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Football agent Stein traces contracts from trout farm to ‘art form’

London (AFP) – Having once attempted — unsuccessfully — to get Lazio to furnish Paul Gascoigne with his own trout farm, Mel Stein knows more than most about the quirks and curiosities of footballers’ contracts.

Lazio were unable to meet Gascoigne’s demands following his 1992 move from Tottenham Hotspur, explaining simply that there were “no trout in Rome”, and made amends to the keen fisherman with a bonus payment.

As Gascoigne’s representative, Stein negotiated the contract and 25 years on he told AFP the deals that tie players to clubs have acquired such levels of complexity they can be considered “an art form”.

“There’s a lot more intellectualism in them,” Stein said during an interview at his London office.

“There’s a lot to think outside the box about — for example, if you’re doing a contract in a World Cup year.

“The other thing is to claw back the player’s commercial (value) and the merchandising. Can you try to divide the contract up so you get some payment for image rights?”

He adds: “It’s all about bonuses. Do you think your player’s going to be an international? Then you get more money per cap.

“Obviously there’s promotion bonuses, salary rising after a certain number of appearances, salary doubling or tripling on promotion, depending on which league you’re going to.

“You try and avoid a drop clause, though most clubs insist on it — a 25 percent deduction on your salary if the club goes down.

“But you try and balance that by saying, ‘If you go down, we want an exit clause. And let’s agree a fee for that.'”

Stein, whose other former clients include Alan Shearer and Chris Waddle, says reports of teenage players on eye-watering salaries at Premier League clubs are misleading.

But he worries top English clubs are damaging budding young footballers by stockpiling them and denying them chances to play.

“Bigger clubs acquire talented youngsters from the academies of smaller clubs — for the relevant compensation — and simply stockpile them,” Stein said.

“The kids get little chance against competition from expensive signings coming into the club or already at the club and are either loaned out or rejected altogether.

“Their career path is never the same and in some instances it ruins their lives.”

– ‘Really hard industry’ –

The client roster at Stein’s Stone Mountain Management agency features Burnley duo Ben Mee and Jonathan Walters and West Bromwich Albion defender Gareth McAuley — sturdy pros worlds away from the madcap Gascoigne.

Stein likens representing Gascoigne to “acting for the Beatles” and although the troubled ‘Gazza’ abruptly terminated their partnership 15 years ago, he retains warm memories.

“My two sons used to tell me: ‘You love Gazza more than you love us,'” Stein recalls.

“He was such a nice boy: really polite, very intelligent, a very good chess player, very good at cards — not stupid, the way people label him.

“But unfortunately he had one terrible, terrible weakness, which was alcohol. And it’s destroyed him. I would be nobody in the world of sport today if I’d not met Gazza.”

As a former chairman of Britain’s Association of Football Agents, Stein is also eager to press home that super agents like Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola are the exception rather than the rule.

“The more representative (example) is the guy who has two or three players in the lower divisions and is struggling to make a living,” says the 72-year-old Newcastle United fan.

“They’re much more the norm than the big mega-agents. This is a really hard industry in which to make money.

“Because it’s hard to find players, it’s hard to keep them, it’s hard to place them (with clubs) and it’s harder to keep them and their families happy.

“Sometimes I think we’re like double-glazing salesmen. You’re knocking at 30 doors to sell your double-glazing and you can end the day with nothing. Sometimes the 31st person buys.”

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