Was it a second hand car salesman? Or an estate agent? Or perhaps an off-duty member of the Bullingdon Club? No, it was Nicky Blair (no, he’s not a hairdresser, either), football agent extraordinaire.
As middle-men go, he actually looks quite normal and fairly decent, notwithstanding the debatable facial hair. But he’s not Nicholas or even Nick. He’s gone for the popularist “Nicky”, which will make himself sound more acceptable to footballers. If he changes the spelling to “Nikki” or something equally phonetic, he will gain even more street cred.
I wonder what Mr and Mrs Blair think? They must have been as surprised as everyone else. All that public school and Oxford education and he becomes one of a species that many people consider to be the equivalent of the small animals feeding off the back of elephants and rhinos. I am sure he will be a wealthy small animal – actually, he must be already after his Mexican transaction last week.
It would be nice to think that young Blair will bring “ethical agency” to a role that has always raised suspicion and mistrust – with his surname, surely he cannot afford to do otherwise? We live in the age of intermediation. Whole economies are based on “everyone taking their slice” in a game of buying and selling. The football agent is part of that process and they are rarely the friends of clubs – just look at some of the media manipulation that goes on when a top player wants a move. Incredibly, some non-league footballers claim to have agents, though for the life of me, I can’t think why.
So what do you need to be a football agent? I always thought that you needed to be born with a mobile phone glued to the ear, possess a big watch ( “says more about a man than anything else” – I was told), smoked glass windows on your BMW, maybe some overpowering aftershave, perhaps an ASBO-wielding “attack dog”, and an over-bearing in-car hi-fi system. That’s one characature, the other is of the smooth, well-tailored, well-connected, silky-tongued salesman who would not look out of place skulking the streets of St.James’. I was once mistaken for an agent in Copenhagen when two extras from Eastenders were talking to Brondby’s Marc Reiper and assumed I was also from their “profession”.
Invariably the more urban agent will have a name that suggests machismo or edginess – Axel or Troy, perhaps. The second will try and create the impression they have corporate respectability –but if they have associates in the title, you can bet your 10% skim-off they undoubtedly work alone.
In the past it has been easy to say you are an agent – I’ve seen baggy tracksuit-bottomed chancers claim to be a “football agent” when really they are blokes with mates who can play football and they want to share in their [limited] future. It’s a bit different today, if you want to be legit.
I made some enquiries about becoming a football agent. I don’t have a Wagnerian watch or smoky windows on my car, and I certainly don’t have a pitbull, but I can pass for a Jermyn Street regular on a dark night, so I’ve got a chance. “George Fjord Associates”, perhaps bringing Scandinavians to the Premier, or maybe “The Well Tasty Player Agency” tapping into potential-rich Moldovan talent.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a “FIFA Players’ Agent”, the licenses are handed out by each country’s association. There are almost 500 registered to England, only Germany comes near to that total.
There’s good news, though. The Football Association is making it harder for would-be “best friends” to get through the examination. They now need 95% to pass – well, for Christ’s sake, we are talking multiple choice questions.
Not for one moment do I think all agents are bad, but it would be nice to think there’s room for the Jerry Maguire approach to sports management. If I ever get my 95%, I will be taking a leaf out of Tom Cruise’s book. In the meantime, I’m scouring eBay for a chunky watch…I may have to ask my agent for advice.