Taking over an English Premier League club is challenging enough. Doing so as a transfer window is opening means having to deal with agents, and new Burnley chairman Alan Pace is alarmed by what he has already encountered.
“I’ve seen some stuff already that is extremely disappointing,” Pace said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I wonder if the public really knows what some of these people are really doing. I’m sure I’ll make a lot of enemies with a lot of agents before it’s all done, but they’re not all good.”
Time is against Pace. Burnley has only until Monday night to try to strengthen the team that was bought by the ALK Capita investment group headed by the former president of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.
Discussing the financial impact of the pandemic on the transfer market, Pace said, “It’s challenging, to say the least, and beyond people not necessarily wanting to sell. There’s a lot of conversations that I don’t think are as fruitful as they could be and that’s probably because of the intermediary position.”
Not all agents are out to exploit new Premier League chairmen like Pace or impressionable young players. But it is the “bad apple” agents Pace is troubled by.
“I don’t always think that players are aware what their agents are saying or what their agents have been told,” Pace said. “It’s only been a month, but boy, there’s some interesting (stories) already.”
Pace isn’t ready to name and shame any agents yet and offer specifics, but he will be pushing for football authorities to impose tighter regulation on an industry that saw intermediaries receive 263 million pounds ($360 million) from their cut of deals last season from Premier League clubs. While Liverpool shelled out a league-high 30.3 million pounds, Burnley was bottom of the 2019-20 agent-pay rankings with fees of 3.9 million pounds.
With the capacity of Turf Moor only around 22,000 and the pandemic wiping out matchday revenue completely, Burnley isn't about to start splurging cash on new signings.
“It can’t always be, ‘Hey, what’s the next young, bright star that you can go spend 20 million on?'” Pace said. “It can’t just be how you do it because there are plenty of other clubs that can spend a lot more than we can.”
Burnley still did manage to stun Liverpool by inflicting the champion's first league loss at Anfield since 2017 last week. Coupled with a victory at Aston Villa on Wednesday, Burnley has climbed nine points clear of the relegation zone in the first month under new ownership.
“You want to get away from survival mode,” Pace said. “I’m OK if we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder that we don’t get enough respect ... but I would love for us to be always thinking not just that we’re a middle tier table team, but that we’re able to compete.”
The trophies behind Pace in the Burnley trophy cabinet are testament to that. The wealth and reach of the Premier League can be traced back to the creation of the league structure when Burnley was one of the 12 founder members in 1888. It was a time when the cotton mills of Burnley placed this Lancashire town at the heart of global textile production.
Now when the football world looks to northwest England it sees Liverpool along with Manchester neighbors United and City dominating. Although Burnley last won the English top division in 1960, the incredible Premier League title feat pulled off in 2015 provides a glimmer of hope to all outsiders.
“I’d love to pull off a Leicester and win the league, but if we don’t, that won’t be failure,” Pace said. “Success as we define it is achieving our goals of developing talent, knocking off a few giants every once in a while ... but also consistently being seen as someone that people respect for what their work ethic is, for what their culture is, and for what their ambitions are.”
Burnley is ambitious in thinking differently in player recruitment, cutting out agents by turning to artificial intelligence to help unearth talent. Burnley is tapping into the AiSCOUT tool, which ALK invested in last year.
Eleven players -- aged 14 to 23 -- have already been identified for potential academy tryouts from thousands who uploaded footage of themselves performing various drills. Technical scores were processed and the information assessed by Burnley scouts.
"If we’re actually homegrown, a larger proportion, I can’t help thinking that the youth that are coming through our academy will want to come to the academy because they know that we do emphasize homegrown," Pace said. “But, also, it just makes it that much more fiscally responsible as to what you are investing in.”
Pace declined to provide details of who has invested in the buyout but defended using a loan from MSD Capital, the investment firm formed by the Dell founder, Michael Dell.
“I fully respect how people feel about debt. I do think that there is something different in our culture where it’s OK to take a mortgage to buy your house and to do all of that, to have a credit card and where you think that (debt) is not OK on other stuff,” said Pace, a former global head of sales at Citibank. “It’s about responsible lending and responsible finance and responsible leverage. ... We think we’ve done that.”
While the 138-year-old club has fallen into foreign ownership, the team — unusually for the Premier League — is mostly filled by English players and with an Englishman — Sean Dyche — as manager.
“We’d like to be Britain’s favorite underdog,” Pace said.
There's certainty in the ALK vision, without far-fetched targets being set. Qualifying for Europe again or winning the FA Cup as it did in 1914 would be gratifying for Pace and his investors along with extending this stay in the Premier League into a sixth season and beyond.
“We’re not talking fantasy football," he said. “We want people thinking ... not only that they belong, but it would be a sad place if they weren’t here.”