The Work of Football Agents: What We Do, The Skills Required and How it Has Changed
Last week, we explored the foundations, evolution and history of agency in football. The blog went on a journey from the first examples of football agents to the ‘superagents’ that are labelled in modern football. Whilst the terminology has remained more or less the same over this time; the roles, responsibilities, opportunities, challenges and demands that are encapsulated under the job title of ‘Football Agent’ have altered and diversified dramatically.
In this blog, I will firstly go into more detail of the disparity in the shift between traditional and original agency and the work that football agents do today. Then I will go on to breakdown and assess the broad scope and tasks that are within the remit of a modern football agent.
Then Versus Now
As I touched upon last week, the work of football agents began in contracts and transfers of players between clubs in the day and age of wage restrictions and narrow trade streams and channels. The crux of the role hasn’t changed, many football agents still engage in sourcing and negotiating suitable transfers or contract extension deals for their player clients. The major difference is that they now have an additional list of opportunities that they must consider for their client and some may even choose to work just in these other areas rather than on the contractual playing side.
The role of an agent has become holistic and all-encompassing. Whilst the fiduciary responsibility of holding a sense of duty and loyalty to their client to act in their best interests remains the absolute imperative principle of representation, this applies across an unprecedented scope of opportunities. An agent’s ability to act as a legal representative in procuring and negotiating deals and contracts remains paramount and integral to the role. However, more so for agents who manage clients that are particularly in the public eye, their job involves far more than simply negotiating a three-year extension on their employment contract or a possible transfer to a rival second-tier side on behalf of their client.
In one sentence, the modern definition of a successful agent that could thrive in the present era of football is an individual who has a diverse skill set across finances and investments, legal comprehension, contractual knowledge, commercial business, social media, branding and marketing, multi-lingual, personability and, of course, a refined and enthusiastic understanding of football.
The slight change in terminology for the ‘middlemen’ in football may go some way to showing the extent to which the job of an agent has altered. There is a debate in modern football around using the term ‘intermediary’ to describe the work of football agents. It is a new term that has been used and implemented by FIFA. The definition of intermediary is a person who “acts as a link between people in order to try and bring about an agreement”. In other words, they are a mediator. This seems to imply that agents are proactive in their role. Previously this may not have been the case as agents represented clients and negotiated contracts to transfer teams or to stay at a club as and when it was required. Nowadays, an agent must be forthcoming in going out and finding further opportunities, particularly outside of football that their client might benefit from.
The Age of Social Media and Commercialisation
Modern football has globalised and commercialised exponentially over the last couple of decades. As a result, the potential of commercial partnerships, sponsorships and endorsements that comes as part of the package of being a top level footballer in this era has integrated itself into the demands of an agent from their client. They are tasked with seeking, handling and establishing these relationships and sources of income for their client and must have a commercial business understanding of which opportunities are best suited to the ‘personal brand’ of their client.
Helping a client to develop and grow their personal brand is something that agents can and should play a big part in. A successful agent is able to relate to and understand the player that they are representing and the personality, motivations and aspirations behind them as a human individual and as a high-performing athlete and competitor. By being able to do this, the agent can skillfully mould and present the personal brand of their client in alignment with the real person rather than a false pretence. This brand is then promoted to the public in a manner that helps the client establish themselves in the mainstream of the public eye and facilitates appropriate endorsement opportunities and other revenue streams.
A branch of promoting the individuality of a client is encouraging them to utilise their position in the spotlight for the greater good. Previously, footballers were focused almost solely on the sport that they played. As times have changed in football, the influence that the players have on the public domain has increased. There is a rising number of footballers who outwardly express their passionate opinions and beliefs around political issues, religious faith or charitable initiatives. This allows the public to relate to them as ordinary humans and connect with them based upon mutual thoughts and feelings.
An agent now carries the burden or advantage (depending on perspective) of advising their clients on how best to go about expressing potentially controversial statements. The agent must offer guidance and ensure that whilst the player feels comfortable and able to use their position to try and achieve what they believe is the greater good or at least a positive change, they must also reinforce the appropriateness of delivery that prevents any threat to or detrimental impact upon the client’s career. This extends to keeping their employers, football association, sponsors and, sometimes most importantly, their fans, happy.
There have been several driving factors behind the changes seen in the positioning of players in the public sphere and consequently, the role of an agent in looking after them. The globalisation and commercialisation of football has been a gamechanger for the possibilities for a client. As the popularity, financial wealth and commercial value of the sport has grown across the world, more corporations and industry-leading businesses are willing to invest substantial sums of money into the game. This began with major sponsorship deals for shirt sponsors, stadium naming rights and television broadcasting. The scope for these sponsorships has now extended to almost every element of a football system such as trophies, training kit, boot deals, leisurewear, matchday programmes and stadium advertising and links football with clothing, airline, timekeeping and even betting and alcohol partners. These endorsement deals can target and benefit players and it is the role of a modern agent to identify which ones to engage with.
Football as a whole has become extraordinarily popular. However, the impact has filtered down onto players and their agents. The emergence of social media has been a forceful driver of this. Players themselves have become heavily commercialised and some could claim to have more power than the clubs they are a part of. Players are accessible by millions of fans all across the world through engaging with them on social media. In instances where players have more of a following than the club they are a part of, they are able to influence decisions and their commercial value to the club is exceedingly high.
This popularity can be channelled and materialised in various ways. Especially for the top players, their position facilitates a diverse range of personal branding and promotion opportunities. In my case, identifying the status that Mesut Ozil held after winning the world cup was enough to warrant a major launch of a personal trademark brand and logo in 2015. This developed into the M10 brand and opened up new and exciting avenues through things such as clothing lines and sports apparel as well as the future of NFTs which I will detail in the next edition of the blog. With Mesut, I also manufactured a boot deal agreement with Concave which takes a similar structure to Michael Jordan’s deal with Nike and Air Jordan. It was important that I had the knowledge and ability to be able to support this venture and advise and assist in a productive manner whilst also outsourcing to social media and marketing experts.
The role of the agent here is to ensure that their player is properly valued. Traditionally, the signing of a player by a buying club would be based upon their ability to perform on a football pitch. In the modern era, this is no longer the case. Players have their own commercial value that they can bring to a club which creates nuances and opportunities that an agent must understand in order to ensure a fair deal is reached. A player with a large fanbase and a global influence can attract large sponsorship deals and sources of revenue through things such as shirt sales for the buying club. A knowledge of image rights and commercial value as well as general business and financial aptitude is imperative for an agent to achieve a desirable outcome for their client in these situations.
In any single transfer deal in history, several agents may have been involved. In recent times it has become more common for buying and selling clubs to seek a more simplistic process by using the same agent in a multiple representation agreement. However, with the new regulations coming into force set to prohibit this it is likely that more than one agent will be involved in any transfer deal once more. Importantly, the new legislation prevents multiple representation in every circumstance except for acting on behalf of the player and the buying club. Any other conflict of interest will no longer be possible and will alter how agents operate within a deal.
One way that the responsibilities of agents have changed is that there is now more of a tendency for operatives to take on the role of representing the clubs involved in a deal. They have created an alternative version of the profession that can be referred to as ‘club agents’. This line of work involves the same duty of acting in the best interests of the client but in order to achieve the most desirable outcome for the buying or selling club.
Mandating has become a norm within football agency. Clubs are identifying players that they are interested in and providing mandates to agents in order for them to try and push for a deal that suits the club. This is a further reason that emphasises the importance of agents establishing networks within clubs as it gives them access and credibility in order to be well-equipped to carry out such a deal. Whilst agents that represent players are still very common, the emergence of club agents has increasingly widened the scope of demands upon the ability of football agents in the modern era. However, the underlying principles of the profession remain the same; to procure and negotiate a contract in the best interest of their clients, whether that be for a player or for a club.
Summary and the Ability to Collaborate
This blog has examined the work of a football agent in this modern era of the game. It is evident that to be a successful agent requires a diverse and comprehensive range of skills and knowledge to allow individuals to operate in football and achieve the best outcomes for their clients.
An important point to note is that whilst it is integral for agents to hold a diverse range of skills and at least a foundational understanding and comprehension of many facets that modern football players are involved with; it is important to recognise that in order to best serve their client, an agent must be prepared and willing to outsource work to experts in certain fields. It may be required, particularly for the top players, to form a suitable team around them in order to support the range of their ventures. For example, using social media companies, marketing specialists, lawyers and financial advisors can only enhance the service that the player receives from a supporting team which is constructed and managed by the agent who themselves have a brief understanding of each specialist area but will most likely only provide basic preliminary advice before bringing in experts.
Next week I will delve into how the role of an agent might continue to alter alongside the ever-evolving world of football. What do you think the next 50 years of football agency might look like?