Maradona's former agent details 'unforgiving life' in new book

    Story highlights

    • Smith once counted Maradona as a client
    • His company First Artist had over 400 clients
    • Says top players deserve high wages
    • Fans "need TLC" over high ticket prices

    London (CNN)Until recently, Jon Smith was one of the biggest football agents in the world. His former agency First Artist represented over 400 clients, including none other than Diego Maradona.

    Having sold his company in 2010, Smith has had time to reflect on his manic life in the football business in a new autobiography titled "The Deal: Inside the World of a Super Agent," co-authored with James Olley.
      CNN sat down with Smith ahead of the close of the 2016 European summer transfer window to reflect on the state of the game today, nearly getting kidnapped in Uzbekistan, and owning his own personal zoo.
      Why write the book now?
      "After I sold out, I had a lot of publishers come to me to write a "tell all" book, and I didn't want to write that kind of book. Eventually we were engaged with a really good editor at (publishers) Little Brown, who said we can do this a little bit differently.
      "It's not supposed to be pointing fingers and going 'Naughty boy, naughty boy.' It's supposed to tell how life is in football."
      Do you miss being an agent?
      "No, because of all the time you have to give to it. At 59 I sold out, and I thought I really need to familiarize myself with living with my family.
      "People ask me about (recent Manchester United record signing Paul) Pogba paying £20 million ($26.5 million) to his agent, but I know what (Pogba's agent Mino Raiola) had to do to earn that: 10 years of living, breathing, sleeping with Pogba, Ibrahimovic and everybody else.
      "It's a lovely life; I wouldn't knock it. I lived it, I've enjoyed it. But it's a tough life, it's an unforgiving life. So I understand why people say it's a problem paying agents all that money, but he's earned it."
      Paul Pogba joined Manchester United from Juventus for a record fee of $116 million.
      How did you manage 400 clients at once?
      "We had a staff of 300, which did help."
      Is there too much power in the hands of too few super agents now, like Jorge Mendes or Mino Raiola? Very often those agents appear to be on both sides of the transaction -- isn't that a conflict of interest?
      "Yes, I understand that. Because we owned other companies, we could find ourselves representing the buying club in one country and the selling club in another country, along with representing the player in his home country -- all in one transaction.
      "And FIFA said that was wrong and the (English) FA tried to stop us from doing it. In reality we weren't doing anything wrong; we were giving expertise and we were penalized for being successful. So I understand their view on it, and it doesn't tick corporate governance in its best sense. But doing these deals is complex and emotional, and you have to know the individual players. It's very subjective not objective.
      "There are a proliferation of representatives who are average -- to give them their best compliment -- and there are a handful of good ones who know how to do a deal, and they really do understand the market."
      Do you think there are enough regulations for football agents?
      "The regulations have been watered down because FIFA have abstained from governance. There were so many agent wars that were all licensed and governed by FIFA, and they just said we don't want this anymore. (Editor's note: Last year FIFA handed regulatory decisions regarding agents to each of its members' football associations to regulate.)
      "(The English FA) decided to license what they call 'intermediaries' now to essentially anyone who had £500 and would apply. They scrapped the exams and everything else; ninety-odd percent wouldn't know what to do in a pressure situation with some of these deals."
      Diego Maradona moved to Napoli from Barcelona in 1984 for a world-record fee of $10.5 million.
      How did you sign Maradona as a client?
      "I got him through his mate (former Argentina and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder) Ossie Ardiles. We tell the story in the book about how that came about.
      "I represented Maradona from 1987 and they said goodbye to me in 1990. He was in Naples at the time, and a new group of people were getting involved."
      Was it contentious when he left you?
      "He eventually went with a guy called Guillermo Coppola in Naples who was involved with the local people. (Editor's note: Coppola, an Argentinian, became famous for representing Maradona and is now a talk show personality.)
      "I was told after a while that they said, 'Thank you very much,' and I went, 'You're very welcome.' And they said 'No, Thank you very much and goodbye.' So we left."
      Wayne Rooney left Everton in 2004 to join Manchester United.
      Did you ever get in to a situation where you felt physically threatened by other parties interested in taking over one of your players? This famously happened to Wayne Rooney's agent Paul Stretford, who was confronted by two cage fighters and a boxer in a hotel room.
      "Yes, Paul was very brave then. Not many people would have hung around.
      "Fortunately I've never had that. I mean, I've been involved in Eastern Europe in some strange deals. In fact, the first chapter in the book tells about a group of people in the Ukraine who we subsequently found out -- though we weren't sure it was exactly them -- murdered a football agent.
      "We were trying to do a deal to get a Ukrainian group of people to buy an English football club, and we felt that we were close to being kidnapped at one point."
      What was it like representing the England national team's commercial interests?
      "I was their agent from 1986 to 1994. That was really the start of me making my mark in world sport."
      And you told the players after they scored to go the barriers so the cameras would capture the ads, right?
      (Laughs) "Well it was different in those days. There are now 37 cameras at football games, and there used to be three.
      "During friendlies we would instruct the substituted players to run off the pitch, and the incoming player would run on and then stop his tie his boots up. So the camera would have to focus on his boots.
      "It was the beginning of marketing in football. But only in friendlies; in competitive games we used to back off."
      But how did the players benefit from that?
      "The players' pool was paid money by sportswear companies to show their product."
      So you did them a favor, essentially?
      "Of course."
      Players at relegated Premier League clubs such as Aston Villa and Norwich reportedly face big pay cuts.
      You foretasted that some clubs would enforce wage-cut clauses in players' contracts if they were relegated, which has now become reality with the likes of Aston Villa. How do you feel about that?
      "That evolved because we started pushing up the prices. I always felt that these guys should be remunerated correctly. I don't have a problem with what they make.
      "£200,000 per week ($265,000) has become the yardstick for players' wages, but in reality there are very few players earning £200,000. And even if it's reported that they are, it is probably £100,000 ($133,000) plus various add-ons. But nevertheless I always figure that the players should get a sizable portion of (profits) because they earned it."
      And generally do the players get a percentage of the transfer fees too? (It is common practice for agents to pocket around 10% of a player's transfer fee, sometimes more.)
      "No, they are rewarded, ostensibly, commensurate to their fees. So an agent may well argue that if a team has paid £50 million ($66 million) for a player, then he's got to be worth £200,000 ($265,000) per week at least. It's an argument."
      What suggestions do you have to improve the game today?
      "Considering the sizable funds that are coming into the game, I would like to see a reduction of the cost for the supporters. At this level I don't think that would be painful for clubs, or a detriment to the game.
      "One day there will be a lot of people who will still want to go to matches but won't be able to afford to go. And playing to half-empty stadiums is to no one's benefit. Supporters need more TLC with clubs."
      What about a potential salary cap with club spending?
      "It's never going to work. It works in America because it's matched with a system where the worst clubs get draft picks, but they would just find ways around them here. It's like agents' fees; (FIFA) tried to cap them at 3%, but all that would happen is they would get scouting contracts."
      Crystal Palace fans  protest against rising ticket prices during an English Premier League in October 2015.
      You grew up being affected by a speech impediment -- though one would never know this now -- and currently stand as the patron of the British Stammering Association. How is that important to you?
      "We told that story in the book because I want to highlight the difficulties that people who are disfluent face in everyday life. It's regarded as a bit of a laughing matter to most people, but it's a real issue.
      "I wouldn't have had a life if I hadn't been through my cure, and there is no real cure to speak of. You have to convince your brain that you can do it, because your brain is fearful of communication. I was one of the lucky ones, I escaped the curse."
      I read that you once owned a zoo. Is it still open?
      "No, I had it removed. It happened because I acquired a llama though a deal and it just grew from there. I like being silly, so I had other animals as well, like aardvarks and kangaroos."
      Is it true that the kangaroo escaped and went to the local KFC in Potters Bar?
      "Yes, it escaped on fireworks night and went to KFC."
      That sounds more like a Pablo Escobar experience. Are zoos a normal thing for football agents?
      "Well, we don't feed our animals cannabis, though."