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Ian Humphreys explains his 'hands on' approach to agency with young Ulster stars



New path: Ian Humphreys is enjoying life as a rugby agent after retiring from game

New path: Ian Humphreys is enjoying life as a rugby agent after retiring from game

Ulster centre James Hume

Ulster centre James Hume

New path: Ian Humphreys is enjoying life as a rugby agent after retiring from game

Sports agents can sometimes be the most influential people in the game, while at the same time being the least popular.

Take, for instance, Mino Raiola, the man at the forefront of the ongoing Paul Pogba back-and-forth at Manchester United. It's no secret that agent and club do not see eye-to-eye, and this is sometimes the perception that the profession gets.

Usually, they are only heard of when negotiating new deals for their clients and then aren't seen again until the contract is up for renewal. That, however, is not how Ian Humphreys wants his players to see him as their agent.

Since retiring from the game, the 37-year-old has worked as a representative for players across Ireland, initially being employed under Ryan Constable's Esportif brand before electing to go it on his own back in 2018.

For Humphreys, he has experience of what a player goes through when his contract is up for renewal, having played for Leicester Tigers and London Irish as well as Ulster, and he believes there's more to the role than just being a negotiator.

"Every agency is different. Certain agencies are more business-like, they do the contracts, do the commercial and that's a perfectly good way of doing it. I've just gone down the route of wanting to look after fewer players but it's more hands on," explained the former fly-half.

"For example, I see my players once a month minimum, and some players want to be seen more often. Some I speak to every week, usually by text, and some I speak to nearly every day.

"When I played I was very fortunate that I had my brother as a mentor, as someone to talk to. Not all players have that. My sales pitch to players is that when things go really well, it's great, you don't need someone to chat to. But when things don't go so well, that's when I feel I add my biggest asset.

"I was dropped for the European semi-final back in 2012, I've had eight operations, I've moved three times, I've moved for money, for playing reasons. I've gone through everything, so hopefully I can give them advice.

"I'm also brutally honest with them though. If I hear or see that they're lazy or they're not working hard then I'll tell them."

His client list is small by design, but impressive. Ulster centre James Hume and Munster's Shane Daly were the first two to sign, and now the likes of wingers Robert Baloucoune and Robert Lyttle are also on his books.

Humphreys' aim has been to focus on signing up younger players who haven't yet been represented with the ambition of helping them reach their full potential.

"I don't go with a scattergun approach of let's sign every young player and hope they make it, it's trying to be selective," he added.

There are certain staples of being a sports agent that still apply to the Ballymena man. The majority of his work still centres around negotiating contracts for his players every season, like all other agents. But the key is he wants to add that personal touch that he feels other agencies may not. That means getting to know each player individually.

Through that, Humphreys feels he can provide better decisions for his clients' futures. If he knows what drives them, then he can make a better judgment on which options suit them best.

"Some players are motivated by money, some want to play for their province, some want to use rugby as a vehicle to travel the world. By getting to know them, you can give them better advice," he explained.

"Some players are willing to sit behind good players and bide their time, while others are desperate to play now so might want to move clubs. Some have ambitions to play abroad.

"The sooner you get to know a player, the sooner you know what they want, and then they trust that you're making the decision in the best interests of them and not for my benefit.

"To me, money's not the most important thing. It runs out very quickly and you've got a lot of time after you retire. Unless it's a massive amount of money, I'd always encourage them not to use that as motivation."

Particularly during the current coronavirus pandemic, that key principle of staying in touch is vital. With all of his players' futures already sorted for the upcoming season, Humphreys has found his role is just as important in making sure his players are coping.

"The biggest thing I found in retirement was going from hanging out with my team-mates every day to being with (wife) Jenny and our two kids instead. It's a big change," he admitted.

"For me, I had time to prepare for that, but for these guys, they've been locked away with no time to get ready. So it's about keeping in touch with them to make sure they're still doing alright and training's going okay.

"I also launched a Fifa tournament for the players, just to give something to distract them. It's a bit of banter and a bit of fun."

Belfast Telegraph