Agent’s column: Arteta was wrong, Man City must be punished IF they’re guilty, VAR must be improved and more

Posted by

In his fortnightly exclusive column for CaughtOffside, Jon Smith, one of football’s first-ever agents and a man who was an integral figure in the forming of the Premier League, discusses Everton’s 10-point deduction, why VAR has to stay, why Mikel Arteta was wrong – and more! 

£1.2m for a 15-year-old is vulgar but if all teams can choose from the same selection pool, what’s the problem?

Finley Gorman’s purchase by Man City has seen some real pushback given that he’s only 15 and £1.2m in transfer fees is a little excessive, but do I think there should be a cap on transfer fees? 

I am one of the people that helped to start the Premier League. It’s all about the competition, and it has been enormously successful because it’s the best footballing competition in the world.

I mean, people around the world didn’t know what Reading was, they thought it was a book you read. They never knew where Wigan was until it was in the Premier League. There were even people arriving on trips from Asia to see Wigan.


So, rather than stymie transfer fees as such and tell clubs what they can and cannot spend their money on, I am in favour of there being an overall cap on money spent.

Not necessarily on money spent aligning to your turnover, although, obviously that has to have some bearing on it because Manchester United’s overheads are bigger than Luton’s, but but you can’t have Manchester City, United, Liverpool or whoever being able to outbid the Burnley’s of this world just because they can.

Otherwise you end up like La Liga when there’s probably three, maybe four teams at the very top and 16 others that can only really compete at a certain level at any given time. 

I think there has to be a mechanism whereby the great and the good are pretty equal in terms of their ability to sign players. 

However, after signing young players, then their wellbeing has to be supported.

Some of the biggest, saddest moments in my 40 years in football have come when that lovely young kid who’s an Arsenal fan actually gets signed by Arsenal and he’s a hero at school because he’s an Arsenal lad… but he gets to 15 and he’s just not what they want or he’s not good enough…

There’s no real mental support for kids who suddenly find that their life has been devastated. It’s scary. You’re grappling with coming to terms with exams, your own sexuality, and suddenly you’re a failure at 15.

You’re not of course, because you did really brilliantly by being where you are and there’s absolutely life outside of Arsenal Football Club, but that’s where I’m coming from. 

There should be a much more considered process and guardianship of young footballers coming through the system where they’re helped into it, helped through it and helped out a bit if they move elsewhere on their journey.

Football could learn a lot from the way rugby conducts itself

I am dismayed by referees being pilloried, physically in some cases and certainly mentally. I just think it sets a really, really, really bad example. 

I even see it when watching kids play football on a Saturday. It’s not just the kids arguing with the referee, it’s the parents too, and in one case I saw a referee being pushed a few weeks ago. I thought that was beyond belief – and he wasn’t sent off. The parents are encouraging it, shouting abusive language at the referee.

I’m a big fan of Mikel Arteta, but against Newcastle, he was wrong. Very wrong. If you have a referee, he’s in charge and he may make mistakes. We all do. And that’s just the way that it is.

Just like in rugby, I think the referees should have a microphone attached and I think the crowd should be able to listen to it in real time. One abusive word or phrase – which doesn’t need repeating here – and they’re off, and the crowd will know exactly why.

You cannot let the violent society we live in translate onto a football pitch. I’ve never known my country to be so violent in all my 70 years. It’s a ridiculous world we live in now and it’s not going to get any better any time soon. 

Our football leagues need to lead from the front. It’s the most watched, entertaining and enjoyed physical activity on the planet other than sex, so time to lead by emotional example here. 

I do think an orange card or sin-binning would be a great idea too because the game has to keep evolving and it would hopefully calm things down a bit more. I believe that there should be some penalty, so maybe 15 minutes, 20 minutes, whatever it might be – especially if it’s the last 20 minutes.

I think that’s something that I would absolutely encourage the Premier League to look at.

I like VAR, it’s here to stay, but vast improvements must be made

I like VAR but I know that a lot of people don’t. 

In the past I’ve been working with nation states at World Cup tournaments when the ball has definitely crossed the line. I’ve seen it cross the line but the referee was 30 yards behind play and didn’t see it, nor did the assistant referee.

They’ve gone out of the competition at that stage and probably lost millions of potential income for their Federation because of a poor decision. 

So I love what they did in the 2022 World Cup with the semi-automated offside technology which is basically AI and it tracks the limbs. By the way, I don’t think a stud on the striker’s right boot should determine if he’s offside or not and I think there has to be a redefining of handball. It’s handball, not ball to hand. 

The semi-automated offside technology and the technology that runs alongside that I think is fantastic and is the way forward. The Premier League doesn’t employ that by the way. 

There should be a replay of the incident on the big stadium screen two or three times and somebody commentating on it so there’s some sort of crowd engagement. 

That wonderful Tottenham game… there were times it took four or five minutes for a decision. you could’ve gone to get a hot dog, come back and find the situation still wasn’t resolved.

I don’t think I’m qualified as a referee to say how they should or shouldn’t use the technology, but all I know is that the technology is there, and the advanced technology that FIFA used is there, and it works – now. 

There were a few space disasters before man landed on the moon. I think we’ve got to be cognisant that it may take a year or two, but I think they’ll get it right. 

It’s important they do and I absolutely believe the crowd should be involved in the engagement of the process.

Multi-club ownership isn’t wrong but has to be policed properly

In principle, I agree that there should be some sort of management of multi-club ownership player swaps, because it gives rise to an advantage to those clubs against competing clubs who don’t have that accessibility to players and deals that perhaps are not as financially helpful.

If you’re lending within your own group, you’re not really going to charge each other that much and the money gets reinvested into the group again.

Of course, there’s ways around it. Let’s just say there are major funds, most of whom I know, who are seeking to own multiple football clubs, and some of the investors in those groups are sovereign wealth funds. 

So in other words, potentially, you have a country as an owner of a football club, dealing with a fund – of which that country’s sovereign wealth fund, which is different from the state ownership vehicle – actually means that is overly helpful to the initial club.

I think clear, clearly defined capital ownership shows that there are no hidden ownerships in that mix, and if even if there are, by the way, that’s okay. Don’t forget Watford have been doing this for years with Udinese. Nobody’s complained, and it’s worked quite well for them.

Providing it’s understood that it’s not a whole team, just one or two players every season or something like that, it’s absolutely financially advantageous for the clubs in that equation, beyond just the ability to move a player about.

Everton should absolutely be punished… as should every other club if they’ve broken the rules

Let’s talk Everton for a moment. The rules are there for a reason and they should be obeyed.

There’s been some unfortunate circumstances around Everton but it’s not the most heinous crime of the lot by comparison to what’s alleged at Man City.

I think the 10 point deduction is a salutary moment because it will make make clubs sit up and take notice and think about what they might have done in the past.

For example, we’ve had Paris Saint-Germain allegedly skirting merrily around certain regulations and financial fair play, and apparently having no sanctions at all.

With Manchester City I’d like to put on record that I love the advancement that City have put into the football club ownership in their group .

However, if they have breached the regulations 114 or 115 times, then they should be punished, and I’m a little concerned that we’ve heard nothing about that. But if they’re innocent, they’re innocent. They shouldn’t be pilloried because they’re wealthy either. 

If the regulators have got any teeth in the future, they have to be seen to bite now, because now is the moment where everyone’s eyes are looking at it.

I am concerned that the governing bodies are becoming relatively benevolent for obvious reasons of requiring the financial support from some of the sizeable sovereign funds that are around, less so to the big hedge fund owners – but even they get a doff of the cap occasionally.

So, I am concerned that if Qatar, Saudi Arabia or whomever want to change the rules, they’ve got more access to people at the top of the game than others.

It needs to be literally a level playing field for everyone to have access to the lawmakers or else the supporters will start to drift away – and at that point, you lose the heartbeat of the game.

Lastly, the 10-point deduction affects Everton’s supporters as much as it affects the ownership.

So I think if if the financial value of a club has been enhanced by you breaching the regulations, in other words, you financially benefited, then a sizeable percentage of the punishment should be financial. Points is part of it yes, because it hurts, but the penalties should also be financial.

More Stories Mikel Arteta Pep Guardiola Sean Dyche Sheikh Mansour VAR