Shehneela Ahmed is in demand. She is an exceptionally hard person to pin down for an interview at the best of times, but during the summer it is particularly tricky, because for the first Football Association-approved agent female Muslim agent there is business aplenty to be conducted in the off-season period. On top of that, quite incredibly, the Rochdale-born deal breaker and history maker still works as a criminal defence solicitor.
When we do eventually manage to meet, at a cafe close to Big Ben in July, Ms Ahmed, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, is the epitome of professionalism. Her hair is tied back neatly, her legs in a charcoal-coloured power suit are elegantly crossed, mirroring her wrists, and the spark that flickers in her eyes when she speaks about football hints at her serious passion for the beautiful game.
As a child she supported Manchester United – as many youngsters from Rochdale tend to, being just over a half-hour drive away from Old Trafford – and moved to the capital after graduating from Staffordshire University via Guildford, where Ms Ahmed completed her Law Society finals. When she registered as a football agent, in October 2013, it triggered ‘phenomenal’ interest from media across the globe.
She was thrust in front of the cameras by the BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera, and a clutch of other broadcasters. And after announcing that she was ‘on a mission to open up the sport to more female players and people from ethnic minorities’ she immediately became a totemic figure for both football-loving women and Asians.
A fan of Hollywood films, she fondly recalls her first experience of a transfer window, that winter almost four years ago, and labels it ‘a huge buzz; better than the Oscars’. While Ms Ahmed, who has no time to visit the cinema these days, is at pains to stress she is not at liberty to disclose the details of her clients, even off the record (which is frustrating, but again displays her proper approach to work), it is clear that she is revelling life as an agent. And, judging by the number of telephone calls she snubs during our chat, her services are well coveted.
"After announcing that she was ‘on a mission to open up the sport to more female players and people from ethnic minorities’ she immediately became a totemic figure for both football-loving women and Asians..."
The trite question is: how does she manage to thrive as a woman in a male-dominated trade? ‘I deal with criminals all day long, and the majority are male,’ Ms Ahmed starts. ‘By comparison, footballers, managers, and scouts are a doddle.
‘I have been put through my paces by some managers, who have tested my footballing knowledge. And on occasion, I’ve been given scouting tasks to watch players, and made to provide full reports. I enjoy challenges like that, as I learn more about the talents and it sharpens my focus. I have to give up my evenings and weekends to keep up to date with the football news, but it’s no sacrifice for me, because I’m learning something new every day.
‘I’ve found that in this industry it is all about who you know, and that you can’t work on your own. I am fortunate that I have the contacts, and a team at Platinum Football Agency – the company I founded in 2014 – who have helped to get me through the front doors of clubs all over the world.
‘Besides, lots of women play and follow football, so to me it made sense to apply to become a registered football-lawyer agent. Why should it just be a man’s industry?’
Ms Ahmed is definitive when it comes to describing how business should be done, in a line of work that is roundly condemned for being murky with munificent rewards. ‘Firstly, I don’t make the rules on how much an agent should be paid,’ she says, ‘but for me it is important not to be greedy. A majority of agents are only trying to make money quickly, and they fail to look out for a player’s welfare and interest. In my view, to be a successful agent you have to show you are in it for the long haul.
‘I have an advantage over many agents, though, because as a lawyer any footballer I sign will enjoy free legal services. It seems parents of young footballers – particularly Asians – have been more confident to approach me as I’m a lawyer. I don’t want to line my pockets, and my client’s interest is paramount, because I am bound by the Law Society Rules and regulations. There are loads of dodgy people in this game, but if I were to take any backhanders I would be struck off.’
Perhaps her natural maternal instincts kick in as Ms Ahmed continues: ‘It’s my job to spot talent at a very young age, and more than that I have to act as a third parent to them. These players are likely to be away from their mums and dads when they are young, so I am not only looking out for their interests on the pitch, I look out for their welfare, and their future.
"You have to have appropriate relationships with your clients; make sure they know where the line is between you and them, and that it must not be crossed..."
‘You have to have appropriate relationships with your clients; make sure they know where the line is between you and them, and that it must not be crossed. But there are two hats I have to wear: in a professional capacity I must have their best interests at heart; and also if they have personal issues I will try and help, as that third parent. Ultimately, the client depends upon your experience and judgement for their career, and that is founded upon trust, honesty, transparency, loyalty and being the third parent.’
Someone important is calling Ms Ahmed’s smartphone, and she really has to take this one, she says. But before she leaves to broker yet another deal she offers her ‘life philosophy’, and adds: ‘Have the courage to embrace things that are difficult, and to endure the pain of setbacks with dignity and determination. Never worry about what you can’t do; only worry about what you can do. Most importantly: never, ever quit.’
This article was taken from the Jan/Feb issue of Gentleman’s Journal. Subscribe below…
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