An Agent's Story: Seven summer sales, one happy man

'Maybe the clubs had been leaving money aside for a rainy day. Now they are not reining in so much'
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It has been a good summer for the football agent Barry Silkman - a very good summer. While he balks at suggestions from some colleagues that he has made £1m, it has undoubtedly been a highly lucrative time for the man known as "Silky". A smooth operator, indeed. "Chelsea have livened things up a bit," says the former Crystal Palace and Manchester City player.

His biggest deal - of seven in the past two months - was the £6.9m Chelsea paid to take the Real Madrid player Géremi. Others have included Aiyegbeni Yakubu and Patrik Berger to Portsmouth, Luciano Figueroa to Birmingham City for £2.5m and the Brazilian Doriva to Middlesbrough. Four more deals are on the cards.

But it is Chelsea, where he is closely associated with the agent Pini Zahavi - the Israeli brokered a deal to take Silkman to Maccabi Haifa in the 1980s when he was still a player - who have provided the most interest. Expect at least one more new player at Stamford Bridge before the end of the month: a big-name foreign striker (at £25m for a 30-year-old, Chelsea are reluctant to pay the asking price for Christian Vieri, though they remain keen to land him).

Unsurprisingly, Silkman says: "Chelsea have been good for the transfer market. They wanted Damien Duff, and with some of the money Chelsea spent, Blackburn bought Steven Reid, and that has left Millwall with cash. So the money is filtering through.

"At the same time Chelsea have sparked clubs into action. Maybe they had been leaving money aside for a rainy day, now they are not reining in so much. They were also waiting to see what happened with the TV deal. As long as clubs are sensible, they will be OK. Look at Southampton, they now have £5m-£6m to spend." Following the sale of Wayne Bridge, bids went in for Neil McCann from Rangers at £1.5m and Sunderland's Kevin Phillips for £3m.

Without Chelsea, the market would have been relatively dead. "I have been lucky in that several of the players I have got have been in demand," Silkman says. "But what is also happening is that clubs are looking at their own players and deciding that they might have to sell for less. You can't tell me that West Ham wanted anything less than £4.5m for Fredi Kanouté [he went for £4m plus Matthew Etherington]. The problem is, nobody else wanted him."

Chelsea did, he says, pay over the odds for Duff - but he says Duff's agent was the reason for that. "They ended up paying £17m. There is no way they wanted to pay more than £10m," Silkman says. "No one has benefited apart from Blackburn. If the player was worth that much, then why was he not already being paid £50,000 a week? That is a question for his agent."

The reputation of agents has taken a buffeting of late - even that old wheeler-dealer Harry Redknapp has criticised them for the way they conduct their business, claiming he is constantly offered cash "bungs". It is a subject over which "Silky", who is a Fifa-registered agent, becomes a little ruffled.

"The image of the agent is bad," he says. "What Harry said was strange, making them out to be crooks. I've never offered him cash in my life. Agents have a bad reputation, but a lot of it is jealousy.

"I have never heard a chairman complain if another chairman makes a dividend of £2m at the end of the year. Yet if a player is available for £1m and an agent comes in and says I can get you the player for £500,000 because of a clause in his contract, the club will say they would rather pay £1m. The chairman is never interested in saving £500,000. That is because they do not want any money going to the agent."

Warming to his theme, he adds: "But if that same chairman walks into a car showroom and buys a Merc or a Bentley for £150,000, does he not realise that a percentage goes on commission to the salesman? You don't hear anyone scream about that.

"If you go to an estate agent for a rental property he will take 10 per cent. But that is all that clubs are doing when they buy players - they are renting them, for four or five years of the contract. You never own the player. Yet if a football agent asks for 10 per cent he is accused of being a villain or a thief. But what about the chairman who buys a player for £1m and then two years later asks for £15m?"

Nevertheless - and despite Redknapp's criticism - he counts Portsmouth, along with Birmingham City and Middlesbrough, among his best clients. "If you do a good deal with them they will pay you a good fee," he says. "What people don't know about," Silkman claims, "is the amount of work agents do behind the scenes. I spent £80,000 last year on travel expenses and costs to see players and so on. I went to Italy and spent £3,500 to see three matches that were a waste of time. And now, with the transfer window, which is ridiculous, the time you have to do deals is much more concentrated."

Investing time and money, he says, is the key. His association with the Nigerian striker Yakubu began when the player was 16 and Silkman took him on trial to his old club Maccabi Haifa, staying 10 days by his side. Silkman exploits the markets in South America and southern Europe - "because I feel they are better players at better value" - and blames many lower-league English clubs for the influx of foreign players. "Clubs have been overpricing," he says. "They ask exorbitant fees. If they had been more sensible and instead of asking for, say, £1.5m, settled on £500,000 which, say, rose to £2m through appearances, then everyone would have benefited. So clubs got themselves into a real financial mess instead.

"Take Harry Redknapp, he ended up going abroad picking up international players for £1.5m-£2m. And clubs here are asking that for untried lower-league players." So when he received a call from Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, asking for a central midfielder, it was to Spain and Celta Vigo he turned for Doriva - little-known despite his 12 caps for Brazil - who has now signed a one-year deal after a loan period. "I took no fee when he first went there, only when he signed," Silkman says.

Deals are not taking any longer to complete, despite added complications such as image rights and tax arrangements - "it is just getting the clubs interested in the first place that matters". Silkman has, undoubtedly, had his fair share of success in that. "Someone called me up and said, 'Silky, you always wanted to make a million - how does it feel?' I haven't. But it has been good. Very good."