An investigation by The Independent has revealed that between £125m and £150m is lost to football each year in payments to agents. The disclosure comes as the Independent's survey of professional footballers reveals that almost 60 per cent of them have changed their agent or never hired one because they believe agents are taking too much money from the game.
On being told of the amount agents make from the game, the former England manager Graham Taylor said: "I have a reputation that I don't like agents, "It's not really the case. I recognise the need for players to have representation. What I can't understand is the amount of cash football allows to go out of the game. My team has always been Scunthorpe, who I grew up supporting. When you see, for example, that Manchester United paid Louis Saha's agent £750,000 as part of the deal to sign him, you think 'Scunthorpe could live on that for three years.'
"It doesn't make sense to me that the profession allows this to happen. I'm glad you're publicising this. I've long thought that if people knew how much money is really going out of the game, it would make them stand back and ask, 'Why?' Young people these days don't think they're a footballer until they've got an agent. I always say to them, 'Talk to your manager first, then go back to agent and see how much extra he can get. Let him take his cut out of the difference, not the total.'"
John Bowler, the chairman of the Championship side Crewe Alexandra said: "It's horrifying that so much money is being taken out of the industry for professional services." Crewe have resisted making payments to agents, though the club made the first such payment in its history last year, for £5,000. "When we see clubs are suffering financially and the amount of funding going to youth development is decreasing, it's a cause for concern."
The figure of £125m to £150m has been calculated by taking into account both the direct payments by clubs to agents and the payments agents receive directly from the players. The latter figure has been calculated thanks to The Independent's survey of professional football published this week, which reveals both how much footballers earn and how many of them have agents.
Industry sources say a conservative estimate of a the average agent's fee is 15 per cent of the player's income. Premiership players are most likely to have agents with around 70 per cent employing an agent. The players' average earnings are known because of The Independent's survey, and have been corroborated by other sources.
On top of that was added direct payments by clubs to agents. In the Football League these figures are publicly available. In the Premiership, they are generally not. Informed sources suggest that the 20 Premiership clubs spend at least five times as much directly on agents as the Football League's 72 clubs combined. Football League clubs committed £4.4m to direct agents' payments in the last six months of last year.
In the Premiership, 51 per cent of professionals said they have changed their agent or never hired one because they weren't worth the money. It rose to 53 per cent in the Championship, 58 per cent in League One and 67 per cent in League Two. Across all divisions, the figure was 57 per cent.
One respondent, voicing dissatisfaction with a former agent, who he named, said: "I had this guy as my agent over the course of a two-year contract and only spoke to him twice in two years." Another player told of an agent who did no more than oversee one contract signing, which took two hours. For that alone, the agent earned £40,000, or 20 per cent of the total value to the player of that particular contract.
The role of agents came under fresh scrutiny in January, when Luton's manager, Mike Newell, said that he had been offered bungs by agents in the past. Queen's Park Rangers Ian Holloway also alleged that he was offered a cash bribe by an agent to facilitate a player's move. The Football Association is investigating.
Subsequent to Newell and Holloway's claims, the Premier League announced an inquiry into whether there have been any illegal payments in transfers since January 2004. That is under way. The latest agent to face charges by the FA in connection with an alleged breach of its rules was Ashley Cole's agent, Jonathan Barnett, in relation to Barnett's alleged attendance at the infamous "tapping-up" meeting between the Arsenal defender and Chelsea representatives last year.
The Professional Footballers' Association, in response to concerns that a lot of its members had had problems with agents, has entered the player management market itself. Mick McGuire, the deputy chief executive of the PFA, who has described some agents as "greedy" and "exorbitant", points to the PFA's lower fees and greater transparency in dealings as reasons why an increasing number of players are turning to the PFA.
Agents: The key questions
Have you ever changed your agent, or decided not to have an agent, because you didn't think the agent was worth the money they were earning?
Premier League 51%/49%
League One 58%/42%
League Two 67%/33%
All players 57%/43%
The PFA is continuing to develop its own player management agency to look after players' personal interests. Is this an area the PFA should continue to develop and that you'd be interested in knowing more about?
Premier League 73%/27%/0
League One 79%/19%/2%
League Two 81%/18%/1%
All players 73%/26%/1%