As Scotland’s leading football clubs increasingly rely on imports to arrest their decline, it is reassuring that in the fickle world of the football agent at least, a Scottish solicitor continues to be a prominent operator.
For Dunfermline solicitor and FIFA licensed agent Blair Morgan it is the unique selling point of a Scottish legal background that has enabled his stock to rise in a notoriously louche business.
“Scots lawyers enjoy a solid reputation overseas for being professional and courteous and Scottish people in general are highly regarded for being hard-working and honest.
“As a solicitor I am able to recognise situations where a conflict of interest might arise and I make it my policy to be open and honest in all deals. I’ll always say who gave me any information and make sure I confirm things by fax. When I’m instructed by clubs such as Everton or Newcastle it’s because I’m a lawyer. They are reluctant to instruct other agents who might not operate to the same code of professional ethnics and be fully aware of the need for confidentiality. They know, for example, I’d never discuss the financial terms and conditions of a deal”.
Having found his way into the business through helping players during a 10-year spell as a director of Dunfermline Athletic, 51-year-old Blair Morgan set up the Morgan Law Partnership six years ago after 22 years in a “very happy partnership” at Macbeth, Currie & Co to concentrate on specialising in entertainment and sports law.
Despite the success it has brought, with 54 permanent footballer clients, he makes frequent reference to his perceived notion that within the profession his line of work is regarded as lightweight and less serious than that traditionally carried out by solicitors, an idea that causes him mild irritation.
“There is an impression that what I do isn’t quite so serious and certainly there aren’t many difficult legal precepts or need for academic analysis. But the sums of money involved and the income generated ensures that this is a big industry”.
His office is, however, testimony to legal practice which can largely bypass the more austere instruments of the trade. Video tapes of obscure Polish league matches and a cupboard containing boots, shin pads and other assorted merchandise are complemented by the raw tools of his trade, books including the Rothmans Football Yearbook and the European Football Yearbook, augmented by Ernst and Young’s Guide to Executive Tax rates across the European continent, vital for negotiating the terms of cross-country deals.
Within the other offices of the Morgan Law Partnership there is no doubt evidence of a more typical legal environment, for it is from there that the firm offers its footballer clients the remaining facets of the complete package; newly transferred players will usually require to be relocated and be proffered with sound financial services advice.
“We give players a comprehensive service, providing everything from pensions to mortgage advice. Sometimes we’ll have to force a young player of 20 or 21 to fill out the necessary forms, though most of them are now interested in financial services and are aware of how short a career they may have.
“I try to sit them down at an early stage and tell them to think about what they might do as a second career. Often all they want to do is play football and go out with their friends but it is important for me to make them spend some time considering their future.
“Another crucial feature of what we do for them is in getting them to take out disability and accident insurance. Players are often under the misconception that they are covered in that respect by the policies taken out by their clubs, but that will only compensate the club if the player’s career is ended by injury.”
The common perception is that an agent’s interest is best served by encouraging his clients to move frequently, causing unrest for clubs and their supporters. Blair Morgan disputes this.
“Solicitors involved in conveyancing aren’t going to encourage their client to move house every six months just because it will generate more fee income.
“If it’s not in the interests of a player to move I certainly won’t instigate a transfer. I’d lose the confidence of clients. In particular, I would advise some players against moving abroad if I didn’t think they could cope with the extra demands that entails”.Where a player is intent on a move, or as in the case of 11 of his clients is out of contract at the end of the present season, part of the service offered at the Morgan Law Partnership includes the preparation of a brochure, video and cv to help promote the player as an attractive investment for other clubs.
According to Blair Morgan the modern football agent also has to be flexible and imaginative in coming up with new ways of doing deals in the post Bosman era where clubs can no longer demand transfer fees for out of contract players who can negotiate with clubs from other leagues six months prior to the end of their contract. He cites a number of deals, including those of some of his own clients, where considerable payments have been made to the player concerned in lieu of a transfer fee being rendered.
“It’s my job to know the going rate at clubs and to make sure my players achieve that. As a lawyer I am trained to negotiate. Sometimes that can just involve staying quiet and letting the parties talk their way around differences.
“In Europe and Africa in particular there is an art to negotiating and it’s important that it is done in such a way that nobody loses face. Often you know a deal can be concluded in 20 minutes, but the parties concerned enjoy the theatre of the negotiations. That’s when lateral thinking has to play a part, looking at the deal from a different way, or putting yourself in the other man’s shoes.”
He outlines the recent example of conducting the transfer of a Portuguese player from a club in Italy to another in Turkey as an instance where an appreciation of the intricacies of contrasting cultures can help smooth the course of the transaction. Indeed he reckons on being better known in Italy than in Scotland and says in parts of Africa “they think Dunfermline is the metropolis of Scotland”.
“I could live anywhere in Europe and maybe I could have a better quality of player if I was based in London. But you can be in almost any city in Europe by the afternoon leaving Edinburgh airport in the morning”.
Having cornered a niche market Blair Morgan has rejected the opportunity to expand by representing clients from other sports. “From our point of view we have a niche business feeding our other departments. It’s enjoyable and remunerative, but I think I understand how the football world operates, which I can’t really say of other sports.”
While the bulk of his work involves contract negotiations – most are pro forma – with the hard bargaining occurring over the addendum he can introduce relating to a relocation package, sickness and disability insurance, breach clauses or clauses offering bonuses for international caps – Blair Morgan does have occasional cause to become involved in litigation on behalf of clients such as Duncan Ferguson for whom he successfully brought an action of judicial review against the Scottish Football Association after they suspended him for the head-butting incident which saw him jailed – despite the fact no punishment was imposed at the time of the original offence.
“Despite what you read in the press, Duncan is a nice guy. Along with his father I’ve tried to persuade him to reconsider his decision not to play for Scotland again, but he remains bitter about the way he was treated by the SFA.”
Blair Morgan’s field of practice may never be fertile ground for academic analysis but when he states “I really enjoy what I do”, he sounds more convincing than most.