My thoughts on: Doncaster and Willie McKay
In 1998, Doncaster Rovers were relegated into the non-league pyramid after amassing just 20 points and conceding 113 goals in their 46 league matches. They returned to the football league in 2003 and celebrated this by subsequently winning the division ahead of Hull City. By August 2008 they had reached The Championship after defeating Leeds Utd 1-0 at Wembley in a play-off final and heralded Rovers’ return to a level they last reached in 1958.
This story represents so many things good about football which is becoming increasingly more difficult to find in this modern era. The test for Doncaster once reaching these giddy heights was about whether they would be able to ‘hold their own’ with clubs with considerably more resources available to them. Finishing positions of 14th and 12th are laudable, and despite being embroiled in a relegation battle last season, the fact that Doncaster Rovers held onto their Championship status whilst close rivals Sheffield Utd slipped down a division, is again a commendable fete.
However, I feel the recent decision to associate the club with football agent Willie McKay could potentially be a dangerous one and is a huge leap away from the romantic notion of small-town football club on the rise and ‘doing things the right way’ whilst many around them adopt a success at any cost strategy.
McKay has allegedly been provided with exclusive control over transfers at the Keepmoat Stadium in a unique relationship with the intention of not only attracting players otherwise perceived unobtainable, but also a means to generate much-needed income. John Ryan, the Doncaster chairman, has identified there is a need for a change of financial strategy, alluding to the fact that club directors have invested heavily in order to subsidise the club; a model he believes is no longer viable. This is a theory supported by McKay as he outlines that Doncaster “have players on £7,000 a week and a core support of 10,000 people — nobody can sustain that”. “My valuation of Donny was nothing. They have no fan base and everyone in Doncaster supports Leeds, Sheffield United or Sheffield Wednesday, who can all get 30,000 in their stadiums”.
The model that McKay and Ryan are promoting is one that sees Doncaster offer to loan players, currently out of favour at their parent club for one reason or another, for a nominal contribution to their wages, and effectively put them in the ‘shop-window’ for clubs potentially interested in buying them.
The example that McKay uses to explain this is that of the West Ham Utd full-back Herita Illunga. Doncaster Rovers are apparently paying about 7.7% of his reported £26,000 a week salary, but he is now getting games at a club which “are no threat to West Ham” which may be the catalyst to a potential transfer. The idea is, Doncaster get a player which ordinarily they wouldn’t be able to for very little outlay, West Ham Utd get a player who clearly isn’t in their future plans out playing competitive football, McKay then gets to tout the player’s wares across Europe with the aim it results in a transfer which McKay then gets his commission, Doncaster Rovers receive a fee for their role in the deal and West Ham Utd ultimately get an expensive player off their wage bill and out of their squad for a reasonable fee. That’s my interpretation of it anyway. It sounds complicated and almost quite sensible, although I can’t help but feel a little uneasy with it all.
Currently, as well as Illunga, Pascal Chimbonda has found his way to South Yorkshire and today El-Hadji Diouf has been confirmed as signing a three-month contract, but other players have been linked as part of this innovative model including former Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra and Chris Kirkland has already had a very brief spell before an inevitable injury resulted in him returning to Wigan Athletic.
My concerns with this model is that it almost seems as if they are willing to prostitute the football club for the benefit of a few quid and ensuring otherwise surplus players obtain the opportunity to capture another (cue the cynic in me…) lucrative contract elsewhere. The very thought of my club openly inviting players to join for a short spell with the aim of finalising a deal at another club galls me and, in my opinion, represents the heart being ripped out of the club.
What also concerns me is Willie McKay’s history. He has twice been named and cleared in association with football corruption as well as being accused amongst supporters for openly unsettling his own clients with the intention of sealing either more lucrative contracts or a transfer elsewhere to the point where a Facebook page and a petition were both put together voicing disapproval of his antics.
Most recently, McKay has been attributed to the transfer of Joey Barton from Newcastle Utd to Queens Park Rangers and has allegedly received £2.5million for his involvement. This he has denied and he claims he has received, in accordance to FIFA and FA regulations, less than 10% of the total value of the deal. The long and the short of it is that there just seems to be a lot of shadiness around McKay and how he goes about his business; the same I’m sure could be said with regards to a number of football agents. What I think speaks volumes is that Sean O’Driscoll who recently left his management post at Doncaster refused to work with him.
Whether this model proves to be a long-term strategy or successful, for sure, I think Doncaster Rovers may now begin to be viewed differently by opposition supporters.