Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
PA Willo Flood is now a football agent.
# No Nonsense
Meet the football agent who has a heart and doesn't care about money... but is still ruthless
Willo Flood has almost 20 players on his books since hanging up his boots and setting up his own agency, but as the Dubliner tells The42 he is not in this to make a quick buck.

THE CONVERSATION TENDS to follow the same path.

Willo Flood, now a football agent specialising in youth talent in Scotland, will carry out his background checks and, once satisfied, he will meet a player and their parents to discuss the possibility of representation.

“I’ll look for the lads who I think have a chance in terms of ability and attitude. Then I’ll ring around about them, I’ll speak to people about them. I want to know if he has the right attitude, does he have a good family background, if not then do they still have the right attitude.

“What sort of lad is he? Does he train well? Does he listen to his coaches. Does he want to get better or does he think he’s already made it and just wants money. I want lads who want to play football and want to have a career,” Flood tells The42.

And then he will sit down with them.

“I’ll tell them that their son has a great chance of having a career, that I want to help him as much as I can but there is a really long way to go before he has a career,” Flood, the former Manchester City and Celtic winger, continues.

man-city-v-arsenal PA Flood in action against Arsenal's Ashley Cole. PA

“When they go through the things every player struggles with, falling out with a manager, losing form, struggling with an injury and worrying about your place, that’s when I can help. I’ll try and explain that. I’ve been there, I’ve worn the t-shirt. I know what they will go through.”

That’s when Flood gets real about what is to come.

He won’t fill their heads with nonsense.

He won’t sell them a dream.

He won’t talk about boot deals or perks or making a quick few quid.

It’s not about reducing expectation, simply laying out in black and white exactly what will be expected, and hopefully opening their eyes so they can fulfil their potential.

“An agent isn’t going to be able to do anything for a kid, not really. I say it to them. I won’t lie to them. An agent won’t get a kid a game or make the manager pick him. All you can do as an agent is be there to support them, meet them in person and make sure they are OK. Be at the end of a phone, go to the games and help when they are struggling.

It’s about building trust and having a strong relationship. My big thing with the kids is, and I’ll tell them this straight away, is to go and play games and the money will come after that.

“That’s my motto. They don’t need money at the start. They can live on 80 or 100 quid a week because everything else is covered for them; their expenses, their digs, their food,” Flood, who broke through at City under Kevin Keegan in the early 2000s, continues.

“I will tell them to save 20 or 30 per cent of their wages, if they can. I will tell them about financial advisors and people who can look after them in that way.

“It’s so important to have those affairs in order because it is a short career, even if you have a long career it’s gone in no time. You have to make sure they are prepared, but all you can do is advise.

“What they need is a club where they can play games. I want to get them to a club where I think they have a chance and there is a pathway to play first-team games, because that’s what it’s all about.

kevin-keegan PA Kevin Keegan gave Flood his Manchester City debut. PA

“Once the kid is there you make sure there you are able to help but, at the end of the day, the kid has to put the graft in, put the hours in and I will help along the way.

“I’ve said it to them constantly. The extra hours you put in when nobody is looking and nobody knows about it, that’s what you need to do. Not going on Instagram and saying you’ve done this or that, pretending to be working, pretending to be going to the gym or doing the extra bits on the training pitch.

“You have to do the work and, at the end of it all, you should get the rewards. If you don’t, and maybe a manager doesn’t fancy you or you have an injury, at least you will know yourself that you put the work in.”

It is a refreshing attitude and the approach seems to be  paying off for the 34-year-old, who retired in 2018 and began working as an agent last year.

Flood has close to 20 clients, ranging from his former Aberdeen teammate Graeme Shinnie at Derby County, now 28 and a Scotland international, to 16-year-olds making their way in the game.

I would rather them go somewhere and be able to play games for less money then go somewhere for loads of money and not play games. Between 19-21 is so important because if you’re not playing games by then, you are struggling. It’s going to be tough.

“At end of day, you can only advise and it’s about building up a bond and relationship over whatever length of time, it’s their decision at the end of it all. They have to live and die by their decision,” Flood, who was represented by former St Patrick’s Athletic manager Eamonn Collins throughout his career, feels.

“All you want to do with young lads is keep them in the game, if you keep lads in the game they’ve got a chance of being successful. Some people are in a rush to get them to the big clubs for the quick hit but they don’t really care about the long term.”

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Flood was 15 when he left Ballyfermot in Dublin for City. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United all wanted the winger when he was a Cherry Orchard schoolboy. Wolves and Aston Villa were the others in close contention, but City swung it for him.

It was there he grew up with Glenn Whelan, Paddy McCarthy and Stephen Elliott. “Whelo is the only survivor still playing,” Flood laughs.

soccer-friendly-preston-north-end-v-manchester-city EMPICS Sport Glenn Whelan shared digs with Flood as they grew up at Manchester City. EMPICS Sport

The pair shared digs in Manchester, living across the landing from each other. They split their £20 Sky Sports bill 50-50 and Whelan was even the one who taught Flood how to shave. He ended up in Manchester with the help of his father, who was more into his fishing, than football.

“He was the negotiator at the time. He just played one club off another. The bigger clubs can offer more money but I never felt settled. City felt right and when I went to England it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t make it.

“I never had that thought process. I see a lot of people now saying boys are going to England too early and they’re not going to make it, it’s all the negative stuff. I’m thinking, ‘any chance of someone saying to a kid you’ll go there and make a career for yourself’.

I just think people are too quick to jump on the bandwagon and say he’ll be home in two or three years. I know it’s harder now and the chances are slim but you still have to give the kid confidence. It’s right to make them aware of what they’re getting into but you shouldn’t make them fear it.

“What I would say is that academy football is false. It’s teaching thing to kids that is not real. There is no pressure, there are no demands on them. A kid goes from academy football in England to the SPL or the League of Ireland and it is a reality check.

“It’s real, they need to win. It’s hard work. Some thrive on it, some don’t and it doesn’t matter what level they play at once it’s first-team football. If you do well there other clubs watch and you can move up ladder.

“It’s hard when you’ve been at the top of the ladder in an academy and have to come down, it’s not that easy to get another club

“You can have all the coaching sessions in world but nothing prepares you first team games. You can be shown on the video, shown drills, but until you play first team games, you can’t practice it. The reality of it, the pressure to perform and the demands from senior pros playing with you.”

Flood, at least, will do his best.

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