In his fortnightly exclusive column for CaughtOffside, Jon Smith, one of football’s first-ever agents and a man who was an integral figure in the forming of the Premier League, discusses why player transfers aren’t as straightforward as everyone thinks, why Arsenal need an out and out striker, why Jadon Sancho has no future at Man United, whether clubs need to do more regarding mental health – and more!
Player transfers aren’t straightforward and are a lot more scientific these days
There are many agents out there, but at the top of the game there’s probably only 50 clients you’ve got as your marketplace. They are the ones that make you most of your money.
There’s a whole bunch of smaller clubs of course, so therefore there’s an abundance of agents, however, the big boys and the more professional agents are the guys who are attuned with the game and the industry, and are much more professional than the outward impression would have you believe.
There are lots of conversations that are always going on, co-relationships between clubs, agents and players, lots of intelligence networks about who’s getting what, who needs what, who is likely to move, who’s injury prone, which clubs are likely to be in positions where they’re going to need certain positions filled, and of course anticipation of moves to be made by rival clubs.
There’s so much information these days to be analysed and it’s not just a question of ‘x club needs a left back so I’ll give them a ring,’ because that doesn’t work too well anymore. A few agents do still work like that though they’re in the lower echelons of the game.
The likes of Brighton and Brentford have been successful by using the analytics that are now around, meaning they’re in a much more insightful position.
Conversations are happening all the time and the only thing that crystallises those conversation is the fact that you can’t physically do deals outside of trading windows and then of course there’s the poker game that takes place running into the end of those semi-annual windows whereas, years ago, we could have these conversations and a deal would be done immediately.
Arsenal need an out and out striker to compete for the big trophies
Ivan Toney’s out there so if you join the dots that’s a move that’s in my head, but Arsenal may not fancy him because there’s history there obviously.
Brentford will probably sell because they’re doing okay without him, he’s only got two years left on his contract, and that means next year it’d be very tempting for him to just hang around and go for free.
Osimhen at Napoli is another, but I don’t know if Napoli would sell him and they’ll want big money.
I think Arsenal need a striker and a full-back and that’s probably it. It would be nice if they’ve got the luxury of spending money to bring in others to compete with with Man City, but Arteta’s squad are pretty much there.
Part of it is mental strength and you get that by just working through the system time and time and time again. Arteta had lots of remoulding to do in his first year, and it took Pep four years to build Man City.
Now, Arteta’s created a great atmosphere at the club. The programme sellers are happy, the hot dog sellers are happy. Everyone’s happy! I think it’s great. He’s done a miraculous job.
I just think the team needs probably a few more months, and not having to worry about losing games in the meantime. Push on and get tougher as each game passes.
Odegaard’s new contract has come at the perfect time too, because he is part of the heartbeat of the club at the moment.
There’s a very simple reason that football players shouldn’t be allowed to bet
It’s a big question with a very simple answer. For me, I don’t think professional players should bet on professional football.
I know the Toney family. They’re lovely people and I feel a bit sorry for him (Ivan Toney), but he has got himself help which is good. I think he’ll be fine.
I just don’t think you can you place bets whilst having access to inside information. Not withstanding, it is a bit of a dichotomy that the industry is to a degree funded partly by the betting industry but nevertheless it is a minefield for any participants who whilst being involved in the sport are betting on the participants.
Bet on the horses, that’s fine. Bet on who’ll win the boat race, fab. Go fill your boots.
As a professional agent, when I was top of my game, I knew everything about every club, and I knew what was going on everywhere. I’d share that with some of my players and we’d spend hours and hours talking about the game.
It wouldn’t be fair for them to then nip down the bookies and lump on. Playing football is a privilege and I don’t think it should be abused by potential insider info.
The game stays much cleaner if players just don’t get involved.
Jadon Sancho doesn’t have a future at Man United… and perhaps anywhere else
It’s very, very difficult when you have a kid earning so much money.
I don’t have a problem with that because I was the one that pioneered players wages to be sizeable. I’d seen some of my heroes when I was younger leaving the game of football and becoming pub owners or milkmen or whatever, so they should be paid very well for entertaining so many across the globe.
However, you need to know how to handle money. It’s always been important because it’s assumed outside of health to be probably the most important part of your life. It dictates the life that you and your family have and the inheritance that you will leave.
As a player, you’re earning a lot of money, you’re doing really well, you’re focusing on your game and you’ve got your health and your regime right. However, in many, many cases, the families are the beneficiary of this money.
I’ve sat in so many meetings with players over the years where the father, the brother or the uncle seemed more concerned about what they’re going to earn and the clubs are not really on top of this.
The players should at least have A* financial advisors or their own accountants who need to sit them down and say ‘you’re now earning £120,000 pound a week, now how are we going to plan to invest this money whilst contingencing for your tax liability?’ The answer is probably not.
So there’s a lot of misspending and a lot of bad attitude because when you’re earning that much money you do acquire a lot of friends and influences around you that perhaps aren’t great.
In some cases it absolutely goes to their heads, and whilst I have no inside information on Jadon Sancho, if the manager feels that he’s crossed that line, then he’s absolutely right to drop him from the squad. To put him in his place.
Social media is there to be used and Sancho is allowed to defend himself, but everything he says and does in that environment has a consequence. I think it’s right for him to defend himself, but he has to be a little bit aware that a good manager and the managerial team around him are going to ring fence the squad in as best a way as they can.
If he can’t be inside that ring fence he’s going to be outside it, and the word is going to go round other clubs very, very quickly. They’ll be thinking ‘do we want to go disturbing our squad as well?’
Look at Brighton. The squad is so together, the management is so together. Paul Barber at the top of the club and everyone else down there, they’re all on the same team, so having a fractured squad because of one player is a real problem.
Let’s go back to one of the biggest exports this country’s ever had; John, Paul, George and Ringo.
The reason The Beatles worked so well other than being immensely talented, was because they were always ‘together.’ Nobody could say a bad word about John without Paul defending him, or George or Ringo.
They were a team but when it all started fragmenting, that’s when it all went wrong.
It’s much harder to keep 36 highly paid professionals together in a single mindset, but that’s why the Arsene Wenger’s of this world do so well, and they’re attributes obviously that Pep Guardiola also has.
Clubs are ok at dealing with mental health issues but they need to do more for Richarlison and others
Society has the same questions as football to ask itself.
I am a huge supporter of mental health and part of my work is with a wellbeing company called PIRKX that offers private wellbeing at sizeably affordable rates. The interesting point that I’m making on that, is that I’d say 50% of the company’s usage is for people wanting mental health support.
We’re in a very rabid world at the moment where the few have a lot and the many don’t, and it’s scary to watch how difficult life can be.
Then there are those individuals – including footballers – where everyone thinks ‘they’ve got the greatest life on the planet.’ Actually they haven’t, because nobody has it all.
Many, many people have mental issues. Not mental problems, but mental issues. It might be making sure that the doors are locked at night four or five times just to make sure that it is actually locked – I’m just taking a very minor example of course.
I also understand that there are some folk that use the mental health card as a cop out to get out of work. ‘Sorry, my mental health isn’t good, I’m not coming in today’ – and how often does that happen on a Friday?!
There are things that affect everyone differently though. In the real world, people have childhood issues that leave a memory and a scar, and which will have an effect on them for all of their days. In most cases people manage it, but it’s there.
These are amplified when they are on a public stage, so fast forward to being a famous footballer and you have millions of people watching you around the world and maybe you’re not feeling it.
You’re not quite right, you’re having a bad day or something’s hurting in your shoulder and you haven’t quite got it out of your system. Suddenly, you’re in a bad place and you don’t quite know how to deal with it.
I grew up in the era where everyone said ‘oh just get on with it,’ but everything kind of changed with the death of Diana. Suddenly the stiff upper lip country was crying publicly.
No comment from me as to whether that was right or wrong, it just it kind of happened. And that was the moment when everyone thought, ‘yeah, I can share my emotions publicly.’
It actually was okay, wasn’t it?
I genuinely feel that Richarlison will be absolutely fine but let’s give him oxygen to breathe for a little while.