I know. I’m just dreaming. But each time my own trade, the one Lord Justice Leveson looked at and found wanting, is trashed, I think of another one that I think may be even more deserving of opprobrium.
It is human nature when facing sustained attack, rational and irrational, to look for someone else who is even worse. Voila! Football agents.
Journalism is not full of saints. There are miscreants galore but only, I’d guess, in the same proportion as there are sinners among clerics, teachers, accountants, lawyers, cops, estate agents, plumbers, car mechanics … you can pretty much choose any trade or profession you want and the chances of it coming up smelling of roses, under Leveson-style scrutiny, are probably slim.
I deplore all the hacking and bribery – read me in full on this subject at the main Salut! site – but can also think of plenty of things the press has done for the good.
The much-reviled Daily Mail played a huge, brave part in ensuring the killers of Stephen Lawrence were brought to justice. The Daily Telegraph exposed the colossal scale of fraud by MPs and peers. And yes, the Guardian burrowed away at the hacking scandal until the police finally, and arguably to an excessive degree, took it seriously.
Forgive me for not being able to think of a single thing football agents have contributed to social well-being.
They certainly make a lot of money for themselves while performing their function of making lots of money for their clients. But what do they give back to the game of football and the people who support it? No doubt their more benevolent side will be fully identified by Lord Justice Leveson in his – imaginary, I’m afraid – inquiry into the “culture, practices and ethics” of this breed.
Let us consider the recent case of Simon Mignolet, who has grown into the outstanding keeper we all hoped and believed he would. The improvement in his game has been immeasurable since he arrived from Belgium, it is right that he should have won the North East Footballer of the Year award and it is hardly surprising that other clubs are showing interest.
You just know what is coming next when someone is performing well for a club not considered among the elite. Stories start appearing in the papers, on the radio and TV and online. I share the suspicion of many that some of the reported interest is pure invention on the part of sports hacks needing to impress their editors. But I have not the slightest doubt that plenty of steers are given, by the clubs, the players themselves and mischief-making agents.
James McClean: what’s to be done with him? See what Monsieur Salut has to say at ESPN: http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/1138?cc=5739
McClean is either too daft to see that there are limits on his entitlement to voice contentious thoughts in public, or he is not daft at all but puts his right to free speech ahead of the security of employment that depends, for millions in most other walks of life, on acceptance of certain rules.
This is all done on the nod, no names/no direct quotes from named parties. So perhaps we should applaud Mignolet’s man, Guy Vandermissen, for making his comments openly.
This is what he reportedly told the Belgian media, in the form of Sport Wereld: “Our ambition is for Simon to play somewhere that he can engage in competition with Thibaut Courtois for the place in goal for Belgium. Courtois is fortunate that he is playing for a team [on loan from Chelsea to Atletico Madrid] that has been doing well lately.”
The anxiety this created among Sunderland supporters prompted SAFC, rightly and commendably, to quote the keeper on the official site.
Mignolet told safc.com: “I felt I wanted to communicate with the club’s fans following the media reaction to comments made by my representative, which I feel were taken out of context and not a true reflection. Of course, my ambition is to regain the number one spot with my national team, but I feel I can do that with Sunderland.
“I was playing as Belgium’s number one a year ago and hopefully that can be the case in the future. I am happy at Sunderland – a club I am proud to represent. I will continue focusing on my football, starting with Saturday’s game against Fulham.”
Now I have no idea whether Mignolet’s claim that his agent’s comment was taken out of context is well founded or just weasel words to protect his representative. It is the latter’s duty to issue a strongly worded statement setting out the true facts, including any way in which he feels he was misquoted (bearing in mind that Mignolet does not deny that he said it).
In the meantime, let Vandermissen prepare himself for a day and a half in the make-believe Leveson witness box.
And guess what, I’m not the first to think of it (though I believed I was when I started writing). I have just come across a similar suggestion from Gary Neville: see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2279744/Football-sleepwalking-crisis-agents-It-act-Gary-Neville.html .
It led his former boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, to say, as quoted by the Guardian, that agents’ fees should be published.
“I think most clubs have to make it transparent. Individually? I don’t know how we could apply that. I don’t see it doing any harm. It might highlight to the public how ridiculous it can be for some agents to make the money they do. But I don’t think that will ever change. Once there’s a transfer window, agents will make money. They are there and they are not going away I’m afraid. We’d like to see them go away but that won’t happen.”
Maybe Leveson can be lured back into public inquiry work after all.