Cardiff City’s chairman, Mehmet Dalman, has called for radical regulation of football agents in the wake of the death of the Argentinian striker Emiliano Sala after likening the mentality of some of them to the wild west.
Dalman was particularly critical of Willie McKay, who played a key role in Sala’s transfer from Nantes to Cardiff, including arranging a private flight that crashed into the Channel, even though he was not a licensed agent and was acting on behalf of his son Mark.
“It was shoddy behaviour, plain and simple,” said Dalman. “He hides behind the licence of his son and we all think that’s OK. He then calls a mate who probably calls a mate and then they find a plane and nobody seems to check the status of that plane. Is it licensed, is it fit? Even Sala is leaving messages saying: ‘I feel very unsafe in this thing.’ It’s clear the pilot shouldn’t have been flying. The poor chap was colourblind. All the experts we interviewed said that any experienced pilot would have said no.”
Dalman, who also wants the Premier League to regulate private flights to ensure a tragedy such as Sala’s never happens again, nodded when asked whether there was a wild west mentality in the world of agents. “The answer is yes,” he said. “This is not just about McKay as there are many agents of that ilk in the industry
“He meant well. His intentions were good. But why do we have intermediary agents who are not transparent or accountable to anybody? That can’t be right. Can you imagine any other industry where somebody is hiding behind somebody else’s licence and gets away with it?
“When you speak to the old guard they say: ‘I know, but we’ve always done things like this.’ It doesn’t make it right. We aren’t punishing them. We need moves to be able to punish people for negligence.”
Dalman also admitted that he sometimes feels queasy about the amounts being paid to agents from transfer deals. “I don’t like it because the people who pay for it are the fans at the gate,” he said. “So if you look at Sala and speculate for a second, he cost us £15m. That’s public information. McKay has publicly indicated he was getting paid £1.5‑2m and let’s say Sala’s agent was getting another million. That’s £3m out of that £15m is going to agents, which fans are paying for.
“I think the regulators and the governing bodies need to do something about it. We had the big bang in 1987 and I think football now, the size of the industry we are in, needs a big bang. It needs a big bang in how it’s governed because we are talking multibillions and it’s going to double, treble in the next three decades. We need to step up.”
Responding to Dalman’s comments, McKay said: “Mehmet’s a lovely man. He’s been great for Cardiff City and my sons. Mehmet’s going to do what he’s going to do … I know he is under pressure from the owner.”
McKay said he had been acting in good faith by helping his son with the Sala transfer. He also pointed out that he had arranged the flight through the same man who had been helping him book flights for more than a decade.
Dalman, speaking at the FT Business of Football Summit, also admitted that Cardiff were still at an impasse with Nantes over paying Sala’s £15m transfer fee but insisted they were not looking to avoid their obligations to the French club.
“We’ve never said we wouldn’t pay,” he claimed. “I have always said that we will do the right thing. But we want to know all the facts. There is a contractual disagreement between the two parties. As far as we are concerned he wasn’t our player when this terrible tragedy happened, so in the letter of the law we are fine.
“However, we have taken a different approach and said: ‘Look, this is a tragic event, it’s a £15m dispute we are having here – isn’t there a way where the two clubs can compromise and turn our attention to do something for the family?’
“Two months ago Fifa encouraged the clubs to get together and find a way forward. I have tried. But Nantes made it clear that they are not prepared to entertain that at the moment.”