I THINK it was Les Dennis who faced with a far fetched proposition once said: “If it’s there I’ll give you the money myself.” There is a hint of that in Boro’s Christmas half-season offer – buy a ticket now and if Boro win all their first four games after Santa’s been we’ll give you your money back.
You can’t blame them for trying, that’s the name of the game marketing wise. It is an inventive approach in what must be a rapidly deminishing market. Most loyalists are already hand-cuffed in (and some of them aren’t going to games!) and the feel-bad factor is so entrenched in Teesside now it will be hard to find many takers who actually believe they will be quids in on this one.
Boro’s recent form – two points from 12 under Strachan – suggests that a sudden upturn in form that will leave Boro out of pocket is very unlikely. For the first two of those games they will be without Preston gardening leave absentee Sean St Ledger and after the opening pair of games Dave Kitson, Marcus Bent and possibly Isaiah Osbourne will be gone, although replacements may well be lined up by then.
So there are things far likelier than Boro shelling out on this one… Thierry Henry being awarded the Freedom of Dublin, Bernie Slaven being handed the manager’s job, Jedward winning the Mercury prize… and besides, they are insured against that with the financial market equivalent of bookies laying off big stakes at long odds.
Predictably there have been squeals from existing season ticket holders, something I have never really got my head around. Presumably the same people complain to Marksies when the shoes they bought four months ago appear in the sales.
Surely any move to get more people in the ground is a good thing. And presumably people understand the maths of a season ticket – you are getting a massive ÃÂ£6 a game discount already. People who take up this offer get exactly the same discount plus a raffle ticket with long odds. Are the people complaining about the calculated insult all ra-ras who believe there is a good chance of the gamble coming off? Because it sounds to me like they are veteran creative moaners who grab any stick to beat the club with and who normally are convinced Boro are a crisis wracked basketcase doomed to failure.
If Boro have to pay up (to what, 200 people?) that means the promotion bandwagon is rolling again and we should all be jubilant. Shouldn’t we?
SIGN of the times: Boro spent “just” ÃÂ£500,000 on agents fees in the period between October 2008 and September 31st this year. But wait: the only permanent incoming transfers in that period have been Mark Yeates (ÃÂ£750,000) plus freebies Leroy Lita and Danny Coyne.
Suddenly the “just” seems hugely disproprotionate. Half a million in commission on a ÃÂ£750k spend? Of course, it is not that simple. The chances are that the vast majority of the spend was on agents engineering moves OUT of the club.
How much money would have been needed to perusade Tuncay’s entourage that putting the number-crunching work in on the career enhancing Stoke deal was worthwhile? Likewise, it will not have been cheap doing the paperwork to set up Mido’s loan exile. Or to arrange for Alves to transfer his goal machinery to Qatar.
You expect maybe 10% of most incoming transfer fees to go in various directions when setting up a big money move. Expect but not neccessarily condone. Or even be comfortable with. Most agents are parasites and as they act for the players they should be paid by the players and not the clubs (but we’ve had that discussion before).
But as you go down the value spectrum surely moves start to become a formality. I can’t see much work for an agent to organise in Yeates move from Colchester… image rights, overseas media licencing, negotiating the end of binding sponsorship commitments in the Essex area. Hardly back-breaking work. Likewise the Lita and Coyne deals: yes, even free transfer have their contractual complexities but it is not the deal of the century.
The figures are complicated by the case of Sean St Ledger who arrived on loan in September in a convoluted deadline busting deal that in the Championship’s worst kept secret will revert to a permanent ÃÂ£4.5m deal in January. How large an agents commission – if any -has been paid to come up with that formula we can only guess. You would hope that the any such payment would not be made until the deal goes through in the next window. But who can tell in the shadowy world of football facilitation fees.
So we can safely say that the majority of the half-a-mil will have been spent on arranging the departures of players who were desperate to escape the Championship debris of a car wreck season they were at least partly responsible for. And to be fair, for the club, shelling out that sum to unshackle themselves from a prohibitive toxic wage millstone probably represents good value for money.
But that sum handed to agents – a figure equivalent to the 66% of the total transfer spend so far this season – and the list released today of Premier League clubs payments to agents raises some interesting points.
For instance, it shows how far down the money tree Boro have fallen. Contrast the agent spend in the past year with the shocking commission of ÃÂ£3m agreed for just one deal back in 2004. Yes ÃÂ£3m… that could be next season’s total transfer kitty. If we’re lucky.
That outrageous commission was what “super agent” Pini Zahavi wangled for himself after arranging the ÃÂ£7.5m transfer of Yakubu from Portsmouth to Boro in 2004. It wasn’t up front though, it was to be paid in instalments and he only got top whack if the 23-28year old Nigerian stayed for the full five years… so his exit wasn’t all bad news then.
The headline grabbers in the big league table are Manchester City. The rich mans’ plaything threw money around like the property boom in Dubai was going out of fashion as the new owners set out to sign a real life Fantasy Football team. Having spent 116 squillion megabastardpetrodollars on fees they also paid ÃÂ£12,874, 283 to agents…. that is comfortably more than the ÃÂ£11.2m parachute payment clubs who fall off the gravy train get in consolation.
Boro, Newcastle, West Brom and Sheffield United aside, it is also higher than the total annual wage bills of all the other Championship clubs. Most clubs operate on total turn-overs well below that mark… Cardiff have a turnover of ÃÂ£9m, Forest and Crystal Palace ÃÂ£8m, Watford, Preston and Plymouth ÃÂ£7m. And it is far, far higher than most long term, medium ranking Championship clubs could dream of paying in annual wages.
Agents fees are one of the factors that feed football’s debt boom too. Look at the agents’ payment table. West Ham are up to their necks in debt and twice last season almost went under… yet they splashed out ÃÂ£3.5m to agents. Likewise Pompey and their conveyor belt of would-be owners. They narrowly avoided receivership several times in the summer and have failed to pay their players and staff on a couple of occasions – yet they too have handed a ridiculous ÃÂ£3.184m to agents. That will help.
And how can Wigan, who operate on average crowds less than 20,000 and who are are on the box less than Boro ever were, pay agents ÃÂ£5.5m in one year? That is more than their record fee. That is the route that the Hammers and Portsmouth went down. It is the path to financial disaster.
We are well out of it that particular vipers nest. You can say that we would be back there like a shot and writing cheques out willy-nilly again given half a chance but having cleared the decks I hope Boro never go back to those days, paying parasites vast sums to bring half-hearted mercenaries in on short-term term deals designed to reliev us of as much money as possible.
The Championship has given us much to think about and has injected a painful dosh of reality – but it has also given us a chance to reimagine the way we operate as a club.
ARTICULATE footballers: fantastic blokes who make my job easy. Dave Kitson is brilliant to interview. He’s my new favourite footballer (move over Poggi). Not only is he much needed injection of Titian but he is our best interviewee since the dark day George ‘Five Intros’ Boateng walked out of the door.
Kitson has crystal clear officer class diction untainted by an accent with pretentions to pseudo-ghetto cool making transcribing it all back later on a doddle. That is not always true of say, Julio Arca, who is a lovely fella but at times indecypherable (and the problem actually gets worse if you use the ‘slow’ function on the dictaphone.
He has an extensive vocabulary (“ascendency” … I’m loathe to say it but not even Gareth Southgate used to say ascendency ) and uses it appropriately which makes for crisp copy that speaks for itself. You don’t need to explain or frame it, just let it run.
He has a clear grasp of what question has been asked and so he actually answers it, comprehensively but concisely (which is more than you would get from me) and that is always a bonus in these days when most players – and managers – take one or two words from a question and use them as prompt to shoehorn in a string of cliches.
And – gasp – his answers are delivered in a style that is grammatical correct. It comes complete with tight syntax and logical sub-clauses. It has built in punctuation, space and tempo. What a delight. It is fantastic. IIt sings. It means you don’t have to cut-and-shut two sentences and change tenses to make a coherent statement. Oh joy.
Can we keep him please?