Sport - Jason Cowley spots a football dealmaker

Behind every successful footballer lies a good dealmaker

The two major football stories of the close season - the sacking of David O'Leary by Leeds United, and the destructive behaviour of Roy Keane - had something in common. I don't mean the Irishness of the two protagonists. Nor that these two hardened footballers have, in recent times, both become "writers", revealing a flair for candid self-revelation. No, what interests me is that they both share the same lawyer-adviser, an affable but little-known dealmaker called Michael Kennedy.

Kennedy is one of the most intriguing figures in modern football. He isn't an agent, in the modern sense of having a vulgar suntan and a penchant for thick cigars. He does not, I am told, thrive on his 10 per cent cut from transfer fees. Rather, he offers legal expertise and a certain sage guidance. Through his close links with Arsenal and the group of young Irish players who were associated with the club in the mid-to-late 1970s, Kennedy developed a network of contacts in the game, principally with Irish footballers such as Liam Brady and Steve Staunton. His diligence in negotiation has helped Roy Keane become one of the - if not the - highest-paid footballers in Britain, earning an estimated £4-£5m per year at Manchester United. It was Kennedy, too, who moved quickly to negotiate O'Leary's settlement when he was sacked by Leeds.

Kennedy is a season ticket-holder at Arsenal, where he mingles in the executive stand on match days with the likes of the lawyer/comedian Clive Anderson. When I last saw him, on the final day of last season, he was talking about the forthcoming Roy Keane autobiography and the progress of its ghost-writer, Eamon Dunphy.

At that time, an autobiography from Keane must have seemed like a good idea, especially as sports books, certainly since the bestselling success of memoirs from Ian Botham, Dickie Bird, Alex Ferguson and Tony Adams, were now something for which publishers scrambled to pay million-pound advances. O'Leary, too, had recently enjoyed a succes de scandale with his account of a period of great trauma at Leeds United - a book given provocative tabloid serialisation at the end of a notorious trial during which the Leeds players Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer were accused of violence and racism, following an attack on an Asian student outside a nightclub. The book was unwisely titled Leeds United on Trial. O'Leary was accused of seeking to profit from the difficulties of his own club. It has since been suggested that the book contributed to his ultimate downfall.

In his own defence, O'Leary, at the time of publication, expressed surprise at the title of his own book, suggesting that it was something the "publisher slipped in". If that isn't comic enough, Dunphy - a wilful provocateur in Ireland and the author of a fine history of the rock group U2 - has claimed that he, rather than Keane, was to blame for a passage in the autobiography suggesting that Keane's reckless tackle on Manchester City's Alf-Inge Haland was less an accident than an act of revenge. The remark resulted in Manchester City issuing legal proceedings against Keane, who also faces censure from the Football Association.

Everybody knows that footballers are driven by a huge desire for wealth - and candid autobiographies are viewed cynically as just another way to make easy money. But here, we are entering the bush of ghosts, a realm of mystification and evasion, in which spectral figures such as Dunphy emerge from the shadows to claim responsibility for words attributed to someone else. All this could have been avoided if someone had read the finished copies of the Keane and O'Leary manuscripts properly in the first place.

Next Article