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Keith Gillespie aims to use his experience to make him a special agent

I'll help players learn from my mistakes: NI legend

By Steven Beacom

A teenage Keith Gillespie is sitting in a Sheffield hotel with Sir Alex Ferguson and Kevin Keegan for company.

Approaching midnight, the 19-year-old winger listens intently to these two footballing giants. The conversation is all about him.

It's January 1995 and Manchester United boss Ferguson is on the verge of signing Toon Army hero Andy Cole from Keegan's Newcastle in an extraordinary move. As part of the package Keegan wants precocious talent Gillespie.

It may seem unthinkable now in a world where football agents have become as important as goal nets, but an issue was in danger of blocking the then British record transfer - Gillespie didn't have anyone to represent him!

In stepped Ferguson, keen to see the Cole deal go through and determined to look after Gillespie, who he had become fond of since he arrived at Old Trafford four years before as a fresh-faced kid from Northern Ireland.

"I had no agent at the time so Sir Alex Ferguson actually looked after me," recalled Gillespie (above), now 42.

"Ahead of the meeting with Kevin, Sir Alex phoned my mum back home in Northern Ireland and asked her if he could look after me in the discussions. She trusted him and was happy enough with that and I trusted him too.

"I was on £250 per week at the time with United. Sir Alex told me that he would do all the negotiations and I was to say nothing.

"He was talking to Kevin Keegan and any time I looked up during the discussion he would glare at me as if to tell me to keep quiet. By the time the deal was agreed I was on £1200 per week and I couldn't believe it. I feel lucky that he was my first manager and in a way my first agent too. He looked after players."

Now Gillespie wants to do the same. On Wednesday he launched a new business venture - a football agency! The ex-Manchester United, Newcastle, Blackburn and Northern Ireland star will work alongside friend and Banbridge businessman Brian Adair, who played and managed in the Irish League. Their company is called OneTwo and is already building a base of talent.

Keith Gillespie, a football agent? Some may raise eyebrows. After all, he estimated in his searingly frank autobiography 'How not to be a Football Millionaire' that he lost over £7million through his gambling addiction.

But the man who won 86 caps and had a fine playing career lasting 20 years insists experiencing highs and lows in football is an advantage when helping current footballers deal with issues which exist in the modern game.

"I'm excited about this new venture. It is a big deal for Brian and myself and we want to do it right," says Gillespie.

"Brian asked me about coming on board as an agent and it appealed to me. We've built up a good friendship and trust each other and believe we can be a good team.

"I have experienced highs and lows in football and I believe it is good that I have that knowledge and those experiences so I can speak to younger players and explain to them the pitfalls of modern day football.

"I find some footballers wear blinkers and think they are in for the high life the whole time but it doesn't always work out that way. There are a lot of temptations for footballers out there and I believe going into this area of football I can make a positive difference.

"With the controversy I've had over the years my agent had to deal with getting statements out and things like that. People think it's only about moving from one club to another but there is much more involved. You hope you don't have to deal with controversy, but it can happen and given my history, there's probably no-one better to talk to!

"The fact that I have also been a footballer, who has played many years at the highest level in English football and at international level, is different to many agents out there and I want to use that experience when talking to players, managers and others involved in the game."

Gillespie, who played under Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Ruud Gullit as well as Ferguson and Keegan, has taken note of recent revelations and criticism surrounding agents fees paid by clubs, with claims that Paul Pogba's agent Mino Raiola will earn a staggering £41m from the midfielder's world record £89m move from Juventus to Manchester United.

"It is a business and ultimately when you represent a player, you have to get the best possible deal for a player and they rely on you to do that," says Gillespie.

"There is a responsibility and I'm relishing that responsibility. First and foremost I want to help players and I know Brian wants to do the same. He is a very good businessman and someone players will trust.

"I have had problems with an agent in the past and I have had good experiences so I have seen both sides of the coin and I know which one I want to be.

"Brian has got the ball rolling with players and with a business like this you start small but you want to increase the numbers and we hope and believe that with the service we will provide for players we can do that."

OneTwo will represent footballers all over the United Kingdom and beyond.

Adair, who played for Glenavon and Loughgall and managed the latter, has worked with stars ranging from Paul Gascoigne to Carl Frampton with his Experience Epic Ltd events company.

Adair says: "It is a perfect fit for both of us with his experience in top level football and my experience in business."

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