The summer transfer window has passed and the usual headlines dominate the press; “Ridiculous Record Transfer Fees”, “Player Power Prevails” and of course, “Agent’s Eye-Watering Fees”. The media and in turn football’s governing bodies, have become obsessed by the role agents play in the modern transfer market.
Both FIFA and the Premier League have in recent weeks championed change and met internally with a view to “scrutinising” the apparent murky world of football agency making bold statements regarding a “lack of transparency” and agents “controlling" both clubs and players.
What FIFA fails to highlight is that the system governing agents (especially here in the UK) was pretty good until FIFA decided it was broken and made a vain attempt to fix it. This something they are now seeking to repair by proposing to re-introduce the agents’ exam amongst other things.
In turn, the Premier League, who are looking reform how agents get paid, fails to mention that agents have played a pivotal role in bringing the superstars of world football to England enhancing its brand. Yes, the clubs are paying agents more money, but this is because they and the Premier League are making more money themselves.
So, agents. From my experience the vast majority of those making a living from the game more than earn their money (whether it be paid by the player or the club). Often agents are criticized or described as greedy, and it is implied that they act to further their own interests at the expense of their clients. This happens in the industry, but no more than it happens in any other.
What the media fail to report and what the governing bodies and clubs fail to see beyond the focal point of finance, is the huge amount of time and money agents expend on their clients to ensure that their player flourishes. Often this is done when they have been failed by their club, association or union.
When a player is unveiled via quirky tweet, that is all the public sees. What isn't shown is how that player has got to that point. An agent simply does not pick up the phone and call a Chief Executive, agree a price and transfer his player as if he is some form of stock or commodity. A player is a human being (often more emotional than most!) and needs managing carefully.
Good agents regularly meet with their players, plotting each stage of their career path. Most transfers at the top level are well thought-out business transactions that have been years in the making.
Along the way it is likely that the agent has dealt with countless welfare issues and has an army of lawyers, accountants and other advisors to assist the player, ensuring that he receives the best advice. The agent manages all matters so that all the player needs to do is concentrate on what he is good at, football. The actual transfer deal itself, although the “money maker” for the agent, is probably not where most time is spent.
Lower down the pyramid the agent’s role can be a lot less lucrative and a lot less glamourous. Ask any agent how much they spend on travel and rest assured you will be astounded; or how often they have had a call at 3am on a Saturday and jumped straight into the car; or how much family time they have missed by spending their weekends and evenings at games and the rest of the time with their mobile phones stuck to the side of their head! The list is endless.
The pressure agents are subject to is disproportionate. By way of example, think of the pressure placed on an agent to secure a client a contract once he has been released. The agent knows that if he can’t find certain player a club in a short two month window, there is a possibility that both of them will be struggling to pay their mortgages come August. A scenario played out countless times each summer.
Agents’ fees, yes they can be large, but if you are operating at the pinnacle of any profession then you are going to be able to command large fees. Often agents’ fees are criticised as many view them as “money leaving the game”, from my experience this couldn't be further from the truth.
Firstly, as outlined above, agents work hard for their money. Clubs and players do not view agents as charity cases and simply gift them large sums of money for nothing. They pay for the service they use, as with any other service industry. Agents play a pivotal role in bringing the correct player to the correct club at the correct price, they make deals happen.
Secondly, many ex-players are agents who have used their unique network of contacts and experiences to enhance present players’ careers. How can giving an ex player a legitimate income be classed as “money leaving the game”?
In addition to that, I know a number of agents that invest (or more accurately donate) money into grassroots football. Many set up foundations alongside their clients and devote time and money into ensuring that they serve the community. There is also a major UK agency that for the last two seasons has set up an academy giving non-league players the exposure to earn contracts in the Football League.
When a commercial agent is instructed by a club and arranges a multi million pound sponsorship deal for that club with a Chinese betting partner, and that agent is paid a substantial commission, the media isn't clamouring around, with headlines akin to the “money leaving the game” rhetoric.
Often a club will work with an agent to ensure that the players they sign make a profit for the club. This can be through commercial revenue or by selling the player for more than he was bought.
Lets be blunt, clubs have owners and shareholders. If less was spent on agents’ fees, it is highly unlikely that money would be discounted from season tickets or replica kits!
The Premier League is without doubt the best and richest league in the world and so it is expected that its spend on agents reflects that. Could it be that the work agents do has played some part in the Premier League becoming the success it is?
There is a direct correlation between agent spend/influence and on pitch performance; Liverpool, Manchester City and Wolves can testify to that. Last year Liverpool topped the agent spend table and reached the Champions League final, Chelsea were runners up, they won the FA Cup and the sensational Manchester City spent the third highest amount.
West Brom and Stoke City were both established Premier League clubs who spent considerably less than the likes of Newcastle, Leicester, Everton, Watford and Bournemouth and ultimately paid the expensive price of relegation.
Outside the Premier League, Wolves’ relationship with Jorge Mendes raised many eyebrows, but no rules were broken and a superb promotion was achieved, I wonder what the people of the Black Country think of agents? Even lower down the pyramid in Leagues 1 and 2, the top spending clubs in each division, Blackburn and Coventry, were both promoted automatically.
From my own personal experience, I have found agents to be some of the most hard-working, respectable, intelligent, personable and talented individuals in sport and business. The criticism and hype levelled against the industry as a whole is unfair and ill-informed; yes there are those that are unscrupulous, but what business doesn't contain a few purveyors of disrepute.
So next time you criticise an agent, perhaps think twice as to why players are fiercely loyal to them, why the Premier League has become the biggest and best league in the world and why your team is (or is not) performing well.
This article is written by our associate, David Seligman. David is part of the Sports team at Brandsmiths that has advised agents and players on a host of legal issues. Please feel free to get in touched share this article!
Tel: 0161 457 1685