Need somewhere to park your helicopter? Looking to have your pet snake brought over from South America? Or perhaps you’d just like a bulb changed in the bathroom? Well, if you’re a pampered Premiership footballer all you have to do is call the club’s player liaison officer. Half-butler, half-gofer, these middlemen are increasingly being employed by clubs to take care of their multi-million pound stars’ every whim.
Football’s Mr Fixits have long been established in the Spanish and Italian leagues but English teams have only started to adopt them since the relatively recent influx of foreign players. Bryan Robson led the way at Middlesbrough eight years ago in a bid to help settle his Brazilian brigade and since then plenty more have jumped on the bandwagon. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool have one, as do Fulham, Everton and Manchester City. Last year Alex Ferguson employed a player liaison officer for the very first time while Sam Allardyce went a step further and signed two. In fact, of the established Premiership teams, only the tightwads at Tottenham and Charlton have refused to join the club.
If you can keep your stars happy, goes the theory, then they’ll be more likely to deliver on the pitch. “When a player steps on to the football pitch we’ve already looked after him medically to the highest degree and he’s had all the best coaching,” says Mark Maunders who was appointed to fulfill the role at Fulham four years ago. “What we want to make sure is that his mind is totally focused on playing football and is not cluttered with concerns about his boiler not working at home.”
Despite earning only £20-£50,000 – what most of their clients earn in a week, a player liaison officer rarely gets a moment’s peace. “Last summer I got a phone call on a Sunday afternoon,” says Maunders remembering the plight of the Cottagers former Latvian striker Andrejs Stolcers. “It was the lost property department at Victoria station saying they’ve got a guy here who’s got lost on the tube and has no idea what he’s done with his bag, passport, wallet or keys.”
Jesper Blomqvist insisted on buying his home in Liverpool without allowing his partner to see it first, Ellaby knew he was making a mistake.
Like the hours they work, the range of an officer’s responsibilities are limitless. Each day, the players’ demands can range from the mundane, such as finding them a new dentist, to the significantly more unusual. Bolton’s Matt Hockin recently found himself confronted by the problem of where Les Ferdinand could park his helicopter which he is using to commute from London. “I found a local airfield where he can land, refuel and store his helicopter during this season,” says Hockin. “Les was very happy.”
Not every player is quite so amenable as Sir Les though. Ex-bank manager Bill Ellaby, admits to having to deal with some prima donnas since being at Everton. Over the last six years, the player liaison officer known as Uncle Bill has chauffeured Alex Nyarko’s wife over from Lens, he’s had to pick up Abel Xavier’s brand new BMW from Germany and even watched a Gazza prank backfire and upset his own wife. But when Jesper Blomqvist insisted on buying his home in Liverpool without allowing his partner to see it first, Ellaby knew he was making a mistake. “Three months down the road they still hadn’t settled in,” he says. “He decided to blame everyone else for being in this house and ended up leaving the club.”
It’s not just the players the officers have to look out for though – there’s their better halves. “Some players’ wives can be very demanding,” says Manchester City’s Layachi Bouskouchi. “One became so disappointed after we looked at loads of houses, all of which she disliked, that she ended up saying “Take me to the airport, I don’t want to live in Manchester”. If a partner is not happy it’ll soon start affecting the player’s performance on the pitch. That’s why Aston Villa’s Lorna McClelland arranges regular girls nights out so she can keep an eye on the likes of Mrs Sorensen, Angel and Melberg. “The girls are great,” she insists, “absolutely nothing like those Footballers Wives on television.”
When it boils down to it, the role of player liaison officer is only as difficult as the players they have to liaise with. “Fabrice Fernandes came in one morning complaining that his head was getting wet in the night while he was sleeping,” says Mark Maunders. “I thought he must have a leak or something so I arranged to go to his flat after training and when we got into his bedroom, the window just above his pillow was wide open. I don’t even think he was taking the mick ”
Click here for more Football and Sport stories
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook