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Feb 18, 2013

Neville wants inquiry into agents

Mail on Sunday columnist Gary Neville has warned the influence of agents is "running out of control" and said an inquiry is needed to avert a crisis.

Former Manchester United defender Neville, now part of Roy Hodgson's England coaching staff as well as acting as a pundit for Sky Sports, has been a vocal critic of agents in recent times and said the final day of January's transfer window had left him "simmering with frustration".

Neville accepts that there are "good agents" and that, as someone who spent the entirety of his playing career at one club, there may be cause for others to seek assistance when seeking a transfers, but he suggests many would be better served going to "a contract lawyer and a financial adviser, professionals who charge by the hour rather than someone who takes a percentage of your salary or a fixed fee".

In the column, he writes: "It concerns me when I see players who hand over every aspect of their life to an agent, from renting a house to buying a television, to discussing with the manager why he has been dropped. How does he expect to grow up without making mistakes and dealing with those issues himself?

"It concerns me that there are agents who will hang around youth football matches, offering cash inducements to parents and promises to boys to gain an influence over them. It concerns me that there are corporate companies that will buy up stakes in young players and then offer investors the chance of a return on the money made in the transfer market on them, the so-called third-party ownerships banned in English football but common elsewhere."

Neville is concerned that some agents represent multiple parties during transfer negotiations.

"Sometimes it is not clear who the agent is working for: the club, the player or the manager," he wrote. "It concerns me that who gets paid what, and where it all ends up, isn't always clear, especially in global transactions."

A further complication arises when managers' agents pressure them to sign the players they represent, Neville added.

"It concerns me that if you're an aspiring manager you might feel you have to pick a certain agent to get offered a job by clubs. And if you do go down that route, what will your response be when the agent who got you the job suggests that you buy one of his players? You would have to be confident in your ability to survive to say no. How did owners come to rely on agents to have such influence on these decisions in the first place? Surely they're capable of doing their own research and making their own decisions?"

Neville says he cannot offer "answers to the problem" but feels greater transparency is necessary and offers two steps towards that aim.

"Firstly, publish the wages of players, as they do in the US sports, so there is no mystique about salaries. Secondly, as well as publishing how much a club spend on agents - as the Football League and Premier League do every year - break down those fees to the individual agents and their companies. Let's see which agents and clubs share an especially close relationship."

He added: "All of football - the League Managers Association, the Professional Footballers' Association, the Premier League, the FA, UEFA and most of all FIFA, the ultimate regulators of agents - need to address these problems because there are a lot of good people in football who are bemused as to how these agents came to have so much power.

"The Government seems to set up an inquiry into something most days of the week, but football could really do with an independent inquiry into how agents influence the game. And then come up with some proposals as to how to regulate their role."

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