Butch’s agent more of a hindrance than a help

2010-05-11 00:00

MAJOR problems in communication resulted in the breakdown of negotiations between Springbok flyhalf Butch James and the Sharks.

This emerged yesterday when The Witness contacted James at his home in Bath following his public criticism of the Sharks and the “scandalous” way they had handled his contract negotiations.

James said yesterday that he had been convinced that a return to Durban was on the cards, when he was informed (by his agent) that “the Sharks’ board of directors had agreed to my initial salary figures”.

“I got my hopes up. Bath Rugby Club and the members have been very good to me, but I went in front of them and told them I wanted to return to the Sharks. But it seems lies were told and the Sharks suddenly dropped their negotiations.

“This has been hugely embarrassing and I look ridiculous in front of my club and my team-mates.”

Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl vehemently denied that the board “or anyone” had agreed to James’s salary request. “Contracting Butch wasn’t even discussed at board level, never mind his salary.”

He said that James’s request for “millions of rands” in salary, a two-year contract and the demand by Bath for a transfer fee had ended attempts to contract the 32-year-old Springbok flyhalf ahead of next year’s World Cup.

“Butch wanted much, much more than any of our senior players are receiving,” said Van Zyl.

However, James said that his agent told him that his salary request was in keeping with contracts offered to the Sharks’ Springboks and to recent imports such as Frederic Michalak and Juan Hernandez.

He said that he had also agreed to take a drop in salary to help pay the transfer fee to Bath.

“I also believe that Bath were prepared to lower the transfer fee significantly when they saw how keen I was to return to the Sharks,” James said. “But they have heard nothing from the Sharks and nor have I.”

He said he would be delighted to return to the Sharks and the door would always be open.

“The Sharks have always been my team and I don’t want to play for anyone else in South Africa. But after all this, I’m staying out of any negotiations.”

Van Zyl said he was surprised by James’s negative comments.

“The discussions were ongoing and on a friendly basis. However, the financial cost of a transfer fee and a salary for a two-year contract period were not affordable.

When Butch left us in 2007 to join Bath, we did not request a transfer fee and we were hoping that this would be a reciprocal arrangement for us.

“We are sorry that the discussions were not fruitful as it would have been advantageous to have him back playing for the Sharks.”

A factor that was obviously of concern to the Sharks was the length of the proposed contract, one which would extend over 2011 and 2012 when James, who has bravely battled a series of serious knee injuries, would be 34.

A shorter contract, one running until the end of the Rugby World Cup next year, might have been a perfect compromise and beneficial to all parties.

The International Rugby Board regulations prevent unions, franchises or even coaches from dealing directly with contracted players outside their jurisdiction.

Agents, who often muddy the waters, have to be involved. If there is a lesson anywhere in this sorry saga, it is that James’s interests would have been better served if the Sharks had been able to speak to him openly and directly from the very start.

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