Meet the Norwich football agent who’s striking Premier League deals
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016
A Norwich law firm's sports agency is making its name by unearthing hidden gems from football's lower leagues. MARK SHIELDS reports.
Ask someone to picture a football agent, and two images are likely to spring to mind: the cigar-toting wheeler-dealer in his sheepskin coat, or the jet-setting perma-tanned superagent, complete with shiny suit and flashy watch.
For Dan Chapman, senior partner at the sports agency Full Contact, the space between these two extremes presented a business opportunity.
From its base in Leathes Prior's offices opposite Norwich Cathedral, decorated with memorabilia from clients including former Norwich striker Grant Holt, Full Contact has grown in influence over the last five years – and last month sealed a significant Premier League deal.
'Our speciality is finding players in non-league or in other countries, trying to unearth the gems that other clubs haven't found,' said Mr Chapman.
You may also want to watch:
'It's a business that is much derided. When we started, I saw that there was a gap in the market for a law firm-owned agency to represent players in an ethical and transparent way.
'Our concept was we would be voluntarily submitting ourselves to a greater level of regulation and transparency, which would give players, parents and clubs greater confidence in dealing with us.'
- 1 Chris Goreham: The red warning light is on for Farke and Norwich City
- 2 City Q&A - with Paddy Davitt
- 3 Injury blow for Norwich City loanee
- 4 Six things you might have missed after City's sixth successive defeat
- 5 Lee Payne: I don't know if Norwich City can break this yo-yo cycle
- 6 RECAP: City's U23s beaten in seven goal thriller at the Walks
- 7 Sargent signing is a 'master stroke'
- 8 Townsend reveals Krul spot kick 'mind games'
- 9 City boss not relying on 'credit in the bank'
- 10 Reader letter: How Roy Hodgson can save Norwich City
It's an approach that appears to be working in the notoriously closed world of football, with Full Contact's transactions – either new contracts or transfers negotiated – doubling every year to stand at 52 in 2015.
The agency now represents more than 80 players and clubs and last month sealed a Premier League transfer when 23-year-old striker Freddie Ladapo joined Crystal Palace from non-league Margate.
The transfer demonstrated the niche Full Contact has carved for itself since being founded in August 2011: discovering unrecognised talent then using its network of contacts to move them up the ladder towards the professional game.
'What we are doing is scouting potential,' said Mr Chapman, 38.
'The bigger clubs think the players in non-league aren't good enough for them, while the smaller clubs don't have the resources to do it themselves.'
Recognition of the potential lurking in the lower leagues has been boosted by the rise of Jamie Vardy, the now-England striker who five years ago was playing for Halifax Town.
His story shows that at a time when the Premier League has never been richer – and with a £5bn television deal due to start in August – there is still value to be found for those willing to search.
Full Contact's four full-time scouts watch up to 30 matches a week, identifying new talent, monitoring their clients and building relationships with non-league clubs.
'The trick is not just to turn up at the games – unless you can get to the player himself it's a bit pointless,' said Mr Chapman.
'You need local knowledge, you need phone numbers, you need to infiltrate the area.
'You have to do your homework – notice the player's date of birth, his background. If he has come from a low income background his diet may not have been that good, for example. For many players in non-league, they are at the peak of their abilities. The trick is to find someone who has not yet peaked.'
The role of football agent can at times be part lawyer, part parent – and Full Contact carries out comprehensive due diligence on every player.
'The biggest thing I have learned is that ability makes up no more than 50pc of what you need,' said Mr Chapman.
'Character, desire, determination, work ethic and intelligence: that makes up at least half.
'When England take to the pitch at the European Championships this summer, I have no doubt that there will be 11 better players in warehouses or delivering pizzas that night.'