Sky Sports spent the final full week of the transfer window with football agency LPM. The diary of those seven days provides a unique insight into a world that fans know little about and highlights the breadth of issues that they encounter.
There is the 17-year-old kid who has been released. The player who risks six months stuck in the stands because of a FIFA ruling. Deals that are dragging and those that have come up out of the blue. And it all happens amid an endless blur of meetings and phone calls.
Who are LPM?
Lee Philpott founded LPM in 2008 after enjoying a 20 year playing career, most notably in the Premier League for Leicester City. LPM now comprises of Philpott, Jon Dean, Chris Greenhill and Jonny Hughes. They represent around 70 players and have been involved in deals at every level of the game.
Here is how the week unfolded…
LEE: “Mondays are always hectic. I rang 39 different people today, but that is nothing out of the ordinary. Since January 1st I have been on the phone from 9am until 10pm at night every single day. I don’t think I have switched off before 10pm since December.”
JON: “Some managers do not have a cut off. It is very much a one-sided relationship. I would never call a manager when it is getting too late because I don’t want to be that guy who has him looking at his phone and thinking that it is out of order.
“But clubs don’t necessarily think that way when it is the other way around. I had a manager call me at midnight on Sunday about something that wasn’t even that important. Just because they were awake and they took a chance that I might be. I was, so we spoke.”
One of the reasons why Mondays are so busy is because the weekend’s games bring changes on the pitch and in the dugout…
CHRIS: “I received a call at 8am that put an end to some of last week’s work. I had previously been told by a club’s director of football that my player was not in their plans and he could move on. I quickly sourced two teams at the same level that wanted to take him and terms were offered. One move stood out and all was agreed.
“In the meantime, a reshuffle at the club saw a new manager appointed. He selected the player on Saturday and there has been a major change of opinion. The deal is off. Both my player and the new manager are happy with him staying. I am delighted too as I know that the player will do well under the new manager and enjoy his football again.”
JON: “Another managerial change has put an end to one of my deals too. I had been working with a manager and his staff on various targets but particularly one player. They liked him a lot and it looked likely to happen but now he has lost his job. When that happens you have to establish quickly whether the club’s interest was rooted beyond the manager.
“Sometimes a manager changes but the recruitment process stays the same. Other times, it was just the manager’s call. You have to wait for the dust to settle as it is a sensitive time and you can’t get hold of the people you need to. Unfortunately, in this instance, the manager was a big sponsor of the deal. The club will not pursue things. It happens.”
Sheff Utd vs A Villa
January 30, 2018, 7:30pm
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Being an agent also means being aware of the red tape that can put a career on hold. LPM act for a League Two player who has just returned to the club following a loan spell. What happens next is critical…
LEE: “There is another loan set up for him to go to but if he plays for his parent club tomorrow night then he will have played for two clubs this year. There is a FIFA ruling that you can’t play for three clubs in a year. It is a stupid rule as it is effectively a restriction of trade. But if he plays in this game on Tuesday then he won’t be able to go out on loan.”
JON: “It is our role to be across the regulation changes at the FA. There are more players than you might think who are just stuck at a club now. It is not a well-publicised rule but it is our job to be on top of things like that. If you are not on top of it then, if the clubs are not aware, you will only discover the problem when you eventually try to register the player.”
LEE: “I was on the phone to the player first thing this morning, then again after training and gave him another update before he went to bed. I was also on the phone to the FA and the Football League today to clarify the situation. I have obviously got to speak to the parent club too to ascertain whether or not he will be playing because I think he might be.
“They have an injury or two so he might have to play. But my concern is that he will play this game, the other players then recover from their injuries, and he doesn’t play again this season. He could be sat in the stands for the rest of this season. Watch this space because all will become clear in the next 24 hours. If he plays it will completely move the goalposts.”
Lee found out last week that one of his young players has been told that he will not be receiving a professional contract at his League One club. Their job now is to help the 17-year-old cope with that disappointment and do their best to find him another club…
LEE: “I have managed to sort out a trial for him that he is going to have next week at another League One club. It is one I know well so I know they will look after him but there is a lot to sort out so I spoke to his mother today in order to arrange his accommodation for the week. Hopefully he does well and can earn himself a contract.
“When you get told you are getting released as a kid, you feel like your world has fallen apart. That is what happened to me when I was 16. But I bounced back and eventually got to the Premier League. It is a good story that I am able to tell this lad to give him encouragement and help him to realise that this is not the end of the world.”
Sometimes it is the deal that you do not expect to happen that can be the most exciting. Jon receives a call that highlights the importance of putting in the groundwork…
JON: “There is a player who I have been looking to move for a while because I know his deal is up and he is capable of stepping up a level. There is a club that is perfect for him. He fits their system, profile and budget. On paper it is a no-brainer but I had never had a clear answer despite many calls, emails and texts. There had never been any urgency from them.
“Suddenly I got a phone call from the manager of this club today. After being lukewarm for months, he was coming on very strong and telling me this is a deal he wants to move on in a matter of days. It shows that you never really know. Perhaps budgets have changed or people have moved on. It reinforces to me that it was worth doing all of that pre-work.
“It is always one of those where you see who is ringing and you get the niceties out of the way but you are just waiting to see which name they bring up. It’s one of those fist pump moments. I have got the answer. Even if the deal doesn’t come off this week it is a little acknowledgement that all of the work we did ended up on a whiteboard somewhere.”
CHRIS: “Wednesday is a great day for business. Most teams are off so every player or manager is available to talk.
Jon makes use of this availability. Even as the transfer window reaches its frenzied conclusion, it is important to focus on those players who will not be moving in January but are out of contract in the summer. Having a plan of attack is crucial…
JON: “Today I met with a couple of players and we had our planning sessions over a coffee. It was literally a case of getting a map of the country out, getting a list of clubs out and going through my profile of those clubs. We know which managers like them. We know the budgets. So we worked together on coming up with a list of favoured clubs.
“In some cases, all the input comes from me. In this case, both players are super interactive. One says that the manager of a club spoke to him after a game so we should try speaking to him. There’s another club where he has heard that the commute looks OK on paper but actually takes twice as long. I commit to getting concrete answers before the summer.”
As for the player at risk of having his loan deal scuppered, he ended up being an unused substitute last night. For Lee, it is a relief and he can press on…
LEE: “I managed to have a conversation with the manager and he understood the situation. He put the player on the bench but with the intention that he would only play him in an emergency. Thankfully there was no need for him to come on, the potential loan deal is still alive and it will happen as long as the parent club can get someone else in.”
Bolton vs Bristol C
February 2, 2018, 7:00pm
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Serious injury can put a deal on hold but it doesn’t have to be the end. One League Two player is back scoring goals again and with his contract up in the summer they need to make plans for his next move. That means asking prospective clubs the right questions…
LEE: “This is a player who this time last year was attracting a lot of attention. There were several clubs who were monitoring him and maybe preparing to make a bid last January. It didn’t happen. He then got injured in the February and was out for about 10 months. But he has come back and the clubs that were interested are still interested.
JON: “We talk to the clubs about how they intend to use him. Why do they want him over someone else? What are their aspirations for the team? What other signings are they planning to make? For example, some clubs will put all of their budget into signing your player but if they are then cutting their budget elsewhere then they could struggle.
“We talk about the one-year plan and the two-year plan. What happens if it doesn’t go well? What incentives can we get into the deal? Can we get a wage increase built in if promoted? Will travel expenses be included in the deal? There are a lot of considerations and you need to know the regulations too.”
LEE: “One of the interested clubs is preparing to make an offer this week so there has been a lot of communication with the lad and the two clubs. Hopefully something materialises for the player because he is out of contract in the summer. It is one that has taken 12 months for us to get back where we were 12 months ago, but we are nearly there.”
Meanwhile, Jon has been working on a deal that is proving more complicated than many might imagine…
JON: “I probably spoke to 15 different people about this deal today. That is secretaries, chief executives, chairmen, managers, assistant managers, coaches, the player himself, his family and even the FA at one point. These deals don’t get done without an intermediary. There are just so many moving parts. You are the glue that is holding the deal together.
“Agents have a reputation for the glory deals. People hear about the so-called super agents and think they just walk up and someone signs a cheque. But at some levels, even if everyone wants to do a deal, just to get the contracts physically drawn up, checked, signed and registered with the FA is a battle and it needs someone to monitor the whole process.
“At the lower levels, you need to remember that some of the staff are part time. Others are new to it. They might only see one deal like this a year but I am doing six or seven just like it in every window. I know what needs to be processed and how long it takes. If I’m not there it doesn’t get done. It has taken 50 phone calls, but we are getting this over the line.”
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With Wednesday’s deadline approaching, there is still no formal offer for Lee’s League Two player. For those on the outside, it can seem confusing that clubs leave their business until the end of the transfer window but Lee’s view is that this is inevitable…
LEE: “We are still waiting for the offer and I don’t know the specific reason for the delay. It is my understanding that the offer will come in eventually but it is likely that something else has to happen before they can proceed. There are always trigger points and you have to remember that your deal is just one part of the whole chain.
“The buying club might be waiting for one of their players to leave so that they can release funds and then spend the money on signing my player. Equally, the selling club won’t sell until they have a replacement to come in and it is all lined up. So there is this domino effect. Clubs aren’t waiting until the deadline on purpose, there are just so many moving parts.
“It is a similar situation with one of my defenders at the moment. There is a Premier League club and a couple of Championship clubs interested in him but only if they lose their own defenders this January. At the moment, there is no offer for my player, but they are just getting their ducks in line in case something happens. Hopefully, the door will open for him too.”
Jonny handles LPM’s media and commercial relations and with deals edging towards a conclusion, he will be the one responsible for the media strategy once things are finalised…
JONNY: “Clubs obviously do their own in-house interviews when they sign a player but there are a few potential deals that we will look to ensure get some wider coverage. I have good relationships with various broadcasters and newspapers so I’m always sure to alert them when there’s an interview angle that I think will work well or a story that will be of interest.
“Some players are more comfortable than others doing interviews but we can work with them to make sure they know what to expect and are prepared for the sort of questions that might come up. It is part and parcel of football these days and a good opportunity to present a positive image of themselves to their club’s supporters and the wider public.”
Wolves vs Sheff Utd
February 3, 2018, 5:15pm
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Everyone at LPM is attending games over the weekend. The focus on the football represents the calm before the storm…
LEE: “After this weekend, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will just be chaotic.”
It is not only players and managers who are represented by LPM though. Even clubs can hire their services. It is yet another aspect of the job that can sometimes be overlooked…
LEE: “It is just a different part of the agency world. On this occasion we are working for the club. They have four players who are surplus to requirements and the club wants some help to arrange a move for those players. The players’ agents will be the ones who do the deal but our role is to do what we can to help stimulate the move.
“Because we are speaking to clubs every day of the week anyway, sometimes they will let us know that they are desperate for a forward. Maybe they need a big No 9 and we don’t have that player available to them ourselves but we know where those players are available. If that club we are working for do have that type of player we can help to set that up.”
As the week draws to a close, the calls keep coming. Some deals will come off, others won’t. But for Lee there is still time to think about that youngster starting his journey, the 17-year-old dreaming of a career in the game. His trial begins in the morning…
LEE: “He travelled up today and has gone into his accommodation for the week. He has five days of training and we will then find out whether they want to make an offer or perhaps extend the trial. Fingers crossed for him. It is just another plate that is spinning. The next few days are going to be very busy with all of these scenarios coming to a head. Bring it on.”