Agents settle in for serious star gazing through the shop window

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In the prehistoric days before the advent of the mobile phone, suspicious international managers simply ensured their top stars became incommunicado before major tournaments by screening all calls to the players' rooms.

In the prehistoric days before the advent of the mobile phone, suspicious international managers simply ensured their top stars became incommunicado before major tournaments by screening all calls to the players' rooms.

Now, it's not so easy. Forget all the platitudes about putting that next career move out of their mind until after the finals, Euro 2004 is the best shop window there is. Players know it, as do their agents and club managers across the continent. Between now and the final, the collective mobile-phone bill between the three parties could very easily pay for a new striker.

The European finals either bestow the ultimate seal of approval from a buyer or open managerial eyes to an unknown talent. The former applied to David Trezeguet four years ago when he struck the golden-goal winner for France in the final against Italy, an act that convinced Juventus to splash out £20m on the striker. When it comes to the latter category, Pavel Nedved and Karel Poborsky used the Czech Republic's march to the Euro '96 final as their launch pad for moves to Lazio and Manchester United.

Ironically, it was the man who brought Nedved to Lazio, Sven Goran Eriksson, who can probably sleep easiest of the 16 national coaches scattered around Portugal's best hotels and country clubs. England's relatively stable squad and their high market value mean that few of the deals this summer will involve Eriksson's men.

The Premiership is high up Europe's football food chain, acting more as a buyer than a seller, pointed out Mel Stein, an éminence grise in the agent world who launched Paul Gascoigne's meteoric rise. "The one England player who might be in the shop window is Nicky Butt. Managers here will know what he can do, but foreign ones may not, and he only has a year left on his contract.

"It is a different world these days compared to when we got Gazza his move to Lazio. It was the 1990 World Cup in Italy that triggered their interest and put him on the big stage. But these days, pretty much everyone knows about everyone else - managers, players and agents - because of satellite television."

Many managers attend the finals to run their eyes over a potential signing target, but some will discover a player from the small screen. Martin O'Neill spent Euro 2000 in the BBC studio and bought Joos Valgaeren, the Belgium central defender, just weeks later for Celtic.

It is O'Neill's departing star, Henrik Larsson, who could use these finals to showcase his goalscoring talents to earn the move to Spain he craves. Larsson is now a free agent, and if he repeats the three goals he scored in the 2002 World Cup finals, a move to Valencia could be on the cards. "People know Larsson and I don't think he will have any trouble finding the kind of club he wants," said Ivan Benes, a Danish agent, who knows that Scandinavian talent remains irresistible to club managers from Madrid to Manchester.

"Danish and Swedish players have always settled wherever they have gone," said Benes, who has two clients in the Denmark squad, Peter Lovenkrands of Rangers and Daniel Jensen, who plays for Murcia in Spain. "There will be a lot of players attracting interest this time. It is one big shop window and I am sure there will be plenty moving on when the market opens up again." At the top end, the A list will include names such as Trezeguet, who is being courted by Barcelona; Thomas Rosicky, the Czech playmaker at Borussia Dortmund; and Dutch midfield duo Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder, both at Ajax but who could also be on their way to La Liga.

Spotting the rising star is as much part of the fun as selling him on. Obviously, Spain's 20-year-old striker Fernando Torres - heavily linked to Chelsea - is hardly an unknown quantity after two impressive seasons at Atletico Madrid, but one European agent dug deeper to suggest someone whose ascent could threaten England's dreams.

John Dario has several clients in the Switzerland squad but chose a striker whom he does not represent as a dark horse. Johan Vonlanthen, an 18-year-old, is earmarked for big things by PSV Eindhoven, who know a thing or two about strikers, having nurtured Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy before selling them.

"Vonlanthen has phenomenal talent and it would be my dream for him to score the winner against England," smiled Dario. The Swiss agent profited hugely from Euro 2000 even though the client concerned never kicked a ball in the tournament. "When Monaco sold Trezeguet to Juventus, I was able to help them get Shabani Nonda as a replacement," explained Dario, who banked a healthy cut when Monaco paid £12m for the Congolese striker.

Other agents have already clinched that money-making deal. Jean-Alain Boumsong, the young French central defender, surprised many when he opted to leave Auxerre for Rangers rather than wait for Internazionale or Liverpool. For Willie Mackay, a Scots agent based in Monaco, that represented a good deal all round.

"Boumsong is the best Bosman signing for years," said Mackay. "Rangers did not have to pay a fee and will be able to sell him for £10m if things go well." Mackay's hot tip is Monaco's Jerome Rothen. "He could have moved to Manchester City before he joined Monaco for €4m (£2.8m), but he will cost a lot more now."

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