Football from the Inside

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TRIALISTS AND TRIBULATIONS

Ali Dia. We’ve all heard the story of how Graeme Souness was duped into signing the mercurial Mr. Dia on the strength of a phone call from someone purporting to be George Weah. Super Ali was his cousin and supposedly, had represented Senegal and was a graduate of the PSG academy. On paper it sounded feasible and, out of desperation and without due diligence, he was signed on a one month contract. However, as is consigned to history, George Weah turned out to be more Mickey Weah, and the spurious Dia made one substitute’s appearance before suffering the ignominy of being taken off himself.

Wikipe-Dia

Now back then in ’96, the internet consisted of waiting patiently for page 23 of 73 to come up on Ceefax, in order that you could find the information you were looking for, although many a holiday to Las Americas ended up being booked after stumbling upon the “bargain breaks” page whilst waiting for the Torquay Utd result to come round for the coupon. But how simple is it to be duped into believing, that the player about to walk through your door for a week’s trial, is who he is portrayed to be?

Well, in truth, even in the modern age of the internet, some players and indeed agents will go to any lengths to conceal facts about players and ultimately make them seem better than they are, just to get them a foot in the door. The financial position of Scottish clubs dictates they are always on the lookout for a cheap signing and, very often, the foreign trialist is an avenue pursued in the hope that a gem can be unearthed to fill a position. Surely, with the correct research and a quick glance at Wikipedia, mistakes will rarely be made. So would it surprise you to know that as recently as last season, a Scottish Premier League club, having done their research and a double check of the CV, only found out that their incoming 6ft 3in striker, was in fact 5ft 10in when he walked through the dressing room door without having to duck?

The Agent

It’s a dangerous game the “trialist” one, you can so easily be made a fool of. It is important to remember at this point that the majority of agents are only doing a job, like you and I, when pushing their clients to you. They will hoover up young players at youth level, regardless of whether they see a player in there or not, in the hope that one of them becomes the Andrew Robertson or Duncan Ferguson of their day and ultimately make themselves a few quid and, as their client base and bank balance builds, they will start to bring across less well known overseas recruits, in the hope that someone “falls” for one of them. Lets be honest, if you get a trialist enough games, as long as he isn’t Ali Dia, he’s bound to show up well at some club. I’m sure you can all recall someone at your club who has signed after a trial, who quickly disappeared off the club radar.

Didier Agathe though was a clear exception. He had played in France for six years but did virtually nothing. He had blistering pace though and a bit of something different, and his agent was able to identify that he might just catch someone’s eye in Scotland. What an understatement. He was brought to Raith Rovers at a time when they had many, many trialists and, I was fortunate enough to be involved at Airdrie when he made his debut.

He was outstanding. He scored a hat trick in a 4:1 win and literally tore us to shreds. He quickly settled and got a nice move to Hibs before finally making himself and his agent wealthy men with a fantastic move to Celtic.

The role of the agent in all this is simple. Get a player a club and in doing so, get the player the best deal possible. In turn, agents get a cut from the player and, these days, more often than not, from the club the player is being transferred to. A fee is agreed as his reward for making the “deal” happen, though sometimes deals will fall down due to agents demands rather than players’. This comes as a direct result of a club being happy to pay astronomical wages for someone they feel can contribute, whilst refusing to pay for someone they feel hasn’t. It’s like buying £50 worth of shopping and refusing to pay 20p for four poly bags to carry it home.

It’s also important to stress that for the majority of SPFL players and clubs (outside the top four or five) agents are becoming less and less of a necessity as a “take it or leave it” culture has developed on the back of tightening budgets. Even the least financially astute player will be able to haggle over two hats and a balloon.

The club

Whatever you do, don’t think it’s a good thing your club is awash with trialists. From my experience it usually means one of two things – you are very, very short of players OR you are struggling financially. As an example of this I can hold up Blackpool who, as recently as the summer of 2013, had FORTY TWO trialists between the start of pre-season and the beginning of the season proper . Incredibly, in those six weeks, NONE of them were signed. Such a flow of players and raft of short term solutions, loan deals etc is never good for the stability or progress of a club. The cheap option rarely works, indeed, Blackpool now languish at the bottom of The Championship, a slide that can be traced back to then.

Hearts can also be held up as an example under the ego that was Romanov. They had a huge turnover of players and loan signings as well as trialists from all manner of outposts. I know of an occasion when the dressing room was so full of people one morning before training, that one of the contracted foreign players had two pals sitting in with him who were thrown a set of training kit each and proceeded to go ahead and warm up only to be questioned and removed by the coach who, only at that point realised they had no place there.

Thankfully, for Edinburgh’s sake, Hearts have now recovered and seem to have themselves back on a solid footing.

So let me assure you, that for every successful Didier Agathe, there are far more Ali Dia’s and Isaac Mopi’s. Who’s Isaac Mopi? Well Monsieur Mopi was almost to become my Ali Dia.

Ropey Mopi

One of my responsibilities at Dundee was to sift through the weekly mountain of letters, CV’s and DVD’s of players looking for a trial. It quickly became a case of disregarding most as unheard of, or not having played at a good enough level. One or two would catch the eye and a follow up call would be made to player or agent. DVD’s were most difficult to assess as it quickly became apparent that even then, I could have trawled my Mum’s loft, cut a few Betamax tapes of my days on Sportscene and mashed up a DVD that made even ME look like Platini.

But this one stood out – Isaac Mopi. Cameroon Under 21 and two full international Caps made him a beacon among the usual waifs and strays. But something wasn’t right, there were gaps in his CV, he was currently playing in the football hotbed that was Malta and I could find no trace of him on Google among Cameroon’s squad of 40 for the African Nations Cup. The agent was called and I was assured that the gaps could be accounted for due to a long term injury and he was only in Malta to get himself fit before taking Europe by storm.

So Mopi was summoned to Dundee (at the agent’s expense as being honest we still smelt a rat) and his trial began. We quickly realised after a couple days that whilst the rat was quick enough to run up a drainpipe, having got to the end, he’d have run over the edge. Brain dead and with very little ability, it was fairly obvious why he wasn’t getting a game in Malta. We were right to have been suspicious. A bit more digging and the full story unfolded.

Cameroon has three National teams. One, an Olympic Squad, one, the National team and finally a third “development” squad of 40 players with the potential to one day reach the National team. So whilst Rigobert Song and Roger Milla were swanning it all over Europe, our Isaac had in fact played two, believe it or not, “trial” games for that development squad. And the reality was, he couldn’t get in that one either.

Maybe next time you see “A. Trialist” on a team sheet, you’ll have a better understanding of where he might have come from or how he got there, but spare a thought for the coach who’s had to spend hours trawling through DVD’s, CV’s and letters of budding Messis, the majority of whom turn out to be more Happy Shopper than Harrods. As for the agent, well, i’ll let you decide if he deserves to have his carrier bags paid for.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

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