Call for clampdown on agent payments

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The Independent Football

Keith Harris, the former Football League chairman who has worked as an adviser to Manchester United, says the English football authorities should join forces to stop football agents leeching vast sums of money from the game.

United's major shareholder, John Magnier, wants the club to reveal full details of the involvement of agents in a string of controversial transfers, a move that has intensified his falling-out with manager Sir Alex Ferguson over a racehorse, but Harris believes it is time for the Football Association and the Premier League to find out exactly what is being paid to whom and with what justification.

Last week, faced with 99 questions tabled by Magnier and his partner JP McManus, who between them own more than a quarter of the club, United revealed that they had paid £750,000 in agents' fees as part of Louis Saha's £12.825m move from Fulham.

Yesterday, a Sunday newspaper claimed United had parted with £1.2m in agents' fees to secure the purchase of Diego Forlan from Independiente two years ago, adding 22 per cent to the price paid for the Uruguayan striker.

However Harris, a United shareholder who advised the club during Sky's ill-fated takeover bid in 1999, does not believe it should be down to United alone to sort out the matter.

"None of us can understand why United needed to write out a cheque of that size in respect of Saha," Harris told BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek programme. "Agents have now become an entrenched part of the game but if you talk to any club chairman, they have been a blight on the industry for years.

"I can't understand why the percentages agents are paid to effect player transfers are so high. I can't understand why, when agents are there to represent players, it is the clubs who are paying them and I would also like to know where the money goes when it goes into agents' pockets.

"At a time when the game needs more money investing in it, we are faced with the prospect of more money leaving it.

"There are a whole host of questions that need to be answered and I would like to see the FA or the Premiership to sponsor an inquiry to try to unearth exactly how much money is leaking out of the game." Most of the questions to which Magnier and McManus are demanding written answers from the United board concern payments made to agents in relation to 15 recent transfers.

Most United fans believe the move is nothing more than a further attempt to pressurise the Scot into giving way in his legal dispute with Magnier over the stud rights to record-breaking stallion Rock of Gibraltar, although some observers believe the Irish duo, whose share in the club is worth £175m, have eyes on a takeover in the long term and that the tactic is part of a broader strategy.

Supporters offered wholehearted backing to Ferguson during Saturday's 3-2 win over Southampton at Old Trafford and distributed leaflets encouraging fans to make contact with Magnier's stud base at Coolmore to express their displeasure at his stance.

However, Ferguson's emotional outburst on Friday, in which he revealed his agent son Jason had complained to police that his mail was being stolen and bins were being searched at his home, might indicate that his stance on the Rock of Gibraltar issue is wavering. Ferguson Jnr is said to be ready to give up his agent work because of the distress he has suffered following allegations that he gained secret financial benefit from his role in transfers involving United players.