Sam Stapleton: The football agent who helped broker England star John Stones' move to Everton aiming to legitimise his industry

The 38-year-old businessman, who has over 15-years experience representing clients such as Branislav Ivanovic and John Stones, is co-owner and director of Star Sports and Entertainment.

But more importantly, Stapleton wants to help the industry in teaching aspiring agents the rules and regulations needed to be a respectful and successful operator.

That's why he's just launched Football Further, an online training academy designed to help people understand the role better, alongside business partner Zoran Krneta.

As well as rules and regulations, wannabe agents will learn about handling contract negotiations and how to deal with the press.

SunSport sat down in the boardroom with Sam and asked what makes a good football agent?

He told us: "For me it's about putting the client first.

"I think a lot of agents forget that. At the end of the day you have to look at the long-term, rather than the short-term.

"It's easy for some people to look short-term because of the money that's in the game.

"But you have to remember you, as an agent, are working for the player. The player isn't working for you.

"You have to make decisions that give longevity to his career, even if it means you're not earning as much.

"And if the player's career progresses, the money will find you."

Footballers are millionaires and the glitz and glamour associated with the world's biggest leagues is for all to see.

Whether it's dining at the top restaurants or driving the most expensive cars, they live a life of luxury.

That lifestyle can filter down to their agents, but Sam argued it's harder being an agent than it seems and isn't all so fancy.

"I think there's definitely a picture that's portrayed in the industry that's it all glitz and glamour.

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"With all the money that's perceived as ‘coming out of the game’, what we do can be looked at in a negative manner.

"As an agent you work incredibly hard, it's incredibly stressful and you're responsible for a lot of people's careers.

"You're not the one that's talked about and is in the photographs or in the press when the deal's done.

"To be honest, you hardly ever get a thank you either. You're there to do a job, so it's very different to what people believe.

"Many might think it's an easy thing to do, but that's why we're trying to educate people who want to break into the industry."

Football Further offers an in-depth series of eight online tested modules, which take around 16 weeks to complete.

In 2015, a deregulation of agents meant that anyone could become a football agent and no exams were needed to be passed.

All the aspiring candidate has to do is complete the FA's Test of Good Character and Reputation, basically a criminal check, and they're ready to go.

Stapleton hopes that Football Further will not only legitimise his job, but help those who don't know what they're doing improve.

He said: "Myself and my business partner Zoran have been agents for over 15 years.

"We've seen the regulations change. When I took my exam in 2003, I had a 150 page document to go through and was tested on that.

"Now, without the exam, it's up to you if you read the rules and regulations, or if you choose not to.

"That's why we've decided to set-up this business, which is an online course where newly registered agents or people who are thinking about becoming an agent and haven’t registered yet, can learn about the industry.

"We're hoping they can learn from our experiences and mistakes to become better and more respected agents.

"Since the deregulation, there is a risk of the industry becoming worse.

"Anyone can represent a client, whether it be a family member or someone the player has known for years.

"So some don't know what they're doing.

"They could find themselves in a situation where they go into a boardroom and start asking for things that aren't feasible.

"That, in turn, could mean the Chairman or Chief Executive walk out and then hammers the agent. That reflects badly on the industry.

"But with Football Further, what we want to do is educate people who want to become agents and help them go through all the scenarios and familiarise them with what they should do in certain situations.

"It should teach better business and give the industry a better reputation."

Recently, super agent Mino Raiola has faced a backlash for the way he's handled his clients, often creating a media circus around his treasure troves.

The Italian-born Dutch businessman manages high-profile clients, including Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Verratti, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mario Balotelli.

But Stapleton is wary of the disruption that can cause on a professional and commercial level.

He said: "Mino has very good clients and does very good deals for his clients, I can't take that away from him.

"I'm sure if you were to ask his clients, they will say Mino's very good.

"And the bottom line is that's where he's successful.

"But for me, the circus that surrounds him can be detrimental to players, whether that's commercially or professionally.

"And I can't imagine many clubs look forward to having Mino in the boardroom."

Football purists will always use the argument that agents are ruining the game, instigating moves for their clients just to make money.

That's certainly not how Stapleton operates.

"It's not something we do, so I can only speak for ourselves," he said.

"At the end of the day, you have to do what is right for your client.

"A client doesn't go where an agent tells them to go.

"An agent can only put propositions to them and it's up to the players to make a decision.

"A lot of comments are made by people who don't understand what agents do.

"It's that face value of what they are perceived to be doing.

"And the money that's being talked about is simply because of the money that's in the game right now.

"Agents also do a lot of work behind-the-scenes for the club and player that people don't necessarily know about.

"Clubs might find themselves with players in their squad they're paying money for that they might not want at their club.

"In the old days, teams would send faxes saying they wanted to move a player on.

"Now, they put a call in to a few agents and tell them they want to move the player out.

"That helps the club because they might want to bring in other players, and it means that player is not sat there being paid money that could be used elsewhere.

"When clubs bring players in, the agent is there to make sure the clubs are happy and he's getting the best deal for his client.

"You have to manage a deal where both sides are happy."

Stapleton's biggest success story came in the shape of a raw, 6'2" centre back from Barnsley.

The agent saw the potential of John Stones early in his career, signed him up before he'd signed a pro-contract with the South Yorkshire club and later orchestrated his move to Everton.

But Stapleton confessed that he only joined the Toffees at the eleventh hour after he was destined to sign for Wigan.

"We picked up John when he was a young lad at Barnsley," Stapleton said.

"We did his pro contract, and then after he'd only played half a season we had a few clubs interested.

"He nearly agreed a deal to Wigan on the last day of the window, then we got a call from Everton late in the day so he went there.

"Funnily enough, when Roberto Martinez went to Goodison Park he hooked up with Stones there, so he finally got his man.

"Stones has moved on to a different agency now, but we're proud of being part of the beginning of his career.

"I always knew he was going to push on and be the player he is.

"I remember when I went into Everton's boardroom, I said this boy will captain England.

"Obviously, that hasn't happened yet but I understood the path he was on."

Deadline day might seem like a football supporters' dream, especially when Sky Sports goes around the grounds to fans waiting outside the stadiums to hear an announcement of a new star-signing.

But Stapleton confessed it can leave him traumatised.

"It's pretty hectic.

"We work predominately with foreign players, so nothing is completely unexpected with our deadline day.

"If you have a player from abroad, the wheels have begun to turn a few days before because of the logistics.

"But the window this year has been a bit of a carry on because we closed early on a World Cup year. There's not been a lot of time for clubs to do anything.

"But deadline day adds a little bit of drama to things, even if it is more traumatic for an agent.

"We've actually represented Branislav Ivanovic for a number of years now.

"I can tell you that we nearly brought him back to the Premier League this window."

Sometimes, the biggest breakdown between clubs and players happens when contract negotiations are being discussed.

Stapleton said: "As an agent, you have to manage your clients expectations and make sure they're not asking for ridiculous salaries.

"Part of your job is knowing what everyone in that team is on and what your player should be earning in comparison and getting what he deserves.

"That approach should keep everybody happy and ensure our job is done successfully."

Registered or aspiring agents are invited to visit Football Further's website for more details.

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