As this transfer window has developed, some have been keeping an especially close eye on how one issue in particular unfolded.
Four established England players came into the summer window hoping to secure mega-money moves – Harry Kane, Jack Grealish, Declan Rice and Jadon Sancho. But only two successfully changed clubs. To some, the significance will not be obvious.
However, to the seasoned transfer market operators and observers there is at least one, hard to ignore common denominator – the two stars whose careers are guided by professional agents got their dream moves while the two whose affairs are managed by family stayed put.
Jack Grealish (left) and Jadon Sancho (right) were two high-profile movers this summer
Harry Kane (left) and Declan Rice (right) were other players who were in transfer talks
It might be too simple to suggest that their representation alone is why Grealish and Sancho got their dream moves while Tottenham’s Kane and West Ham’s Rice were left frustrated.
Every potential deal has its own individual factors and details that make success more or less likely.
Meanwhile, getting Kane out of Spurs this summer – with three years left on his contract, no release price and chairman Daniel Levy to negotiate with – would be a hard task for anyone. A number of experienced agents have openly admitted as much. However, it is a widely-held belief that some expert help this summer would only have enhanced Kane and Rice’s hopes.
And instead eyebrows have been raised and heads shaken at some of the methods used in the absence of that professional guidance which reduced rather than increased their prospects of getting what they wanted.
Tottenham managed to keep Kane because of owner Daniel Levy’s stubbornness in the market
At the same time, who Grealish and Sancho had in their corners pulling the strings was undoubtedly hugely significant in why they are sporting new colours this season.
Expertise and tricks of the trade learned from years in the game were key to Grealish and Sancho joining Manchester City and United respectively.
And, for the agents’ industry the fates of the England four represent an emphatic endorsement of their work and value to players, especially when it comes to one of the toughest tasks they face – getting their clients moves when they want them and wrestling them away from reluctant sellers.
While their moves are far from the only ones discussed this summer, due to their high-profile nature and the connection between the players involved they have helped shine some fresh light on the wider debate about player representation and the growing trend of family members entering that field.
Kane (right) is represented by his brother Charlie (left) – a growing trend amongst footballers
Relatives looking after players is nothing new but the 2015 abolition of the agents exam – a move that could be reversed in the near future – opened the door for more, and many others beyond them, to register as intermediaries.
Chelsea’s Mason Mount has become the latest to decide to keep it in the family, following the likes of United pair Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood as well as Kane, Rice plus numerous superstars abroad such as Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Their reasons for managing their relatives’ careers are obvious. Family members feel nobody will have a players’ best interests at heart more than their own flesh and blood and trust, transparency and chemistry is guaranteed in such scenarios. Clubs from England’s top four divisions spent over £300m on agents’ fees in the latest annual figures revealed in March.
Mason Mount is the latest player to have family members as agents over external people
Having played huge parts in their journeys family members also feel any share of the money being generated from their relatives’ moves and careers should go to them rather than elsewhere. On top of that, some believe the can do just as good a job as an agent.
But some of the obstacles lying in wait are significant ones. Generally, clubs seemingly prefer to deal with family members in negotiations.
Some even actively push their players down that route – but because they have their own motives.
It does not always pan out this way but clubs feel that dynamic hands them the advantage and negotiations become easier to manipulate in their favour, with the emotional involvement and need to deliver for a relative increasing the pressure on a family representative.
Clubs like Tottenham believe they have the power in the transfer market instead of players
Convinced they are the ones with the power, greater knowledge and upper-hand, clubs treat them differently too.
In some cases, they simply just do not take them anywhere near as seriously some club executives have remarked.
One senior Premier League official offered an agent who lost a player to a parent some consoling words – but also admitted it would then allow them to offer the player £50,000-a-week less in future contract negotiations.
A condition of Grealish signing a new Aston Villa contract last summer was that it included the £100m release clause City paid. It was insisted upon by his representatives ICM Stellar Sports and Aston Villa agreed to it. Their response would almost certainly have been the opposite had the demand come from a relative
Their response would almost certainly have been the opposite had the demand come from a relative.
Aston Villa demanded a £100m release clause be inserted into Grealish’s contract last year
That would be in keeping with the firmer and less accommodating stance clubs take with family members. They know if they upset them it is only likely to impact their dealings on one player.
Do the same to an agent and it could have repercussions when hoping to discuss numerous other players they have on their books.
One top-flight club were simply told not to bother ringing one of Europe’s leading agents ever again after messing him around previously. And then there is the crucial and contentious experience issue. It can, of course, be accrued over time but while that process happens, the clock is ticking.
One family member hoping to broker a deal in this window did not have a relationship with or even the phone number of the key man at a club he was hoping to move his son to so was having to desperately ring around to try and get it. That left them at an obvious starting disadvantage with time of the essence.
Premier League players have suffered nightmare moments with agents over the summer
It is similar when it comes to understanding the nuances of negotiations and the market, handling difficult clubs, trying to detect the difference between when a club are saying what they really mean or playing a game and also knowing when to hold your nerve during talks.
In one of the bigger deals done this summer, a high-ranking official went ‘ballistic’ when haggling over the final detail in a deal, storming out of the room.
At that point the agent involved knew they had won. The officials’ fury was actually read as the final admission of defeat. The following day a fee for the player was agreed. The situation might have spooked someone less-initiated with the tactics of transfers.
Family members dismiss the idea that they lack the experience and some cited examples where they got just as good deals as agents had previously discussed. But it was a big factor in the futures of the four Three Lions.
Borussia Dortmund wanted to sell Sancho for £108m but had to settle for a £73m sale
As well as Grealish having his release fee agreed, Sancho’s initial £108m valuation had also been insisted on by his Elite Project Group agents when he signed his last Borussia Dortmund contract.
Dortmund initially wanted it to be around £128m but were talked down. United were close to paying the £108m in the January before the Covid-19 pandemic hit but finalising a move in mid-season was eventually decided against.
In the next window, Dortmund’s refusal to drop the price to reflect the changed financial football landscape scuppered the chances of any deal.
Then this summer Dortmund were warned the best fee they would get was a fee that converted to £72.9m. They wanted to see if they could get £85m and were encouraged to try. They ended up accepting £72.9m from United and Sancho’s representatives being proved correct.
Sancho (right) ended up moving to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United (left) for less money
In another case, an agent used their experience of how to successfully orchestrate a move by effectively organising a one-year campaign to make it happen.
It involved advising a player since last summer what to say in certain scenarios – for example when in meetings with his manager – to pave the way for an eventual move.
He was advised to do things like drop hints about his career ambitions so when this summer came around it was clear to his club he would have to move on if they could not fulfil them.
Meanwhile, discussions were also taking place with both the selling and interested clubs to ensure that the price that would be accepted is one that the proposed buyers would be willing to pay.
For Kane (left), riling up Spurs owner Levy (right) was a tactic that was never going to work
It is just one example of the sort of careful planning and thinking ahead required to get the job done. The players, who agents ultimately work for, are certainly grateful.
On the flipside, the well-documented attempts of Kane’s camp to force his move to City turned into a lesson in how not to try and push through a transfer, especially from Levy’s Spurs.
Riling Levy is widely considered a move that will only end one way – with the Spurs chairman – dubbed ‘the big master of negotiations’ by City boss Pep Guardiola – becoming even more determined not to be outwitted.
‘You have to know who you’re dealing with,’ one source said. ‘And dealing with Daniel Levy is a different set of rules. The worst thing you can do is go public against him. It’s suicidal.’
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola (above) called Levy ‘the big master of negotiations’
Less publicly, attempts are understood to have been made to secure Rice a significant wage rise but also discuss a possible move amid interest from United and Chelsea. They were given equally short shrift at West Ham.
‘If you’re going to build your own house do you ask your dad or brother to it when they’re not builders?’ one agent said. ‘If you’re in court do you ask your mum or brother to represent you when they have no legal background? It’s honestly no different. There is so much too it and so much goes on behind the scenes.’
Another added: ‘There’s no true advantage, in my opinion, for parents to represent their sons other than if it is to line their own pockets or wanting the clout or association that comes from being involved.
‘But I could make myself money, the parent more money than if they do it themselves and the player. So that only leaves clout. If you want that, ok, you go and get that. But I can guarantee you that negotiation will be less than what an agent can get, in every way.’