There were only two days of the 2009 January transfer window remaining when Yvan Le Mée answered his phone. At the other end of the line was a representative from Real Madrid inquiring whether it would be possible to take his client Julien Faubert on loan from West Ham for the rest of the season.
Le Mée, already a veteran of what is known in Europe as the “mercato” having started as an agent representing Arsenal’s Gaël Clichy, could scarcely believe what he was hearing. Faubert, capped once by France in 2006, was an injury-prone winger who had made only eight appearances for West Ham since joining from Bordeaux in 2007 and was not the type of player who usually attracted the attention of one of Europe’s most famous clubs.
“I called a friend in Spain,” says Le Mée, taking up the story of one of the most infamous transfers of all time. “I said: ‘Look, somebody from Real Madrid called me about Faubert. It’s so strange.’ He called the sports director to check and phoned me back. ‘Yvan, it’s true. They want to see you at 7am tomorrow at Heathrow airport.’”
Even Faubert could not believe it, having also received a call from a man claiming to represent the Spanish club while on the team bus before a match against Fulham. “I told him I had to prepare for an important game and I had no time for this shit,” he said in an interview with the Athletic in March. “I turned off my phone.”
“He thought it was a joke,” adds Le Mée, chuckling at the memory. “But the mercato can be crazy sometimes.”
The next morning they arrived at Heathrow to begin negotiations, only to be told the transfer was now in the balance. “Real Madrid wanted to sign Antonio Valencia but Wigan wanted £25m, which is like £80m in today’s market,” Le Mée says. “The second option was Faubert, the manager’s choice. Juande Ramos had been at Tottenham the year before and Julien played two fantastic games against them for West Ham. That was the reason he got this chance – sometimes miracles can happen.”
When negotiations with Wigan broke down, Faubert’s dream move was back on. “At that point I started to negotiate with West Ham,” Le Mée says. “At the time it was chief executive Scott Duxbury and sporting director Gianluca Nani who were in charge of transfers and they were very tough negotiators. They wanted a lot of money because it was Real Madrid, even if he wasn’t playing much at the time, but we managed to make the deal. For a few weeks everybody was calling me David Copperfield because they couldn’t believe it had happened.”
West Ham eventually received £1.5m for the loan as Madrid also included an option to sign Faubert on a three-year contract, although that never materialised. The Frenchman made only two appearances in Spain, making headlines for missing training after mistakenly thinking he had the day off and being accused of falling asleep on the bench against Villarreal – he later admitted closing his eyes for a split second because he was “bored”.
Faubert returned to West Ham and spent three more years there before being released. Le Mée has since represented Mario Lemina and Sofiane Boufal in their moves to Southampton, negotiated Ferland Mendy’s £43m transfer from Lyon to Real Madrid in 2019 and is working on a television series called Mercato inspired by his experiences of transfers such as Faubert’s.
With input from the former Marseille president Jean-Michel Roussier, the journalist Messaoud Benterki and Romain Alessandrini – a former teammate of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s at LA Galaxy – the fictional series focuses on the life of an agent, Vincent Berman, and his efforts to help his client, the Argentina forward Ruben Maltelli, win the Ballon d’Or by getting him a €300m move from Juventus.
“The main story is about a young agent who becomes the biggest in the world,” Le Mée says. “The idea was to mix all the operators in the market to give it authenticity. It’s not autobiographical but more or less it’s based on my life.”
Starring the Italian actor Salvatore Esposito, who played Genny in the crime series Gomorra, three series comprising 10 episodes have been written and Le Mée is negotiating with several broadcasters over the rights to begin shooting.
“Salvatore is a big football fan and I wanted someone who knows how to speak and behave like an agent. It’s a crazy adrenaline-filled industry and I want people to see what the reality is like. We are also planning to have guest stars playing themselves. For example, when the agents go to Juventus to discuss a transfer maybe the president is Andrea Agnelli or the sporting director is Fabio Paratici?
“I know a lot of people in football and hopefully it will not be difficult to convince real players, agents and sporting directors to make an appearance. Everyone wants to be in the movies after all.”