Football agents can be bad, but they are necessary – says Steve Blatherwick, football agent.
A former player who pulled on the shirts of Nottingham Forest, Burnley and Chesterfield, Blatherwick eyed a career in coaching before settling on another life in the game, representing footballers.
He managed to convince fellow central defender Ian Evatt to become his first player and now, at the age of 42, he looks after the interests of more than 30 of them.
Blatherwick’s assessment of his chosen profession is as straight forward as his defending style.
“There’s good and bad in everything, people chase money in every walk of life,” he says.
Professing to maintain a simple life centered around his teenage sons George and Charlie and a pet dog, Blatherwick believes the Football Association’s governance of agents, or intermediaries as they’re now known, keeps the industry largely ‘clean and tidy.’
But he admits there are those in the game who don’t play by the rules.
“There is some dodgy stuff going on,” he said.
“It’s cut-throat and there are bad agents.
“Agents shouldn’t be getting 10 to 15 per cent out of deals, I don’t agree with that but the problem we’ve got is at the top level, most players are coming from foreign soil and foreign agents can’t be regulated.
“If the club wants top players they will pay accordingly.”
Despite this admission and the bad press agents get, Blatherwick puts forward a strong case for the defence.
“There are a lot of good agents, a lot of good people in the game,” he said.
“Footballers need agents now.
“Owners are coming from abroad, they’re money men, not always interested in the football side of things.
“It’s my job to make sure my players make it to 35 with a bit of money in the bank and they can live a normal life after.
“They need support, the right deal and that’s what my job is.”
Blatherwick’s first idea of a job when his playing career ended was a coaching role.
He studied for his coaching badges while at Gainsborough Trinity but decided he wasn’t comfortable with his fate being in the hands of others.
“I’ve always wanted to do something where I write my own destiny,” he said.
“I did all my badges and studied for years, I studied sports psycology, advanced personal training, nutrition and all this came together when I ended up mentoring professional footballers for a company in Manchester.”
Again, something didn’t feel quite right.
“They were doing it wrong,” he said.
“Young footballers shouldn’t be told what to do by businessmen.”
So it was back to textbooks, studying for and passing at the first attempt an agents exam that over 90 per cent of entrants were failing.
He had help, from sports lawyer Dan Lowen who has tutored more than 120 hopefuls to pass the FIFA football agents’ exam.
And once qualified, Hucknall-born Blatherwick reconnected with the man who had looked after his finances throughout his playing career.
“I linked with Hartley Wadsworth and Partners, I wanted something in-house that dealt with everything,” he said.
“They had been dealing with finances for 20 years and the owner David Hartley I trust with my life.
“That was important, that I linked with him.”
They set up Elevate Sports Management and Blatherwick set to work on attracting his first ever signing.
“My first player was Ian Evatt.
“It was very difficult (to convince him) but I had been learning over a couple of years, picking up good things and dismissing the bad things.
“Evo had a couple of bad experiences with agents but he knows I’m honest, I tell him how it is.
“He stuck by me and from that we worked hard to get other footballers onb oard.
“We’ve never lost one.
“Now we have between 30 and 40 footballers.
“They’re all friends. I like it.”
Blatherwick believes more footballers should be agents because they know the right career paths to take, the pitfalls and the rejection the game can dish out.
He’s had bouts of depression over severe back pain and had a career that was hit hard by injuries.
Lessons learned over two and a half decades in football stand him in good stead to work on behalf of current day professionals.
“I negotiate hard to get the best deal for my player, I have a good understanding of what clubs are paying other players.
“If I think he’s going to add a serious value to the club then he deserves to be paid at the top end, but on the other hand you can be moving young players who need to be hungry, that need to be on a lower contract and earn their stripes.
“That’s experience from being in the game for 25 years, we get to know these things.”
Like any job, being an agent has its downsides.
“There’s lots of things I could have gone into that would have made a quick buck, but I turn them down because my players are my responsibility, they’re the reason I’m in it.
“You get young players who aren’t making it and you’ve got to tell them that.
“It destroys me, it’s the worst part of my job, but it has to happen.”
Over 200 appearances for Chesterfield made Blatherwick somewhat of a Spireites legend and he’s still involved in the club, in an indirect way.
Along with Evatt, he represents midfielder Ollie Banks.
And although the fans might not like to see talented players move out of the Proact quite so often as they do, the agent thinks it’s just the way the game goes.
“I had Liam Cooper, moved him to Leeds in a great deal for Chesterfield,” he said.
“Lads will always want to further themselves and want to play at the highest level.
“Clubs like Chesterfield have done well in the past, getting players in, making them better and moving them on.
“Very few clubs aren’t selling clubs these days, that’s what makes it interesting though, players moving to new clubs, new players coming in.
“Look at Zlatan, maybe coming in, that’s exciting, it makes the game what it is.”
Blatherwick made his Premier League debut for Forest at the age of 23, long before the age of social media and the intense scrutiny it can bring.
He now represents a number of young stars he believes will play at a high level and is determined to keep their feet on the ground.
“I have a few young England internationals at 17, but I wouldn’t mention them by name because they’ve got a lot to do,” he said.
“I keep tabs on all the Instagram accounts and Twitter accounts, make sure they do all the right things, speak with families.
“They shouldn’t be in the media at that age, it’s tough to handle at 16 or 17 years old, especially if they’re at a top club.
“If they have good people around them and come through all the nonsense and the trappings they stay humble.
“I try to do that with my players, that’s a great quality to have as a footballer.
“We don’t put them on a website, although that will change if they make it.”
It’s his job to bring realism to young men with heads full of dreams.
And at the same time, he’s out to play a part in them realising those dreams.
“The reason why a lot of young players don’t make it is that they get above their station, they think that if they don’t make it in the Premier, they’ll have 20 or 30 clubs after them in the lower leagues, but that’s not always the case.
“In the lower leagues young players coming down from the Premier can struggle, against good experienced Football League players who have been around.
“It’s a different world.
“That said, it’s an amazing thing when one of your footballers makes a Premier League debut – that’s amazing.”