LONDON — The following story is, I promise, absolutely true, but you will understand why I have not used the names of the player, agent, club or manager concerned.

Christopher Davies

A few years ago a Premiership manager was telephoned by a well-known agent who said a club was willing to pay £13 million for a certain player.

“It’s a good price,” replied the manager. “But we have a couple of injuries . . . he is our most experienced player (in that position) . . . it’s the right offer at the wrong time. Thanks but no can do right now.”

The manager then contacted a rival agent who contacted the club keen on the player and, yes, they were willing to pay that amount for him.

The deal was done and the “new” agent “thanked” the manager concerned in the time-honored manner. How times have changed. I am old enough to remember the days when a bung was something in a barrel of wine.

Unless anyone reading this is a football agent, we are all in the wrong business.

Very few professions can earn, correction, be paid so much for doing so little. Incredibly, apart from handing over a seven-figure check for transfer deals, clubs also pay agents vast sums for renegotiating players’ contracts, thereby forking out £1 million for the right to pay a player more money.

We all use middlemen in our lives but the difference is we pay them.

When I sold my house I paid a real estate agent, not the guy who bought it. When I went on holiday I paid a travel agent, not the hotel and airline.

On Planet Football the rules are different, though.

Paul Stretford’s company was paid £1.5 million for negotiating the £25 million transfer of Wayne Rooney from Everton to Manchester United almost a year ago.

Last week, Stretford became the first agent to be charged with bringing the game into disrepute by the Football Association in the wake of evidence he provided at Warrington Crown Court in October 2004.

Stretford was accused of misleading the court as charges against three men accused of blackmailing him were dropped.

Documents showed Stretford poached Rooney in September 2002 and not December as he had told the court. This meant Stretford had been representing Rooney while the striker was still under contract to his first agent Peter McIntosh.

The F.A. charges relate not to the transfer but the circumstances surrounding Stretford’s right to represent Rooney three years ago and the evidence he gave in court.

Stretford denies all charges but could lose his license if found guilty.

Stretford is one of many agents United has paid vast sums to in recent years, legally it must be said.

Ranko Stojic received £750,000 when Louis Saha signed from Fulham last year for £12.8 million.

Saha wanted to move so there wasn’t any persuasion or hours of convincing the French striker it was the right move. If Stojic did not complete another deal in 2004 he still had a pretty good year.

When United signed Tim Howard from New York/New Jersey MetroStars for £2.3 million in 2003 a total of £750,000 — a third of the fee — was paid by the Reds to various agents.

United thought they were dealing with only one agent. If only life were that easy.

Gaetano Marotta, a Swiss whose English is so poor United had to talk to him through a translator, paid the Monaco-based agent Mike Morris £139,000 while Antonio Calzado, the American representative of Elite (the agency where Sir Alex Ferguson’s son Jason works) said he was paid £123,000.

There is more.

SportsNet, Howard’s agent in the USA, was also paid £136,000 and its representative Dan Segal said: “Tim ended up taking a little less money so all parties could be happy.”

Even if Marotta passed on £398,000 to others who “helped” in the deal he would still have been left with £352,000 which most of us would consider excellent payment for presumably a few weeks’ work.

Quite why so many people were involved in the transfer of, at the time, a relatively unknown American goalkeeper will no doubt remain a mystery (though it is not against the regulations to spread the cash around in this manner).

When asked about this at the time, United finance director Nick Humby said he would “not comment on specifics.”

A statement by United said “the total cost represents good value for the club.” Even better, many would say, for the small army of agents involved.

Bernie Mandaric’s company was paid £2 million out of the £5 million Liverpool paid Leeds for Harry Kewell two years ago.

At the time, a Leeds United PLC statement to the Stock Exchange read: “In order to effect the transfer Leeds United has had to agree to pay a fee to representatives of Kewell in the sum of £2 million.”

The intriguing words are “has had to agree.” Make what you want of them.

Barcelona revealed it paid agents of Javier Saviola commission of £4.2 million in 2000 — an incredible sum and percentage considering the transfer fee paid to River Plate was £15.7 million.

As football transfers these days involve so much money professional help is obviously needed, but it is puzzling why more players do not simply use the services of a solicitor rather than an agent.

Roy Keane, the United captain, enlists the help of Michael Kennedy who charges his client the same hourly rate he charges everyone and his fee is nowhere near £1 million.

Pini Zahavi is called the super agent and no wonder. The Israeli, who is estimated to have earned £50 million from various deals over the years, was paid £2 million by United for what many people believe was just dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” for Rio Ferdinand’s £28 million transfer from Leeds to Manchester United.

Leeds wanted to sell the player who in turn wanted to join United.

So exactly what did Zahavi (and his colleagues) do to justify their massive fees?

They weren’t telling other than to mumble about “market forces.”

Agents tend to work on a percentage, usually 10 percent, of the transfer fee or contract value rather than an hourly or daily rate. This leads to what just about everyone — except agents and clubs who will do anything to get the right player — believes is a disproportionate payment, but it’s legal and will never stop.

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