Michael Kennedy obituary: Trusted adviser to Irish soccer internationals
Solicitor represented Roy Keane in key contract talks with Manchester United
Michael Kennedy was a trusted adviser to many Ireland internationals and, as word of negotiating skills got around dressing rooms, quite a few household names from other countries too
Born: January 9th, 1944
Died: June 20th, 2020
When a mutual acquaintance suggested to a teenage Dave O’Leary that he get Michael Kennedy to look after the conveyancing on the London townhouse he was about to buy, he could have had no idea that one of the quirkier stories in Irish football was about to be kick-started.
Over the years that followed the solicitor would become a trusted adviser to many Ireland internationals and, as word of negotiating skills got around dressing rooms, quite a few household names from other countries too.
He had a reputation for putting their interests first, for being a tough negotiator, respected by clubs and had a knack for knowing how much there was left in a potential deal
He had no interest in the limelight, however, and while his role and influence briefly became a matter of significant public interest in Ireland during 2002’s Saipan affair when he came to be seen as key figure in the effort to get Roy Keane back out to the World Cup, he generally stayed well below the radar, his ongoing involvement in his famous clients’ affairs only highlighted in the course of occasional reports on their contract negotiations or disputes.
Though born in north London, Kennedy would have qualified very comfortably to play for Ireland on the ancestry rule. Both of his parents, Michael and Ellie (Nell) came from the Dingle peninsula, him from Inch, her from Cloghane. Having left for England independently of each other, they met in London and married in June 1941 in Highgate, the leafy suburb where Michael was born 2½ years later, the second of their six children.
He went the local Catholic grammar school St Aloysius’ after which his career in the law started at Herbert Reeves & Co where he was taken on as Articled Clerk.
He subsequently studied at the College of Law, then based at Lancaster Gate, where he would meet his future wife, Penny. He qualified as a solicitor in June 1966, continued to work at what became Reeves Law, a relatively small but well regarded firm specialising in the property related end of the business, and worked his way up to senior partner.
Along the way, he met O’Leary who, having hired him to buy his first home, returned after being offered a new deal by Arsenal to ask if knew anything about footballers’ contracts. Kennedy, a keen Arsenal fan, said no but suggested that he had seen enough contracts of other types in his time that it might still be worth the player’s while to let him have a look.
At a time when many players either signed what was put in front of them or settled for doing just a little bit better, Kennedy’s involvement helped secure O’Leary a much improved offer. His team-mate, Frank Stapleton asked who had provided the advice then sought him out too and when the striker moved to Manchester United he, in turn, recommended the lawyer to England international Ray Wilkins.
He often failed to bill for his services, it is said, but when he did he billed for his time as a lawyer rather than taking a much more lucrative percentage as an agent would have done
The number of players he was involved with grew into a very long list over the years that followed. He had a reputation for putting their interests first, for being a tough negotiator, respected by clubs and, recalls O’Leary, had a knack for knowing how much there was left in a potential deal.
Niall Quinn remembers driving to Manchester with Kennedy to discuss the terms of his move from Arsenal to City in 1990 and being willing to sign there and then when the club’s opening gambit involved trebling his existing wage. His initial reaction was shock when he heard Kennedy quietly tell club officials that, “no, no, no, no, no . . . that’s not nearly enough.” It all worked out rather nicely for the Dubliner in the end, though.
On the recommendation of O’Leary again, he represented Roy Keane in the talks around the key contracts of his playing career at Manchester United and early moves into management. Keane said he would trust Kennedy “with his life”. He also famously helped to make David Connolly the best paid player in the Netherlands for a spell.
He often failed to bill for his services, it is said, but when he did he billed for his time as a lawyer rather than taking a much more lucrative percentage as an agent would have done. He did subsequently join the board of the agency Formation, in which Kevin Moran was involved, for a time.
Widely regarded as a workaholic known to be most accessible at his office in the evenings, many of those who knew him suggested the involvement with football was a hobby, something to fill in the time left over after business and family but he estimated at one point that it took up to 30 per cent of his time.
He was not as active in it in recent years but he continued to work and was at the offices of Reeves when he took ill the day before he died. He is spoken of with huge warmth by those who knew him and, in many cases, still sought his counsel.
He is survived by his wife Penny, their grown-up daughter and son Hannah and Nicholas, his grandchildren Amber, Finn and Hollie as well as his brothers, Jimmy and John (an entertainment lawyer and record company executive who was awarded an OBE for his part in organising Live Aid and related fundraising ventures) and sisters Pat and Anne. He was predeceased by his brother Maurice.