– Oma Akatugba
In the conclusive part of the previous episode of this story, which was about African youngsters shouldn’t start their careers at big European clubs and delved towards the role agents play in signing youngsters at big clubs for their own commission not minding whether the player’s career fails or succeeds.
I asked Bernard his view on the saying that agents are only interested in money not interested in the player’s career. Every businessman wants to make money, is the agent not supposed to be interested in money?
Bernard answered from an understandable perspective and first asked; “Who is not interested in money?” He then moved on to elaborate by saying we all are interested in money, the question is how do you want to make that money? Do you want to make money by destroying a career, by cheating on someone or by lying to someone? To make it further clarified, he shared a notable experience of his;
“I transferred a player last season to Everton, the transfer was worth €28m and he’s 24 now, but believe me seven years ago when I was just three years in the business, I had the opportunity of signing him to Newcastle and get a commision of £500,000 which would have stabilized my business then, you know when you start a business, the statistics say you struggle in the first three years. I turned it down because I felt he wasn’t ready to play abroad, he was 17years old.”
He was challenged by many agents on why he turned down such a huge amount of money, but because of his principle of putting and building a career first before making money, he deservedly earned more money than he should have earned seven years ago. “We all want to make money, of course, because when the player makes money, the agent makes money. But the agent should not make money and the player does not make money.”
In response to what advice he would give to viewers who aspire to be an agent, Bernard who teaches in France those who want to acquire the French federation license said “Everyone can be an agent. It’s just about the way you work.” From experience he could tell from the beginning who among his students would get a license and who would not, because it is obvious to see who’s passionate and who is just there because of money.
“There’s a path of struggle at the beginning, you have to endure knowing that work as an agent is a lot of expenses, that is why 15-20 years ago, to be an agent you didn’t have to make an exam, you have to pay €100,000 to the commission because at that time, being an agent was only reserved for rich people because they knew being an agent, you have to incur a lot of expenses.” The passion is what makes the difference and mode of operation is what defines a good agent.
Bernard visited Africa in December 2019 and scouted two players in Ghana, I asked him what his plans are for those two players; “One is a central left back, he was training with a premiership team in Ghana, he was about to register when the coronavirus came. The other was already in academy, when he arrived at the trial, I saw he’s a good striker but I could see he was lacking fitness games so I asked him to get to play the league even if it’s third division, we don’t care, just play.”
He hammered on the importance of being competitive, which he describes as playing every weekend and at the end of the season you have to show how many games you played and what you have to show for it, goals mostly if you’re a striker. If you’re good, you get called up by the national team of your category.
Bernard acknowledges that there are a lot of talents in Africa who waste away because they don’t choose the right path, he also blames the wasting away of talents on lack of youth system in sports in Africa, a situation that makes it difficult for European clubs to take up players from Africa.
“Play for the local team, and if you are good you are gonna get called by the national team of your category, then you attend the African competition or World competition and then you get scouted by the big teams, because when there’s a competition, a guy like me goes to the competition and has scouts with me.”
In 2013, he was in Dubai for the FIFA U17 World Cup, a tournament that had the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and other exciting youngsters. He was with Barcelona, Liverpool, Arsenal and Monaco amongst others. Arsenal gave him an invitation letter for Nigerian wing wizard, Musa Yahaya, dated 14th February, 2014. He emphasized on the need to build career steadily, he talked about Kelechi Nwakali, the golden ball winner of the 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup, who signed for Arsenal soon after the tournament and went on loan and now plys his trade with SC Huesca is Spain, he’s now 21 but rarely plays, it’s a waste for such a talented player. Signing for big teams and at the end, they end up in small clubs.
A viewer during the live chat asked why agents reject players not on transfermarkt; “When you have a 20year old player wanting to work with you and he’s not on transfermarkt, all these time where was he? Even you as an agent where do you start? Being an agent you also have to be a good seller.” Bernard is not afraid to get a player in a hole somewhere in any country but at least he has to be convinced himself that based on merit in terms of talent and hardwork the player deserves it and not based on familiarity or relationship.
It is easy to transfer a player from PSG or Marseille to Liverpool, but for Bernard he goes to poor countries to scout and find the best players, make his visa, pay his flight ticket, bring him in to Europe, he finishes his training, sign his first professional contract and then he extends and then he gets transferred and behind him you have a family, a village and all and with all these he’s proud of what he does. Bernard is not just an agent, he touches lives, changes lives, changes generations and is a man full of impacts.