On April 1st, FIFA marked April fool’s Day by ending their global licensing system for agents, passing regulation over to individual organisations. The deregulation means that anybody with an “impeccable reputation”, a catch-all criteria that includes anybody without a criminal record, can pay £500 to register to become an “intermediary”, who will then be able to represent players.
The fear is that this legislation will allow opportunist “intermediaries” to target talented teenagers in order to make quick money. The English FA have prohibited intermediaries entering into agreements with players until they are 16 while FIFA recommend no 3rd party is allowed to be paid for a deal involving a player under 18. But Mel Stein, chairman of the Association of Football Agents, says this will not deter any new intermediary, saying the practice will be “pushed underground”.
“They’re saying you can’t make a charge for a professional player unless he’s 18”, said Stein, “so that means whoever did Raheem Sterling’s deal could not have charged. What will happen is they won’t charge anything, they’ll go the club and say: ‘You give us a scouting agreement for £1m a year’.
Sterling was signed by Liverpool from QPR as a 15 year old back in 2010 for an initial £500,000 fee and Steve Gallen, the QPR under-21 manager, warns of how agents are now targeting the young via backdoor routes. “When a young star comes along agents are already sitting outside his house” he said, “I’ve known parents who have come to me and said: ‘We’re at breaking point, we’re getting 15 calls a night coming into our house phone.’”
The very same afternoon as FIFA swore in this deregulation, Sterling was warning clubs about the dangers of having to deal with these advisors and agents who are in the business to prioritise profit rather than what is best for their client. The 20 year old has 2 years left on a contract worth £35,000 a week he signed back in 2012, but confirmed on Wednesday talks over a new deal had stymied after he rejected an offer of £100,000 a week and expressed a desire to wait until the summer before he discusses it further.
It was intriguing why Sterling and his party felt the need to organise an unnecessary interview with the BBC without the prior consent of Liverpool and his manager Brendan Rodgers, but if their aim was to drum up interest from other clubs then they have certainly succeeded.
The usual transfer rumour vacuum has been occupied by the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City all being linked, but it is hard to imagine one of Europe’s top clubs, from Bayern Munich to PSG to Real Madrid, not being put on red alert as to the winger’s availability.
Sterling is of course an exceptional talent, one who has become a regular for his country by the age of 20 and one who was part of the irrepressible front 3 that so nearly fired Liverpool to the Premier League title last season. He is 12 appearances away from a century for Liverpool and, with 7 goals and 8 assists coming in a season where he has filled a multitude of positions for Rodgers in a side experiencing a rough transition, he has become indispensable to his manager. It is unsurprising that Rodgers stressed the following day that he would not be sold under any circumstances in the summer.
A £50 million price-tag has been swiftly slapped on Sterling and the Infield hierarchy believe that is enough to price him out of a move away to any club. Liverpool’s owners and chief executive Ian Ayre stood their ground when Arsenal bid over £40 million for Luis Suarez back in 2013 and it is probably with that assurance that Rodgers can speak comfortably in his prediction that he will keep his cherished winger throughout the summer. “Liverpool are one of the superpowers of football and if the owners don’t want to sell, they don’t have to” he said.
However the most significant point in Sterling’s interview was his admission that “all he talks about is trophies” and more curious still, his point that if he was offered a contract this time last year, with Liverpool on the brink of a long-awaited league title, he would have “most definitely have signed straight away, probably for less money than being said now”.
Now Liverpool are languishing in fifth, five points off a Champions League qualification spot. Luis Suarez has been sold and not adequately replaced while the jury remains out on a raft of Rodgers’s summer-signings. With Steven Gerrard heading to America in the summer, it remains to be seen if the club can fill the massive void that will be left by the departure of the long-standing captain.
The claim from Rodgers that “if his ambition is to win trophies that’s aligned with what we do here” looks weak when considered the regression the club have undergone over the past 12 months and it has given Sterling, and his agent Aidy Ward, huge leverage in the negotiating game.
They will be aware that his club and country will still hand him a platform to perform to high-standards on, to continue to demonstrate his electric brand of vibrant attacking play to the world while the years and months on his contract wind down. Eventually Liverpool will have to cash-in on their prized-asset, that is if they fail once again to surmount a viable title challenge. It is a strategic move from Ward and Sterling to signal the player is ready to sit in the window and the agent is ready to do business.
Liverpool and Rodgers have undoubtedly been brilliant to Sterling’s development, working consistently on his upper-body to forge a physique that makes him so difficult to stop when he is running at defenders, but that will mean little to Sterling’s advisors when they are cashing in. It is another instance in modern football where sadly, the agent holds all the aces and now Romelu Lukaku’s new agent Mino Raiola has emerged to say his client should not have joined Everton last summer and will eventually join one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
It does not take a cynic to realise Raiola has his eye on a possible paycheque here, the same with Ward and Sterling. The obscene riches of the modern game has allowed them to do just that, but they are forego to the next batch of money-makers, only these will target the younger, the more impressionable, doing it more clandestine and with more false promises.
As both Merseyside clubs can probably testify, FIFA may have just opened the door to anarchy.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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