The ‘face’ of football agents in this country, Sky Sports favourite Barry ‘Silky’ Silkman has been involved in his fair share of transfer deals over the years. Sport.co.uk caught up with the former Manchester City and Leyton Orient midfielder for a chat about the Zidane deal that got away, Cristiano Ronaldo’s trial offer from Everton, why he fell out with Socceroos star Lucas Neill…..and much more.
What’s a typical day for Barry Silkman?
I spend the day on the phone! I’ve got two businesses. I’ve got a football business and a music business. 80% is football and 20% is music. I get phone calls all the time, agents phoning me up and because I am very close with West Ham now because of my relationship I’ve got a lot of people phoning me up and asking about bringing players into West Ham and taking players out of West Ham.
Any news on the West Ham front for us?
We have to wait to see if they stay up. I am negotiating with a couple of players to try and bring them in at the end of the season but they are only in the negotiation stage and when you get that, normally only one out of 10 come off, the other nine collapse for various reasons. And I just have agents phoning me up all the time, especially from abroad, with different players they want to bring to England. But to be honest it’s getting harder and harder to do anything now, because of the pound to the euro.
How badly has the economic downturn affected agents?
It’s affected everyone. But especially if you are bringing in players from abroad, it’s made it very very, very difficult because whereas let’s say three years ago if a club were paying €10 million for a player that was £7 million. Now they’re paying €10 million and it’s over £9 million. So straight away they have lost £2 million there.
And when you talk about the salary, €1.5 million net which is what the really good players get abroad, not the top players, just the really good ones. €1.5 million net used to be £33,000 a week but because of the taxes now going to 50% and because of the pound to the euro, €1.5 million net is not far short of £60,000 a week. So now there’s hardly any clubs that can actually afford to bring these players in from abroad. That’s why the last year and a half there’s been a massive downturn in what I would call not the top end, but the very good foreign players, coming into England. Clubs just can’t afford to take them here now.
Do the tax brackets in this country mean that leagues like Spain’s La Liga will be able to attract the biggest players in the world?
Yeah. If you have got a player abroad and he’s going to go to Spain and pay less tax and obviously get a bigger salary anyway because of the euro and the pound, then yeah the top players, the real top players, are less interested in coming to England. The only ones that can afford them are Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City. Nobody else can afford them.
Are the transfer windows a good thing for agents?
They’re not a good thing for anyone. I’m still trying to find one person in football who thinks they’re good. Not one person in football, not a manager, not a chairman, not a chief executive, not a player, not an agent, there is no one inside football who wouldn’t want to get rid of the transfer windows if it was on a vote. If you had a vote tomorrow, out of 100 people, 100 people would vote to get rid of them.
So why not get rid of them?
The Premier League go along with FIFA and Blatter keeps bringing out the strangest rules all the time and I suppose the Premier League just follow it. I don’t think they ever sit down and actually think what’s good for football or what’s good for clubs. I’m sure a lot of football clubs wouldn’t be in the financial condition they are in today if there were no transfer windows, because you grossly overpay for a player, be it a transfer fee or a salary because you only have a short amount of time to do a deal. If you can’t deal all year round, how on earth are you supposed to get value for money? You can’t. Very rarely do you get value for money.
Can you talk us through how a transfer deal works, and an agent’s involvement?
There isn’t a standard process. It’s like saying what is the standard process for going out and running? What style do you choose? Well you don’t, you just run! And there’s probably 10,000 different styles of running and there are dozens and dozens of different ways in which you do a deal. If I was to go through every deal and how it can be done, and how deals do get done, you would have to write a book! There isn’t just one way to do a deal, but as an agent you either work for a player or you work for a club. Be it the buying club or the selling club. There is no set way in which you do a deal. In affect, you are a broker.
So how hard is it to get a player on your books?
It is difficult to get players on your books. A lot of players now are 18, 19, 20 and they are already snapped up by agents. A lot of agents out there are not what I would call nice people. There are a lot of agents that will approach players that are already under contract to other agents and entice them to leave their agents, something which I have never done, or ever would do. It doesn’t interest me. Generally, it is not a great game to be in.
So there is still a lot of corruption going through the game still?
I wouldn’t call it corruption. What I would say is that there are a lot of agents out there who will virtually do anything within their power to steal a player away from another agent.
With players being signed up to agents so young now, have you taken on more of a scouting role?
I’ve always worked like that anyway. I do recruitment for clubs. As an example, in January, I knew that West Ham were looking for a striker and I knew that Mido wanted to come back from Egypt so I approached Mido’s agent to see whether he would be interested in the player joining West Ham until the end of the season.
I then met up with them and approached them with the deal that I hoped they would take and obviously I was working from West Ham’s side and they were happy to take the deal and Mido just wanted to get back into the Premier League again. And that was it, the deal was done. So in effect you are a bit like a scout. You work for a club and try and go out there and find the best deals out there to bring players in and if there are players in the club that you know the club wants to sell then you go and try and get the best deal for that player.
Sport.co.uk understand that David Bentley and Alan Hutton were close to joining West Ham in January. Was there any truth in those rumours?
No there wasn’t any truth in that. West Ham would have taken Bentley on loan but they were not interested in buying him. But Tottenham wouldn’t loan him and I did ask Spurs about what type of money they wanted and they wanted a lot of money to loan Hutton and West Ham couldn’t pay the figure. So in effect, they enquired about both players, for sure, but financially it wasn’t viable for them to do Hutton, and Tottenham didn’t want to loan Bentley. So in the end it never actually got close although they were two players of many, I’ve got to add, many that were enquired about. They were two of twenty!
Do you think there is still a place for agents in the modern game, or are they becoming more and more marginalised?
Agents are no different to any other agents. People within football, a lot of reporters are very jealous of agents. There are a lot of people at the Football Association and Premier League that I’m sure would like to see no agents. I’m sure of that. But do they go round to travel agents and tell them they shouldn’t be in existence?
What makes me laugh about all these people, is when they go to buy a car they go to a car showroom. And let’s say they are going to buy a Jaguar, they are not buying it from Jaguar, they are buying it from an agent. But they all appear to be quite happy to go to a car showroom and buy a car from an agent and they don’t stand there and question the agent about how much he is earning. And when they book travel, whether it’s a flight or a holiday, they’ll phone up an agent and book it.
Now I don’t suppose they stand on the phone and say could you tell me how much you are earning out of this because if you are earning too much then I’m not going to travel, and I’m not getting on the plane and I’m not going on holiday! And with the car they say I’m not going to buy the car if you are earning too much money! And when they buy a house they go to an estate agent. They don’t start questioning the estate agent about how much money they’ve earned. So they all seem to be perfectly happy, people in the Premier League, people in the FA, the media, newspaper reporters, they’re all happy to spend their lives using agents. In fact, they can’t live without an agent. It’s an impossibility. They’ll never be able to buy a car, never be able to travel, never be able to do anything. When they go and get insurance, who do they go to? They go to an insurance agent. They don’t stand there and say how much money you earning out of me.
So why do agents get such bad press?
Total jealousy. They want to take football back into the dark ages when players were scared to say anything and sat there shaking and were happy to get a £50 a week rise. You don’t hear all these people, when you pick up a newspaper, you don’t see the same people writing I can’t believe it, Tom Cruise’s agent just got 25% of his last film. Cruise has just earned $30 million dollars and his agent $7.5 million. That’s just scandalous. How can an agent get that? You don’t see that written. So in effect, if you look at football as show business, which it now is to a degree because footballers have now taken over from pop stars.
When I was a kid, you had Tom Jones and David Cassidy who were idols, now footballers have taken over as idols. The young players, are on par with someone like Miley Cyrus now! They’ve taken over. In the world of show business, an agent will earn between 20%-25% commission. But in football, agents don’t get anywhere near that. Absolutely nowhere near it! Yet there is still this thing about agents earning money. So I think they should turn round, and start talking about actor’s agents and showbiz agents, because in comparison we earn peanuts. Absolute peanuts. Because their commission is never less than 20% and I’ve never known commission ever to be more than 10% in a football deal, and it’s normally nowhere near that, I mean nowhere near it.
So who’s been your favourite player that you have represented?
Mark Schwarzer. He’s a very nice guy.
What about any bad stories?
I won’t name names but I did a deal for a player who was earning £15,000 a week, and I took him to a big club where his salary started at £43,000 and ended at £47,000 and he never even bought me a cup of coffee. Never even said thank you.
I’ve had a few players that have really disappointed me. I think the biggest one I have ever been disappointed with ever was a lad by the name of Lucas Neill. I’ve got no time for him or his father. I was originally asked by Queens Park Rangers many years ago if I knew of any good young players to bring on trial. And I had two players from Australia, and one of them was Lucas Neill. And he was there for a few weeks but they didn’t fancy him, they didn’t think he was good enough. And I watched him and I disagreed. I thought he was good enough and the boy went back to Australia and his father phoned me, absolutely begging me to try and get him a club back in England, so I approached Millwall.
Lucas had been chucked out of school as well so I spoke with Reg Burr who was then the owner of Millwall and I spoke with Mick McCarthy who was the manager and I said to them that I would like them to sign this boy without seeing him. I said I want you to trust me on it. I think he’s a fantastic player, I think he’s got a great chance of making it and give him a three and a half year deal. He was just 18, and I said I think he will get in your first team within a few months. So they took my word for it, he came over, he signed for Millwall. His father couldn’t stop thanking me enough for what a genius I was for getting him a club without even having a trial. They just found it amazing.
Anyway, after six weeks he was in the first team! Mick put him in the first team, I think he only had something like one youth team game and four reserve team games. He went straight into the first team, and then I approached him, obviously saying I’d like you to sign a contract with me. I’ve done everything for you and he didn’t say anything. The next thing I knew Millwall approached me looking to do a new deal for him and when they approached the player he said I don’t want Barry Silkman as my agent I want my dad to do it, and he brought his dad over. I absolutely annihilated him, I annihilated his father, I thought they were a pair of arseholes and the boy said I want my father to get experience. I said well you should have told your fucking father to find you a club in England instead of phoning me up and crying down the phone how he wanted you to come back to England and how you’d been flung out of school. So that was that.
Any players you have missed out on?
I have missed out on players. I suppose the biggest player I missed out on was Zinedine Zidane. I offered him to Newcastle at the beginning of the 1996 season for £1.2million. And they watched him and said that he wasn’t good enough to play in the First Division which is the Championship now. Three months later he went to Juventus for £1.2million and two years later he went for £48million. So I think the people at Newcastle got it slightly wrong.
Recently, the biggest one I have missed out on, I saw a player in Portugal a few years ago called Nani. I tried to do a deal with Middlesbrough who I was very close to at the time; I did a lot of deals when Steve McClaren was manager. I offered Nani to Middlesbrough and Gareth Southgate didn’t fancy him. He was £3.5million. He went to Manchester United for $27million and it was only eight or nine months later, that’s all it was. Manchester United’s chief executive David Gill actually phoned Middlesbrough chief executive Keith Lamb to ask him if that story was true! And Keith Lamb said yeah it is. So over the years I have missed out on loads, absolutely hatfuls of players.
Who’s the agent’s dream to represent?
There’s two players that I would have loved to have represented. When he was 20 years old, David Beckham, right through to the end of his career and when he was 18, right through to the end of his career, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Any stories for us on them?
Funny story about David Beckham. When he was a kid he was going for treatment at Leyton Orient when he was about 14 and the physio at Leyton Orient tried to talk him into signing for Leyton Orient! Beckham had all the school boy forms from Manchester United and the physio said what chance are you ever going to have at Manchester United? You’d be much better off signing for us at Leyton Orient. How far wrong was he!
And Cristiano Ronaldo; I was approached by a guy called Tony Henry who is now working at Everton football club and he was someone that I played with at Manchester City and Tony Henry was working with the agent for Cristiano Ronaldo and I went to watch him play in the Toulon tournament which is an under-20 tournament abroad and he tore England to pieces. After the game, the chief scout from Everton approached Tony Henry and asked if there was any chance to take the player on trial! I won’t tell you what Tony’s response was!
He wanted to take him on trial! He then come back the Everton fella and said I don’t think he is going to be good enough to make it in the Premier League so I can only recommend that he goes on trial. And at the time I was so impressed with him I tried to get him into Chelsea. At the time I had a good relationship in Chelsea and I actually tried to convince Chelsea to take him and about three months later the deal was done with Manchester United, and the rest his history.
Who are the best and worst teams to deal with in the Premier League?
If you have got the right player, then they are all good to deal with.
Any juicy gossip for this summer?
There could be, I can’t give a name, but there could be a fantastic young player coming in to West Ham. Absolutely fantastic. He’s under 20, but I can’t give anything away other than he’s a fantastic young player and there’s a big chance of doing a deal.
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