained the money was his agent’s fee but the bungs inquiry established that much of it was given to Fenton. However £8,750, which was wrongly paid as VAT, was brought back to Tottenham a few days later by McLintock, given to Peter Barnes, then Tottenham secretary, and put in a safe where it remained undiscovered until June 1993 when the court case involving Terry Venables and Alan Sugar led to its discovery.

Noades says: “The football agent remains a curious animal. He is both player’s agent and head-hunter for the club. Clubs use him to find out if a player they is keen to come to them. Armed with that knowledge they can be aggressive in negotiating a fee. I know of several agents who have been paid at both ends by the buying and selling clubs, which is a conflict of interest. The money they get is obscene for doing very little. The only solution is for the player to pay his agent as happens in other professions.”

© Mihir Bose

      

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