“Molti duce, una voce”
I’ve previously written about the weaknesses of the manager dominated transfer strategy traditionally followed by most English clubs. But, whilst a diverse range of voices will help a club to more often make good decisions, it is equally true that once a decision has been made, the club must speak with one voice in its implementation.
A strong chain of command, with clearly delegated responsibilities and boundaries, must be established and embedded within a club’s culture. There can be no room for uncertainty or mixed messages. The player and agent must have one interface to deal with on all contract and transfer matters, whether it is the CEO or a Director of Football. Allowing the sideline involvement of a superior, such as the Chairman or Owner, can be “lethal” (as pointed out by Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano in his book “Goal”) due to it’s potential to undermine the negotiator’s position.
Equally, twin-track discussions between the agent and the football side (a particular issue with managers in England) can easily be turned to the agent’s advantage. This is exacerbated by differing incentives; contrast the position of the CEO with the manager’s lack of balance sheet accountability and understandably shorter-term focus due to the limited life expectancy of an English football manager’s job.
The absence of a clear chain of command and the existence of multiple powerbases are more common within English football clubs than might be suspected from the outside: a CEO who hasn’t spoken to his club’s transfer negotiator in four years, owners who lob BBM hand grenades from beneath parasols, owners who instruct “pet” agents directly, managers who insist on controlling every element of the recruitment process notwithstanding their own lack of bandwidth, the general tension and suspicion between the “football people” and everyone else…
These issues were highlighted in a deal I was involved in earlier this summer during which the agent negotiated directly with each of the Owner, Chairman, Manager and Commercial Department. Needless to say, it was only too easy for the agent to divide and conquer, manipulating the process to his player’s, and his own, advantage.
Understanding leverage, or bargaining power, is essential at the outset of any negotiation. In the post-Bosman world of modern football, the deck is generally stacked in favour of the player. Smart, well-run clubs can address this imbalance in a variety of ways, and understanding the importance of the chain of command is a good starting point.
Ian Lynam is a partner and Joint Head of Sport at Charles Russell LLP, the leading sports law firm.