Once upon a time, somewhere not far away from Bramall Lane, there was a young footballer who had begun to attract admiring glances from rival clubs.
The lad in question was not particularly bothered about moving. In fact, during a private conversation with one journalist who shall remain nameless, he expressed a preference for staying put. But a big nasty man came along and insisted he moved so, despite not being sure if it was the right thing to do or even what he wanted, off the teenager trotted. The pay was good but, unfortunately, opportunities proved limited. So, despite sticking his head above the parapet every so often, this talented teenager was barely heard of again.
Actually, this isn’t a fairytale. All of the above happened to a member of Sheffield United’s academy a few years ago. And after reading about events across the Pennines earlier this week, where Yaya Touré has been told by Pep Guardiola that he will not be considered for selection until his representative Dimitri Seluk apologises for criticising the midfielder’s omission from Manchester City’s Champions League squad, it set me thinking. About agents and their role in the modern game.
Unlike some, I’m not dead set against them. They have their uses, can help sort out contracts, broker commercial deals and, no matter what some folk might say in order to curry favour among supporters, pretty much every club employs their services at some time or another to help identify and recruit players. Let’s not forget either that they can also afford their clients some level of protection when employers turn nasty. (Although probably not as much as the PFA).
But I do fear the relationship between player and agent, some agents anyway, is in danger of becoming skewed.
United, as the loss of Che Adams and Dominic Calvert-Lewin before last month’s transfer deadline showed, are still vulnerable to Premier League and Championship predators. Nor, and let me make this clear, was any impropriety involved when they joined Birmingham City and Everton respectively. United felt they got a more than fair price and, in Adams’ case, regular first team football has followed. (I’m not sure playing at development squad level makes much sense for Calvert-Lewin at this pivotal stage of his career but time will tell. He’s a friendly, polite young man and I wish him all the best).
There have been plenty of instances at United in recent seasons when, without a shadow of a doubt, agents have effectively engineered moves for their clients when none was being sought.
Like I say, I’m not vehemently opposed to these guys and girls being involved in football. They exist for a reason. But, every so often, I do wish players would remember agents work for them. Not the other way around.