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Questions Abound About Whitecaps’ Relationship to Super Agent After Lenarduzzi Radio Appearance.

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Who is David Baldwin and how much influence does he really have over the Whitecaps’ transfer policy? It’s difficult to say but there are a number of interesting connections.

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MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at San Jose Earthquakes Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

During Bob Lenarduzzi’s August 21st appearance on Sekeres and Price he was frequently asked about the relationship between the Vancouver Whitecaps and player agent David Baldwin. Lenarduzzi did not shy away from the relationship, citing Whitecaps captain Kendall Waston as an example of the positive effect of the partnership. But at about the 32 minute mark of the third hour of the show, Matt Sekeres enquired if, due to the sheer volume of Bladwin’s clients on the team, Carl Robinson ever felt pressure to play Baldwin’s clients ahead of academy players. Lenarduzzi admitted the team needed to do a better job of integrating youngsters but did not offer a denial that there is pressure on Robinson to play Baldwin’s clients. This sparked a fresh wave of interest in the relationship between Baldwin and the club. Baldwin was made aware that this article was being written and was given the opportunity to comment on it but ultimately elected not to. Thus our only real option is to examine what evidence is publicly available. It should be said that, as it stands, there is not sufficient public evidence to declare a nepotistic relationship between Carl Robinson, David Baldwin, and Baldwin’s clients, but there are some interesting connections about which questions must be asked. The other aspect of this connection is whether or not the relationship has been beneficial to the Whitecaps.

A word on BASE, Avid, and David Baldwin

I have seen on Twitter that there is a great deal of confusion about how all of these various pieces fit together. Before we begin let’s clarify who all of these groups are and how they relate to one another. BASE soccer agency is, as its name suggests, a soccer agency based in London that employs a number of agents who represent players like Manchester City’s Kyle Walker, Tottenham Hotspur’s Danny Rose, and Burnley’s Chris Wood. Until June 5th of this year David Baldwin was one of the agents working for BASE. Carl Robinson’s brother, Lee Robinson, is also a BASE employee. In June of this year David Baldwin broke away and started his own company: Avid Sports and Entertainment. He brought with him his marquee client, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, as well as Whitecaps players Kendall Waston and Nicolas Mezquida. He also represents Bobby Hanton, who is Chris Hemsworth’s stunt double in the Marvel films, which presumably is the ‘entertainment’ part of Avid Sports and Entertainment. Now that’s been cleared up let us proceed.

Who Is Linked to Baldwin?

Establishing who exactly Baldwin’s clients are and to what extent he has business dealings with Whitecaps players is difficult. The only players it can be confirmed he directly represents are Kendall Waston and Nicolas Mezquida. But as we can see by this post on Avid’s Instagram Baldwin sometimes has dealings with players he does not directly represent. Former writer for The Province Mike Martignago (who Baldwin has labeled “a spreader of falsehoods” on Twitter) has alleged that the connections run much deeper than just two players. As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to say what degree of influence Baldwin has, but a cursory analysis of Avid’s social media activity makes it look extraordinarily unlikely that the only links between Baldwin and the Whitecaps are Mezquida and Waston. Here is a list of present and former Whitecaps players and staff who Avid and Baldwin seem to have a particular interest in.

Carl Robinson:

Baldwin was Carl Robinson’s agent during his playing days and helped broker his transfer to Toronto F.C. in 2007. The two are also clearly close personal friends. Baldwin’s personal Instagram contains the now infamous picture of Carl Robinson in a Brazilian Starbucks with a coffee cup that says “fool” on it. There is also a picture of Baldwin’s son posing with Robinson and the Voyageurs Cup in the Whitecaps dressing room after their 2015 win.

Nicolas Mezquida:

Known client of Baldwin. Followed him from BASE to Avid. Mezquida was also Carl Robinson’s first permanent signing as manager of the Whitecaps. Mezquida has 16 goals and 6 assists in 119 appearances for the Whitecaps (about 0.2 G+A/90).

Kendall Waston:

Known client of Baldwin. If every player on the list were as good as him there would probably be a lot less need for this article.

Paul Ritchie:

Martin Rennie’s former assistant was also represented by Baldwin during his playing days.

David Ousted:

A former Base client. In February of 2017 BASE was clearly quite high on Ousted as they were showing him around their London offices and gleefully tweeting out his highlights. However on September 30th 2017 Ousted signed with Onfield Management and was dropped as first choice keeper the next day. The rest of the season, including the playoffs, the only game Ousted played was when Stefan Marinovic was on international duty. Now it is important to note that these two events are not necessarily connected. Ousted had conceded three goals in the proceeding game and generally not played up to the standards he’d set in 2015, but it seems odd that a team would drop their long-time first choice keeper ahead of a playoff run for someone who was much less proven. Marinovic also made an error during the end stretch of the 2017 season but was not dropped for it.

Ousted was starting regularly before changing agencies. Signed for Onfield Management on September 30th and was dropped on October 1st against Sporting Kansas City.

Kenny Miller:

Miller was the first of Baldwin’s clients to sign with the Whitecaps in 2012. At the time Baldwin gave an interview to the Globe and Mail about MLS and the opportunities therein. According to Zach Meisenheimer from AFTN, this is around the time that Greg Anderson hired Baldwin to assist the club with player recruitment; a hire which the Whitecaps have apparently endeavoured to keep out of the public eye in order to avoid the perception that they are an agency run club. With this being the case it shows that Baldwin’s influence, however deep it may run, is not necessarily linked to Carl Robinson and it may remain even if Carl Robinson is fired.

Aly Ghazal:

Ghazal was signed while Baldwin was still an employee at BASE. It seems Ghazal has not followed Baldwin to Avid.

Bernie Ibini:

Baldwin does not represent Ibini, but did help broker his move out of Vancouver.

Efrain Juarez:

Juarez has been one of the most bitterly disappointing signings of the 2018 season. He is the teams 4th highest earner but, one or two good games aside, has been one of the worst performers. According to Transfermarkt Juarez is represented by Mexican agency Promanage. The Avid twitter account has liked tweets pointing this fact out. However they tweet at and about Juarez quite a lot for an agency that doesn’t have some kind of business relationship with him.

The official Avid Twitter account likes a tweet which asks if Juarez is represented by Promanage. They frequently like tweets about their clients and have even shown up on Eighty Six Forever’s tweets liking replies that defend Carl Robinson
Avid retweets Juarez’s apology for his red card against the Portland Timbers. An odd thing for an agency to be interested in if they have nothing to do with the player.
The Avid Twitter account congratulates Juarez and his wife on the birth of their child. Perhaps they’re just really good friends?

Avid follows Juarez on Instagram. They sure like him for some reason.

There’s more but for the sake of brevity I’ve limited it to these examples.

Alphonso Davies:

Avid and Baldwin clearly have a great deal of interest in Vancouver’s starlet. Based on their social media activity they seem to have played a role in his transfer to Bayern Munich. Davies is one of several players who Baldwin seems to have brokered an outgoing transfer for.

Jordon Mutch:

Baldwin congratulated Mutch on his move to the Whitecaps on his personal Instagram.

Jordan Smith

Smith is widely considered one of the worst Whitecaps signings of the MLS era. It was an especially odd signing as Smith was first brought in on loan with the option to buy. He wasn’t very good while on loan but mystifyingly the Whitecaps made the deal permanent. Smith was given the opportunity to win the first choice right back spot and had a shocking season as the Whitecaps failed to make the playoffs, in large part due to the decay of a previously stingy defence. The exact nature of their relationship is unclear but Baldwin seemed to have some interest in Smith.

As with Ousted, we must be clear in saying that Baldwin joking around with Smith on Instagram and Smith having his deal made permanent are not necessarily linked. Nevertheless it is a connection about which questions should be asked.

Robert Earnshaw:

Earnshaw is a long time Baldwin client. He is currently the assistant manager at Fresno F.C., the Vancouver Whitecaps’ USL affiliate.

Anthony Blondell:

Blondell was signed after the Whitecaps uncharacteristically paid a seven figure transfer fee. Like Juarez he has been bitterly dissapointing with only one goal and three assists in nineteen appearances for the Whitecaps. Avid has liked tweets by Anthony Blondell and Baldwin follows him (as well as Juarez) on his personal Instagram account.

Cristian Techera:

Techera’s move to Vancouver was orchestrated by BASE soccer. It’s not clear if it was Baldwin specifically that did the deal but considering it was done at the same time as his client Nicolas Mezquida was given an extension it would be quite surprising if it wasn’t.

Diego Rodriguez:

Again it is not totally clear that it was Baldwin specifically who helped move Rodriguez but BASE did orchestrate his move away from the Whitecaps. If it was indeed Baldwin then this, in conjunction with Ibini’s deal to move to the UAE, would establish a pattern of Baldwin help to move out underperforming players.

Christian Bolaños:

Another player who had his move orchestrated nebulously by BASE.

David Templeton:

Templeton is represented by Avid and was on trial with the Whitecaps ahead of the 2017 season. Templeton didn’t sign a contract, and was never expected to, but the trial did help him stay fit and secure a transfer to Hamilton Academical.

Base has also liked tweets about Felipe, Stefan Marinovic, Kei Kamara, Myer Bevan, Yordy Reyna, Marcel de Jong, Brek Shea and Erik Hurtado. It is however not clear if there is a relationship between Avid and these players or if these tweets were simply liked due to these player’s association with the Whitecaps.

Conclusions:

Conflict of interest?

These links are interesting but they don’t prove a nepotistic relationship. There are some players like Juarez and Smith who seemed to be given a surprisingly long leash for what were, by any reasonable standard, very poor performances. However, despite talking a lot about development, the Whitecaps have almost always preferred veterans to youngsters. This isn’t necessarily because Baldwin is commanding it be so, it may just be that this is the way the coaching staff thinks. There is also some weirdness with the David Ousted situation; but, while it’s certainly enough to raise an eyebrow, there is a plausible innocent explanation. It should further be noted that interactions on social media don’t necessarily prove a business relationship. It’s possible Baldwin just likes to keep an eye on the team his friend manages and is happy for their successes. He doesn’t interact with any other team’s players in this way, or even follow any teams other than Whitecaps (including those that his clients play for), but I suppose it is technically a possible explanation.

Is the relationship beneficial to the team?

A lot of the players listed above could charitably be described as disappointing. There have been some successes for sure but it’s not exactly a greatest hits list. But if we follow occam’s razor it seems most likely that Carl Robinson just leans heavily on the advice of an old friend. The Whitecaps are about as old boys club as it gets. The team president is a former player, his brother also has a front office role on the strength of four years as a professional footballer and a communications degree from BCIT, and the agent they brought in to help them with player recruitment was a friend of their head coach and had also represented the two assistants during their playing days. This is not an organization that thinks outside of the box and their transfer strategy is a reflection of that. This is not to say that working your connections to find players is a bad thing. Indeed one of the major selling points of rumoured Robinson successor Marc Dos Santos is his connections in Portugal and Brazil. It’s also not like every single one of these players has been a disaster either. Waston, Bolaños, Miller, and I’d argue Ghazal, have all been pretty good signings But for every good signing there’s a Smith, a Juarez, or a Blondell. There’s also a huge glut of players who aren’t bad per se, but you can’t help but think that surely there was someone better available out there. Mutch and Mezquida particularly stand out in this category. These signings strike me as the result of dipping too often into a player pool which is just too small. If the Whitecaps expanded their horizons a bit then perhaps these types of signings would be avoided more often.

This article does not prove favouritism for Baldwin’s clients in player acquisition or deployment, nor does it attempt to. It simply points out some interesting connections, the optics of which are not great for the Whitecaps. It is my hope that this article will spark more conversation about the Whitecaps’ transfer policy and who really makes the decisions. If people talk about these links and ask questions then hopefully the spreaders of falsehoods will be separated from the purveyors of truth, whichever individuals those respective groups may be composed of.