The figure of almost £71m that Premier League clubs have paid directly to agents in the past year does not fully reflect the amount of money that agents have earned from the top flight of the English game in that period. The true figure is not known, and probably never will be, but can be estimated at something approaching double.
That's not necessarily a bad thing because many agents, perhaps even most, do a good job and provide their clients with valuable services that go far beyond negotiating an extra nought on their latest deal. But equally the massive sums that have flooded into English football since the start of the Premier League in 1992-93 have attracted all kinds of parasites who want a piece of the action.
Are footballers happy with the services their agents provide? The last time the players were asked this question en masse was in 2006 when this newspaper, in association with the Professional Footballers' Association, conducted a survey that sought their views on numerous subjects, including agents. Sixty per cent of players across all divisions had either changed their agent or never hired one in the first place because they believed they took too much money from the game. In the Premier League it was 51 per cent.
It is not the case that there are no good, professional agents who provide great services, helping clients earn fortunes. These agents are fairly self-evident because they have large stables of top players. The Stellar Football group headed by Jonathan Barnett, for example, can count Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Wayne Bridge, Ledley King and Louis Saha among its satisfied clients.
The SEM group, headed by Jerome Anderson, has Rio Ferdinand, Thierry Henry, David Bentley, Joseph Yobo, Alexandre Song and many others on its books. WMG Management, formerly known and better known as the SFX group of Tony Stephens, looks after Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, Jamie Carragher, Tim Cahill, Park Ji-Sung and Michael Owen, to name a few.
There are any number of smaller boutique agencies, international agencies, one-man agencies and lawyers who hold agent licences and do good work for their players. Ask many players if they are happy with their deals, the support and advice they get, and the practical assistance they receive in running every aspect of their lives, and they'll tell you they're happy. At least half of them will.
The clubs are also often satisfied, if not happy, to pay agents when they need that agent to seal a deal. Without an agent's help these days, many deals would not get done.
But it is also a fact that agents take massively more money from football now than ever. Even if we accept that they take just five per cent of a client's income in fees, that would equate roughly to £50m in 2009 across the Premier League from total combined earnings of some £1bn this year. (Club wage bills are higher than that, but players receive only around 73 per cent of all salaries paid). On top of that, agents will typically take 20 per cent of commercial deals, be it from a kit maker or a shaving cream firm or a hair gel company or a car dealer.
Agents also earn from transfers; and Premier League clubs have spent some £650m in 2009 alone. Yes, all creative industries from music to film to literature involve agents. But let's not pretend most football agents are in it for anything but a payday themselves. Football's minted; why not milk it?
Clubs' pay to agents
Manchester City £12,874,283
Tottenham Hotspur £6,066,935
West Ham United £5,527,548
Wigan Athletic £3,576,972
Bolton Wanderers £3,166,611
Aston Villa £1,708,374
Blackburn Rovers £1,610,885
Hull City £1,599,188
Manchester United £1,517,393
Wolverhampton Wanderers £1,235,703
Birmingham City £974,982
Stoke City £716,042
Total (for two transfer windows, 803 transactions in all) ......... £70,692,513Reuse content