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Alan 12:31 Mon Aug 31
How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
The Athletic

Money, manager, facilities – how footballers really pick a new club

Stuart James

“If we were doing Family Fortunes and we were saying, ‘What are the top five reasons a footballer moves?’ I think money would definitely be number one,” says one of the game’s leading agents.

Regrettably, The Athletic has not surveyed 100 professional footballers in true Family Fortunes style. What we have managed to do, though, is speak to respected figures across the industry, including current players, managers and agents, to find out why a footballer chooses a particular club.

Location, game time, home life, playing style, the manager and his sales pitch – Arsene Wenger was in his element with that kind of thing – and the size of a club and its ambitions all come into play when a footballer is weighing up his next move. A penny for your thoughts, Lionel Messi.

One agent describes it simply as “the three Fs — football, finance and family”. He adds, “Those will be the defining factors at different stages of their career. So I think there’s a lot more to it than just money.”

To illustrate his point, he talks about a player who opted to join a Premier League team mid-season last year, even though he would have been £5,000 a week better off by moving to the “bigger” Championship club who also wanted him. “You were guaranteed 18 months in the Premier League versus zero in the Prem,” the agent explains, before going onto acknowledge that, financially, his client was in a win-win situation anyway, given that his salary would be going up more than tenfold come what may.

“It won’t always be 100 per cent about money,” adds another agent. “A player could give me a steer as to the club he wants to go to out of three or four, and he might be getting £45,000 a week there, but £50,000 somewhere else. But the truth is, you should get your player the top dollar at that club as well. If you’ve got Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Burnley coming in for you, you should be able to manipulate it that by the time you pick the club that you want to go to, they also become the best payers so that the player doesn’t miss out.”

In some transfers where more than one offer is on the table, other parties have a bigger say in the final decision than the player himself. “I see players sometimes not even making choices, but going to clubs to please other people, whether that’s agent fees, whether it’s more money,” says a Championship manager.

More money doesn’t always mean the player getting richer. Lee Johnson, the former Bristol City manager, talked last season about “family fees” becoming part of the ever-increasing list of payments that are made in transfers these days.

A senior member of staff at a top Premier League club told The Athletic that it has become a growing problem in the game and that the boundaries are now totally blurred when it comes to the part that some parents are playing in their son’s career.

At times their role is official. “There’s a lot of agency work that is done by the family now,” explains another Championship manager. “Sometimes it can be the father, or the brother, or the cousin that is leading the conversation and not necessarily the player knowing the full facts.”

And then there are times when that parental role is unofficial. It is understood that one Premier League player’s parents were demanding a six-figure sum last summer on the basis that… they are the striker’s parents. With several clubs fighting over the player’s signature at the time, managers became exasperated by the whole process.

With the benefit of hindsight, a conversation that revolved around the importance of game time, rather than the family’s fee, would have been more beneficial to the player’s career, but what happens on the pitch isn’t always the main driver here.

Players can easily end up feeling like they’re being used as some sort of pawn, especially with loan moves. When Renato Sanches joined Swansea on loan from Bayern Munich in 2017, the Welsh club paid more than £8 million in fees and wages for a player who went on to make only 15 appearances for them. To say he never looked happy in South Wales would be an understatement. “It was not my choice to go to Swansea. I was forced to go there. I didn’t want to go,” Sanches said in February, admitting what many had suspected from day one.

Money talks when it comes to transfers, but so do managers — and some a lot more than others. “Some just do the phone call and don’t meet the player in person,” explains an agent. “Others do video presentations: ‘This is where I think we can improve you, this is what I like, this is the way that we play, these are the things that we do that I think complement the way that you play’. Some managers are very detailed. And some just aren’t.

“Some clubs are very welcoming. Some clubs, you do well to get a cup of tea. If you go and meet Karren Brady at West Ham, you’re probably not going to get the same reception as you would with maybe more of a homely club like Everton. And, of course, it depends who the manager is at the time.

“If you’d have turned up at Everton when Big Sam (Allardyce) was there it would have been, ‘How you doing? Come and sit down, son. Can’t believe we’ve got you here’ — very old-school in terms of making you feel a million dollars. If you’d have turned up at Everton six months later with Marco Silva… fucking hell, you’d have done well to get 10 words out of him. He was a much more introverted kind of guy.”

Wenger, by all accounts, came into his own in this sort of scenario. “He was very, very charming,” the same agent continues. “Within five minutes he had everybody eating out of his hand. If you needed two hours of his time, Wenger would give you three. And when you came away, you’d just be blown away by his personality, the range of subjects he could talk about and how he made you feel.”

Mention of Wenger brings to mind a story about Aaron Ramsey’s transfer from Cardiff to Arsenal in 2008. When Ramsey visited Manchester United, who had also agreed a fee with Cardiff, Sir Alex Ferguson was away and it was left to Mike Phelan, the assistant manager, to show the teenager around and explain how they saw his development. Arsenal, in contrast, flew Ramsey and his parents out to Switzerland to meet Wenger, who was working as a pundit at the European Championship finals that summer, and the Frenchman explained face-to-face how he saw the player’s career panning out over the next few years.

Chelsea literally pushed the boat out for Luka Modric. In his new book, the Croatian tells a story about the day Roman Abramovich’s security staff picked him and his wife up from Nice, put them on a speedboat and took them to the Chelsea owner’s yacht. Abramovich, according to Modric, “wasn’t beating around the bush and said, ‘We know you are a quality player. I’d like to sign you for Chelsea’.” Modric wanted the same thing but Daniel Levy, Tottenham’s chairman, had other ideas and blocked the move.

Last year a current England international had a couple of clubs competing for him and met both face to face. At the first club, the manager and director of football casually chatted to the player and his agent over a cup of tea around a table. At the second club, the manager brought one of his coaching staff with him and went through a lengthy and detailed video presentation explaining exactly how they saw the player fitting into the team’s system. No prizes for guessing where he ended up.

“I think every footballer just wants to feel wanted,” says one former Premier League player who is now with a Championship club. “Managers that go and do presentations for players, and want to meet them (before signing), that really resonates.”

It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, though. A Championship manager explains that what works for one player won’t necessarily work for another. “I’ll always have a presentation ready, just to explain who we are and how he fits into that. But not all players want a presentation. Sometimes they just want to hear you and see it in your eyes,” he says.

“I think the main part for a player is what is the opportunity in front of him? You’ve got to show them that and tell them the truth — tell him how you work, what you think can happen and how he can help that. You’re selling what you can do for him and you’re selling what the club can do for him. And you’ve got to get to the point where you can kind of gauge what he’s thinking and where the tipping point is for him. But never bullshit a player. Don’t promote what it isn’t because you’re just setting yourself up for a fall.”

The story that Ferguson tells in his autobiography about the chat he had with Cristiano Ronaldo after the winger tormented John O’Shea in a pre-season friendly for Sporting Lisbon feels like a case in point. “In front of Jorge Mendes I said, ‘You won’t play every week, I’m telling you that now, but you’ll become a first-team player. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. You’re 17 years of age, it’ll take time for you to adjust. We’ll look after you’.” Ronaldo was on a private jet to Manchester the next day and the rest is history.

Location is a bigger factor than people might imagine when it comes to transfer deals. Some players worry about upsetting partners who feel happy in the area where they’re living, plus there is the upheaval of finding new schools for children. One out-of-favour Premier League player on the south coast finds himself in that position now and has a dilemma on his hands.

“His family are really settled and don’t want to move,” his agent explains. “So what does he do, stay where he’s not playing because it’s easy in respect of his life? Family is a big thing for everybody. Or do you move and live away from your kids so that you can go and play first-team football?”

This summer a Championship player swapped a club that had been challenging for promotion for one that was fighting relegation, even though he was under no pressure to leave and his basic wage has dropped. While that may sound strange, there were more positives than negatives to the transfer because the location of his new club suits his partner far better, he has an extra year on his contract and he will be a mandatory pick rather than a bit-part player who comes off the bench.

“Your CV can start to look like you’re a sub,” his agent adds. “You can do that for a bit but you do need a season or two every now and again when you stick down 40 games for the longevity of your career. It’s like goalkeepers, go and be No 2 and earn big dough and don’t have to do anything, but the longer you do that, the more people will look at you and go, ‘You don’t want to play, do you?’”

While domestic players can be swayed by family ties to a particular area, London continues to have a magnetic attraction for those coming from overseas. “Foreigners, if it’s not Manchester United, Manchester City or Liverpool, really just want to play in London,” adds the same agent. “It’s a more cosmopolitan place. You’re French, you park up in South Kensington, you’ve got the French-speaking schools there, a French community, your boulangeries… you’ve got all the things that you’re used to and the whole adaptation process is easier.”

Everything worked out rather nicely this summer for Willian, who was able to move between two of the Premier League’s biggest clubs and stay in the same city. Not only that but his switch from Chelsea to Arsenal broke an unwritten rule when it comes to age and contracts. “With transfers, there’s a great bit of timing involved around about the 30, 31-year-old mark, because at that age you’ve still got it,” one agent says. “At 32, you’re less likely to get your three years.” Cue the surprise among many when Arsenal announced Willian had signed until 2023.

A player’s age will often influence the significance they attach to the location of a club. The player who spoke before about the need to “feel wanted” accepts that the clock is ticking in terms of his own career and admits, almost apologetically, how that has made him become “more money-oriented”. At the same time, he says that he has come to really value where he lives and “wouldn’t be that fond of moving”, especially if it meant relocating to another part of the country.

The deal would have to really turn his head financially, he says, to make him uproot now. “For an extra £5,000 a week I wouldn’t go to, like, a Bournemouth. But if it’s an extra year on your contract and an extra £10,000 a week, then you’re thinking, ‘That will do me’.”

Bournemouth also came up in a conversation with an agent who explained how some clubs carefully choose the location for transfer talks. A 10,000-capacity stadium isn’t going to impress a Championship player, let alone somebody who has spent the majority of their career in the Premier League. “If you’re Bournemouth and you’re meeting a player, you’re meeting them at the Hilton hotel or in London,” the agent adds.

Indeed, when Swansea were in their first couple of seasons in the Premier League and players were getting changed alongside the public at Glamorgan Health & Racquets Club because they didn’t have a training ground of their own, the first new signings normally saw of that leisure facility was after they had put pen to paper.

One Swansea player from that times roars with laughter as he reels off a long list of stories involving Wayne Routledge’s first day (“He walked in and then he walked straight out. He was like, ‘Nah. No way. What the fuck is this?’”), Scott Sinclair discovering the training kit was kept in an outdoor pitch-black container and next to the swimming pool (“He said, ‘Are you fucking serious?’”), and the look of bafflement on Pablo Hernandez’s face when his boots were submerged in water one morning.

“We had the (public) gym and you walked across the car park in your boots and you’d go to the two council pitches,” the player recalls. “It used to flood where you walked in if it was raining, so there would be big puddles. Michael Laudrup (Swansea’s manager at the time) got us in a circle talking before training, it was Pablo’s first day and all I remember is Pablo looking at this massive puddle we were stood around.

“You know when someone’s just tapping the water with their foot? I’m thinking, ‘This guy has just come from Valencia’. You must be thinking, ‘What the fucking hell am I doing here?’ But once he saw the lads and how we were as a group, he just got on with it.”

In truth, it is questionable how important facilities are in the grand scheme of things, especially in this day and age. “If you’re moving within the Premier League, you’re not going to be blown away by anybody’s facilities now because Brighton’s training ground is not far off Tottenham’s training ground,” says an agent.

“No player is signing for a club based on the stadium or the training ground. You might be impressed by it but you’re signing because the deal is the right deal, it’s a bigger club than the one you’re at, or if you’ve moving down it’s a club that is going to give you an opportunity to play.”

Another agent smiles as soon as this subject is brought up. “I took a kid to Tottenham and all they did was talk about the training ground and the hotel there. Manchester City offered him £5,000 a week more and he ended up there.”

One Championship player who moved this summer had an attractive financial deal on the table from a club in the same division but knocked it back on the basis that he didn’t fancy playing for the manager because of his style of play. Another player was in a similar position but felt that the contract — worth £1 million a year and considerably more than he could get elsewhere — was too good to turn down at this stage of his career.

Generally, style of football won’t be a critical factor in a permanent transfer because clubs and managers normally gravitate towards targets who fit their playing philosophy in the first place. The loan market can be a little different in the sense that some managers will happily throw darts at a board — Premier League clubs are bombarded with calls about their best youngsters — and hope that one lands.

However, with a player’s career development seen as an absolute priority, the brand of football that a manager plays, along with the opportunities that he is promising to give a youngster, will be hugely important to clubs when they are agreeing to let somebody go out on loan. And, naturally, those will be key considerations for the player too.

One member of staff at a top Premier League club is staggered by how ill-prepared and unprofessional clubs can be when inquiring about loan players. For example, some clubs — and this includes Premier League level — have no qualms about ringing up and asking if “anybody is available”, almost as if it is some kind of lucky dip and they’ll take whatever they can get.

At the opposite end of the scale are the managers who not only target a specific player because his attributes complement his own team, but also put forward a thorough case in writing to say how they plan to use and develop that individual over the course of his loan spell.

When Bristol City signed Tammy Abraham four years ago, Lee Johnson went to Chelsea’s training ground and put on a presentation for Michael Emenalo, who was the club’s director of football at the time, and later met the player’s family. “That’s when he earned my family’s trust and my trust really,” Abraham later admitted. “He told me about the stadium, the players, who I would get on with and it was from there I knew it was Bristol City where I wanted to be.”

Although game time will be crucial to loan players, who in most cases are moving to another team in search of regular football, it may not be seen as a deal-breaker when it comes to a permanent transfer. Some players will back themselves to force their way into a starting XI even if that looks tricky on paper. Others will take the view that being a squad player at a top club is better than being a guaranteed starter in the lower half of the league. “Players aren’t daft; they can see who’s ahead of them in the pecking order,” adds an agent who represents managers as well as players.

Xherdan Shaqiri, for example, would have known that he was not going to be a first-choice when he joined Liverpool from Stoke City two years ago. Indeed, he has started only 13 Premier League games across two seasons for Liverpool. The other side of the coin is that Shaqiri has been part of a squad that has won the Champions League and the Premier League. And, realistically, you only get one chance to sign for Liverpool. Can you turn that down when you’ve just been relegated with Stoke?

Danny Ings has been there, done that and come out the other side. The striker, who left Anfield for Southampton initially on loan in the same summer that Shaqiri arrived, loved Liverpool but admitted he would go home following games and be upset because he rarely played. Ings, to his credit, concealed his thoughts from his Liverpool team-mates because he didn’t want to be a negative influence on them but, ultimately, he was desperate to “go somewhere where I could be an important player”. Southampton stepped forward and Ings, who is from the area, has been a revelation for them.

One agent makes the point that players who represent their country need to weigh up how reduced game time at club level could impact on their selection for the national team. “Gareth (Southgate, the England manager) is very big on having to play. So it could cost you a place in your international set-up if you’re not playing,” he says. “John Stones is probably a good example of that now.

“I also think game time depends on a player’s background. If you’re from a background where you’ve got to look after all of your family members and money is everything I don’t think they will think too much about playing time. They might have quite an extended family back home and they’re saying, ‘Get as much money as you can and send it back here and support us’.”

While the size of a club makes some transfers a no-brainer — Nathan Ake didn’t have much to ponder when Manchester City decided they wanted to sign him from Bournemouth and Ben Chilwell won’t be writing down a list of pros and cons about joining Chelsea — the reality is that those big deals, which tick pretty much every box for a player, are few and far between.

Indeed, a lot of professional footballers, as an agent is quick to point out, “don’t have options” on the table when it comes to choosing their next club. And even if they did, they would end up having to compromise on the answers that would be near the top of that Family Fortunes scoreboard.

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

PostmanPissed 10:30 Wed Sep 2
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
A different slant from the original topic

Anyone remember a BBC series behind the scenes with premier league footballers, think it was on a Sunday evening on BBC 2 about 13-15 years ago.

David James featured in one episode where he was sitting waiting for a flight at Stanstead Airport looking a bit dejected. At the point of filming James was still with West Ham, he explained to camera that he had turned up at Chadwell Heath for training and was told not to bother getting changed and to get himself to Stanstead as he was booked on a flight to Manchester. The club had agreed terms with Manchester City and he had to agree a contract.

I suppose at the time we needed to get James off the wage bill following relegation, but the way it came across was that the club had done a deal without his knowledge and basically just told him to fuck off without way of explanation.

penners28 11:30 Tue Sep 1
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Its basically who will pay the most, over the longest period...

Mex Martillo 10:54 Tue Sep 1
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Good read, but by the end you don’t really have it any clearer why a player picks a club!

zico 9:29 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Far Cough 8:39 Mon Aug 31


Far Cough 8:39 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
I know John was apparently a bit tight with the coffers but I always loved reading about how he knew all the wives names

zico, Pardew sometimes was shagging the players wives

Allegedly of course

New Jersey 8:22 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Enjoyed reading that! I wonder how 'Dour Dave' sold the club to Hugill and how he would fit into the style of play? What a corrupt game it is, puts boxing, horse racing and snooker to shame.

zico 6:30 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Cheezey Bell-End 2:08 Mon Aug 31

You beat me to it!

I know John was apparently a bit tight with the coffers but I always loved reading about how he knew all the wives names, drove new players around finding houses, sent flowers if any wags were ill, arranged the children's Christmas party himself. Lyall always seemed a big reason why certain players went there and on the whole improved as players. How times have changed!

RBshorty 5:28 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Cheers for that Alan. Good read. But only tells us what we already know. The only thing going for us is. Location and our Premiership status. Fuck all will change for the better under the SPIVS.

Crassus 2:13 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
There will be good, solid reasoning behind why as a club we deal with specific agents and not others

Sven Roeder 2:08 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
This is an agent talking
Am sure SOME agents get a cup of tea

Cheezey Bell-End 2:08 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
I believe that in the Lyall era were were considered very much a homely club.

stewie griffin 2:04 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Meet Karren brady?

She only speaks to one player. Hasn't met players who've been at the club 6 years

Coffee 1:36 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Crassus 1:23 Mon Aug 31

Crassus 1:23 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Thanks Alan, a good read that

goose 12:40 Mon Aug 31
Re: How footballers really pick a new club (The Athletic - long article)
Some clubs are very welcoming. Some clubs, you do well to get a cup of tea. If you go and meet Karren Brady at West Ham, you’re probably not going to get the same reception as you would with maybe more of a homely club like Everton.

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