Ferguson had to ban agent for tapping-up

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The Independent Football

Manchester United have banned an agent from their Carrington training complex for "tapping up" 12-year-old academy prospects, the manager Sir Alex Ferguson said yesterday.

Ferguson, the father of a former agent, said that agents were taking control of the transfer market through the amount of money they take out of the game. The United manager then illustrated the lengths some will go to in order to secure talented youngsters.

A day after his captain, Gary Neville, called for agents to be removed from the game, Ferguson said his club had caught an unnamed agent approaching young United players at academy games - when the attendance of parents at matches forces a relaxation of the normally tight security at Carrington.

"We had a situation recently with an agent coming to the academy and tapping up young players from 12 years of age," Ferguson said. "We barred him - so he started to wait outside the academy, picking out the cars of the parents, stopping them and tapping them up."

Unlike Neville, the United manager recognises the value of agents in aspects of the game, but he is alarmed by the growing trend of agents "owning" players and therefore having the potential to exploit an already inflated transfer market.

"In an ideal world Gary is correct, but agents are here," said Ferguson, whose son Jason used to be a licensed agent. "And if they are professional and have responsibilities there is nothing wrong with players taking their advice.

"What I would like to see is an investigation into the tariffs they have, the payments. I think they are taking a lot of money out of football, which is obvious, so much so that they are now able to buy players. That is a dangerous precedent because it means they can control the markets. That would be a really dangerous area to go into. But if they're paid the same amounts as lawyers and accountants, and have a responsible attitude towards the industry, then there's nothing wrong with that."

Neville's comments have sparked a major debate on the role of the modern football agent and across Manchester yesterday the City manager, Stuart Pearce, said he was concerned by young play-ers at his club who are too reliant on their representatives.

"The point Gary was making was that players have to take more responsibility for themselves," said Pearce. "I have taken lads to one side and said I am thinking of sending him out on loan. He says he will get back to you the following day, after he has spoken to his agent. I can respect that as a manager but as a player I could have probably given an answer myself without speaking to anyone.

"It is too simplistic to say football doesn't need agents. Everyone is entitled to use whatever outside help they can get. I used an agent for a long period to run one or two commercial aspects of my life so I didn't have to pick the telephone up all the time and I could concentrate on football."

Ferguson, who is without the suspended Wayne Rooney and plans to rest several senior players for this evening's FA Cup fifth-round tie with Reading, also launched a withering attack on the Football Association's youth academy system yesterday. He accused it of failing in its mission to produce World Cup-winning talent, thus forcing clubs to buy youngsters from abroad.

As one of those affected by the ruling that clubs can only coach youngsters who live within an hour or 90 minutes' drive of their academy centre, depending on their age - devised to pre-vent major clubs like United harbouring the best talent and depriving smaller clubs of income - Ferguson has never been a supporter of the current system.

He said: "Arsène Wenger is very strong on French football and African players, so why should he not use that to his advantage? The problem doesn't lie with Wenger, it lies with the system. I think it's seriously in danger of falling apart. There are countless flaws in it. Some are not being run properly because clubs are not able to afford it.

"It costs us around £4m to run our academy, yet because there is a restriction in travel, Manchester United and particularly Arsenal have to look worldwide in order to get the best young players into the club.

"When the academies were set up, Howard Wilkinson said England would win the World Cup within 10 years. Well, they have been going eight now and I can't see it."