Q&A WITH MATT LE TISSIER & FRANCIS BENALI
Q. So, Matt Le Tissier and Francis Benali have become football agents. Did you envisage that when you hung up your boots over a decade ago?
MLT: Probably not, but you’ve picked up on something I want to clarify from the outset. We’ll probably be referred to as football agents, as the services 73 Management offers aren’t dissimilar to other football management companies. But with Francis and I having played in the top flight for many years, 73 Management can offer guidance and support on every aspect of a footballer’s career – on and off the field. We’d like to be regarded as advisers, or mentors, but if we’re called agents, that’s fine. I’ve been called much worse!
Q. Thanks for clearing that up! So, how did 73 Management come into being?
MLT: The process started when I spoke to James McLaughlin, a former Southampton colleague, about a year ago. He’s been involved in football and cricket on the commercial side for many years and has been looking after Jonathan Trott. We spoke about the fact there seems to be a lack of trust in some player adviser roles in the agency world and felt we could put together a company to look after players in the best interests of their career, rather than the best interests of theirs or the agent’s pockets. I see myself as being a mentor to players. And I think that role is quite important. Francis and I played in the Premier League for many, many years. When you’ve got a management company, it’s important you’ve got someone who has been in the client’s position.
FB: Matt’s summed it up well. We’ve got a real passion for football and are keen to impart our experience and knowledge to help players make the right decisions for their careers. The game has changed massively since when Matt and I came through the professional system. There’s even more of a need now for good advice and mentoring – for young players especially but also senior players. We want to work closely with players and their families to guide them on their football journey.
Q. Rightly or wrongly, agents often get blamed for everything that is wrong with the modern game. Are you saying that is justified, that all agents are bad?
MLT: I don’t think all agents are bad in any way, shape or form. As with any industry, there’ll always be a few rogues out there just in it for themselves. But there are also some good agents. And we want to be in that bracket – advisers that not only players want to work with, but also football clubs. We want clubs to view us with integrity and respect and know we’re here for the player’s best interests and not our own.
FB: There are some very, very good agents out there advising players in the correct way. But we still think there’s a niche in the market to be a little bit different, and promote values that we had as players.
Q. You say all that, but with the staggering fees agents have reportedly been paid recently, surely that’s played a part in you becoming player advisers?
MLT: 73 Management is a business venture and it’s in everyone’s best interests, especially the players we represent, we make a success of it. But I’m very realistic about what I feel my worth is in all this. Some of the extravagant fees paid to agents…we’re not going down that route. You’ll never see a transfer breakdown because of ‘Matt Le Tissier’s extortionate demands’ that’s for sure! We aim to do what’s best for our players’ careers – that will always be the overriding factor – and see what comes of it after that. This is not something ‘we have to do for the money’, so we really can put the best interests of our players and their families at the forefront of everything we do.
Q. What makes you think you will be a success at this?
FB: There are no guarantees in sport, business or life in general, but seeing how the game has grown, and the extra demands and pressures that come with it, especially on young players, there’s a need for management companies. There are lots of good ones out there, but with our experience of playing the game, we hope to bring something a little bit different. Every member of our team has vast experience of the football industry in their fields of expertise. We have an awful lot to offer.
MLT: Reflecting on some of the situations I faced in my own career, I had to make some big decisions. I had chances to leave Southampton and know what was going through my head at the time. I’d like to think I can pass on that experience to our players. Hopefully, as someone who has spent their whole career in the top flight and a further 14 years in the media, players will feel I’ve got plenty of knowledge to pass on and see me as someone they can build a trusting relationship with.
FB: Footballers face numerous challenges. The highs are great but there’s an awful lot of lows and they come in many shapes and forms. It could be a long-term injury, being dropped or an issue in their personal life. We know the environment. It was a bubble when we played and it’s gone to a completely different level now. Players need mentoring, they need guiding, they need advice, and we feel that we’re well placed, having played the game for as long as we did, to offer that advice. We aim to take as much worry and stress away from players as possible, so they can focus on football.
Q. Reading between the lines, it appears you want to work with a specific type of player?
MLT: We’re happy to work with players of any age – providing football is their No.1 priority. Players for whom money comes first and their career is secondary need not apply. That’s critically important. Players coming on board need to mirror our philosophies. Football is a fantastic sport, one I’ve loved, grown up in and spent my entire adult life working in and we want to work with football-focussed players, because that’s what it’s all about. In any case, if you put the game first, the rewards will follow. We also want players who want to be role models. We don’t just want them to be great footballers, but to also set the right example. Francis and I did a lot of work in the community while Southampton players and we will encourage that in our players.
FB: The game gets a lot of knocks and some of that is down to how players conduct themselves. We want to work with like-minded players and offer the services and benefits of partners that will guide them not just through their careers but every aspect of their lives.
Q. Why do you place so much importance on the role of a player’s representative?
FB: Let’s make no bones about it, a player can do extremely well financially from a good, successful career. But it’s a short career. Matt and I can vouch for that better than anybody. When you look back on it, it’s like the blink of an eye. You need to take care of your income from the game. Players are faced with so many temptations and if you slip up, you need the right people advising you. Naturally, at clubs, there is management staff, team-mates and other staff that help players, but outside of that, there’s still a need for a support mechanism. Commercial, financial, legal, media and PR advice – 73 Management has the lot.
Q. You were both one-club men. Will you encourage your clients to follow suit?
FB: Our advice will always be based on what’s right for the individual and his family. Sometimes, it will be right for a player’s career to seek a move. Other times, it will be right for them to stay and fight for their place. The last thing we want is a player coming to us saying ‘I’ve been dropped for the weekend, I want to move’. That’s not what we’re about. But we can mentor players through situations like that. We’re certainly not going to be moving players on at any given opportunity to line our pockets.
MLT: Any advice we give will be with the bigger picture, a player’s career as a whole, in mind. If a player is happy and we feel he is at the right football club, we’d love to show him that loyalty isn’t a bad thing in football. There’s not a lot of it around these days and it shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. You can still be ambitious and stay at your club – if that’s what’s best for your career. But what if a player is struggling for game time, and their club’s style of play doesn’t suit their game? We’ve both got in-depth knowledge of the current game, and how clubs play, and are well positioned to advise players on what they should do for the good of their careers.
Q. In an ideal world, how many clients would you like to represent?
MLT: Our first priority is getting our philosophy out there, letting people know what we’re about and the type of players we want to work with. But we only envisage representing a small stable of players. Hopefully, players will see that and realise they won’t get lost with us. We’ll give each and every player the due care and attention they require. Having a big pool of players, and looking to make lots of money out of them, is not the way we want to go. This is all about being there for the player. It’s not about what we’re going to make out of it.
Q. Do you see 73 Management as an extension of the work you’re both involved in at the Matt Le Tissier Natural Coaching Academy?
FB: That’s been going for a number of years now. We’re working with youngsters as young as four and five – toddlers just getting into the sport, right through to 15/16 year-olds. We’re encouraging youngsters to enjoy themselves and are developing both boys and girls into better players. That’s something we thoroughly enjoy and links in nicely with what we want to achieve in the professional game through 73 Management. Having played football for many years, we feel we have a responsibility to pass on that knowledge to the younger generation.
Q. Any final words?
MLT: At 73 Management, we have all bases covered – on and off the field – for a player and their family. It’s all sorted, we’re ready, come and join us.
FB: We’ve got so much passion for 73 Management and the positive impact we feel we can have on the careers of footballers, from youth level right the way through to experienced pros. We can’t wait to get started.