Former Portsmouth skipper Brian Howard striving to give football agents a good name
It is approaching six-and-a-half years since he patrolled the Pompey turf, yet Brian Howard remains a regular Fratton Park presence.
These days Christian Burgess and Ben Close occupy the attention of the former skipper, whose Blues association was forged during a backdrop of administration and ownership wrangling.
Forgettable times for all concerned, nonetheless Howard’s fresh football commitments frequently reunite him with the club he served 26 times.
Post-playing days often inflict a precarious existence, yet the 38-year-old is flourishing within new challenges as an agent.
Having helped found Momentum Sports Management 19 months ago, Howard numbers Burgess and Close among a burgeoning client list, along with Pompey Academy graduate Joe Hancott.
He was also responsible for bringing Nathan Thompson to the south coast as Kenny Jackett’s first signing, although no longer represents the right-back.
The connection with the club he served during the 2012-13 campaign remains strong, while Kenny Jackett is a former manager from Millwall times.
Business continues to thrive for Howard, who prides himself in defying the football agent stereotype.
He said: ‘This is a really cut-throat, horrible industry at times. A lot of stuff that goes on, a lot of people talking rubbish, filling players’ heads, especially young players, offering them things they shouldn’t be offering.
‘I want to look after players the way I wanted to be looked after. Looking back, definitely some of my career could have been managed much better.
‘As a player, you always think about taking the coaching route upon retirement, after all football is all I’ve known since eight years old.
‘Yet I wanted to do some good, so went down the agency route, more to try to mentor young players, give them the personal touch.
‘Big agencies are that massive now they need to spend all their time on the top, top players because they are incredibly marketable, making a huge amount of money.
‘Players from the Championship, League One or League Two will talk about having the same agent as so-and-so from the Premier League. No you don’t, you work with someone who is pretty much his gopher.
‘He’s not looking after you, he’s getting someone else to do it. He’s not the one phoning clubs, so how is he selling you? How does he know you?
‘I can tell my players their stats for the campaign, their best bits and worst bits. These are things I know from watching them 10 times in a season.’
In addition to Howard’s Pompey contingent, he represents Aston Villa and Republic of Ireland international Conor Hourihane, promising Spurs midfielder Jack Roles and goalkeeper David Martin, who this month moved from Millwall to West Ham.
Others include Luke Berry (Luton), Ben Reeves (Charlton), Jamie Murphy (Rangers), Jacob Brown (Barnsley) and Lucas Akins (Burton).
Yet while work is flourishing, he recognises the issues which continue to blight the industry’s reputation.
Howard added: ‘They deregulated being a football agent in 2015, so as long as you pass all your DBS and background checks and pay a fee, then you can become one.
‘Therefore you get people who think “I’ve got a bit of money behind me, I can do whatever I like to sign up players”.
‘Sometimes there are players who aren’t from good areas or don’t have good backgrounds, yet possess huge talent. They are easy for agents to pick off simply by saying “I’ll give you this”.
‘Recently I met the family of a young player at a huge club. They have decided to go with another agent because he’s going to help the family out financially, which is what they need.
‘But that money will only come back off the player anyway, nobody is going to give out cash for free. You’re only going to get in trouble, which will hurt the player.
‘Whereas if you approached that big club and said you were struggling financially, as long as they rate that player highly – which I think they do – they would help out. They will ensure the player is in the best environment to maximise potential.
‘You have that side of it, which is a dark, horrible side of the industry. It’s like any business out there, some want to earn really good money by doing less work or not the right things.
‘Of course there are problems within the profession. An agent will go up to a player and say “I can you this, this and this. This club want you and that club want you” and the player is impressionable.
‘An agent will go to a parent and say “What are you doing with that agent because I can get you this and because I look after so-and-so”. Yet don’t even have the important contacts they’re referring to.
‘I know agents looking after players and I’m thinking “How have you signed that player?”. Then they’re texting me, asking for numbers of managers and chief executives!
‘I’m turning into a phone directory, why am I helping other people do their job?’
Howard hung up his boots in August 2015 at the age of 32, following a spell with home-town club Eastleigh.
During his final season, he combined playing for the non-leaguers with easing into a future in sports management.
And he passionately believes good can thrive within a business often disparaged by football supporters.
He said: ‘I recently oversaw a new contract for a player promoted to the Championship.
‘He had Premier League interest and could have moved for money – and I could have had a hefty paycheck and be on holiday right now. But that’s not the right career move.
‘The lad needs to play. He would have gone into an under-23 side and potentially three years down the line could be lower than he is now. Whereas in the Championship next year, if he does well, he could take the next step up anyway.
‘Other agents will be thinking “What are you doing? You should be going there for as much money as possible”.
‘Everyone knows the game nowadays is very, very lucrative, right the way throughout the levels, so just concentrate on doing the best you can – and the money will come to you.’