All Shapes and Sizes: The Structure of Football & Soccer Agencies Around the World
According to leading football platform Transfermarkt, there are around 15,000 agents operating globally and almost 7,000 established agencies. The clientele of these agencies varies greatly based upon nationalities, value, standard and leagues. Some agencies boast extensive lists of players whilst others adopt a different approach and have a smaller, more selective portfolio.
There are advantages and disadvantages for agencies approaching the industry in their own way. This blog will look into specific examples of agencies around the world that operate differently. I will begin by assessing the world’s biggest and most well-known global agencies before looking at the more exclusive and niche agencies that keep their market narrow, specialising in specific areas of football. Finally, I will look at the agents who have paved their way using their own name, unattached to an agency brand and the unique elements of this approach, including that of family members and friends.
The aim of this blog is to give you as the reader an insight into the particulars and intricacies of football agents and agencies. The table below outlines some of the agencies that will be referred to throughout this blog and their particular clients:
|Europe and USA
|Mesut Özil, Kieran Gibbs, Kerem Aktürkoğlu, Eren Elmali, Amadou Dante
|Gestifute (Jorge Mendes)
|Cristiano Ronaldo, Ederson, Bernardo Silva, Rúben Dias, Darwin Núñez, Diogo Jota, Fabinho
|ICM Stellar Football Ltd (Jonathan Barnett)
|Jack Grealish, Kalvin Phillips, Eduardo Camavinga, Ibrahim Konate, Ben Chilwell, Yéremy Pino
|Heung-min Son, Richarlison, James Maddison, Raphael Varane, Trevoh Chalobah, Kyle Walker
|Aymeric Laporte, Harvey Barnes, Federico Valverde, Curtis Jones, Nathan Ake, John Stones, Alex Morgan
|Rafaela Pimenta (Formerly Mino Raiola’s clients)
|Erling Haaland, Matthijs de Ligt, Marco Verratti, Gianluigi Donarumma, Paul Pogba, Donyell Malen
|Elite Project Group
|Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, Roméo Lavia
|Federico Chiesa, Leroy Sané, Kalidou Koulibaly
|Roberto Firmino, Joelinton, Marcel Sabitzer, Lucas Nmecha
|Kai Havertz, Sadio Mane, Serge Gnabry, Marc-André ter Stegen
|Unique Sports Group
|Reece James, Dayot Upamecano, Anthony Gordon, Marc Guehi, Tyrick Mitchell
|Robert Lewandowski, Christopher Nkunku, Yannick Carrasco, Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg, Aleksandar Mitrovic
|Sports Entertainment Group
|Cody Gakpo, Viktor, Tsygankov, Marten de Roon, Kasper Dolberg
|Roberto Martinez, Tajon Buchanan, Gianluca Busio
|HCM Sports Management
|Frenkie de Jong, Denis Zakaria, Donny van de Beek, Ramy Bensebaini
|Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson, Jarrod Bowen
|Carlos Soler, Pervis Estupiñán, Jhon Córdoba, Marc Roc
|Patrik Schick, Tomas Soucek, Adam Hlozec
|Manuel Lanzini, Sebastián Driussi
|Alexis Sanchez, Eric Pulgar, Marcelino Núñez, Sebastián Vegas
|Ruslan Malinovskyi, Vitaliy Mykolenko, Mikola Matvienko
|Baptiste Santamaria, Niels Nkounkou
The Big Players
There are some global giants that exist within the world of agency. These companies will have players in leagues in all corners of the footballing world. Consequently, they will employ a considerably-sized range of staff and personnel. These agencies may employ their own scouts, lawyers, tax advisers, marketing specialists and consultants as well as many agents that work in certain jurisdictions and additional employees that help with social media, legal matters and other areas of the profession.
An extensive client base means an equally large number of sources of income. The companies that operate at this level are able to generate enormous revenue from their clients and have become powerful entities in the world of football and of sport in general. For example, ICM Stellar have established themselves as the most valuable agency in the world over the last few years. They have almost 800 players in their books that accumulate a market value of almost £1.5billion. They have also negotiated comfortably over €1billion worth of contracts including Jack Grealish’s £100million British-record transfer from Aston Villa to Manchester City.
Their main competitors operating at this level are the likes of CAA Base (formerly Base Soccer before merging with the Creative Artists Agency), Jorge Mendes’ Gestifute, Unique Sports Group, Wasserman and some individuals that I will discuss further later.
CAA Base have over 500 players with an average individual market value of over €1million per player and has several major clients such as Heung-min Son, Richarlison, James Maddison, Raphael Varane, Trevoh Chalobah and Kyle Walker. Base Soccer was a UK based agency which entered into a merger with the Creative Artists Agency. If you are interested further in this, you may be interested in reading our previous blog entitled “Uniting Forces, Power and Income: Why Do Football Agencies Merge?” which explains this merger in more detail. Similarly in Europe, the likes of Lian Sports, ROOF, and Rogon have developed a similar reputation and dominance across the continent and will pick up players which are not signed by the biggest players in the game.
Whilst Base Soccer began as solely a football agency, its merger with CAA reflected a growing trend in the industry. Football is the most popular sport globally and commercially and financially sits at an extraordinarily high level. Multisport agencies and even agencies in other industries such as music and entertainment are venturing into football to further broaden their power within the industry. Often these are US-based agencies who look at the ever-increasing potential of ‘soccer’ and have the facilities and financial capabilities to try out this new arm of business as a lucrative source of income.
Whilst CAA made a significant expansion decision in merging with an already established football agency, they are not alone in doing so. Large agencies such as Wasserman, whose $1billion+ clientele list includes top-level athletes in Baseball, Basketball, Golf and American Football as well as Olympians and Musicians such as Drake. Wasserman merged with SFX soccer agency as part of their bid to begin in football and took on clients such as Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher. Since their foray into football grew, they have looked after clients such as Aymeric Laporte, Harvey Barnes, Federico Valverde and US female star, Alex Morgan.
Another US-based global giant, Octagon, are in the process of establishing themselves in soccer. Currently their biggest clients include Tajon Buchanan, Gianluca Busio and Roberto Martinez but they may just be the beginning. Similarly to CAA and to Wasserman, Octagon employ hundreds of staff and have divisions that specialise in sports from ice hockey to tennis and boast major clients such as Basketball superstar Steph Curry. Football is their next project and their soccer division is likely to grow substantially.
A summary of the top 10 most valuable football agencies is screenshotted in the graphic below from Transfermarkt:
The advantages of being a global and giant agency are plentiful. As I mentioned, there are multiple sources of income to capitalise upon. This is coupled with a vast network and countless contacts in global sport, allowing these agencies to take on new possibilities and challenges and experience further growth in power, reward and dominance. Their global presence makes them the most reputable and well-respected names around and it can be seen as a privilege for players to be approached by them regarding representation. However, as we will go on to explore in the following sections, this does not mean there isn’t space for boutique agencies and even individuals to make major inroads into the industry.
I speak from personal experience when detailing the benefits and challenges of being a part of an agency that operates in an entirely different nature to the global giants mentioned in the previous sections. My agency, Family & Football has always had a relatively narrow clientbase. Although our client base spans across Europe between countries such as Turkey, the UK, Germany and Austria, we are limited in number in both players and in agents. Despite this, we have managed to grow into a well-respected agency which prides itself in its broad network and ethical values and principles.
We are not the only ones who have spotted the potential of this structure. Many companies across football operate on this kind of level with a particular clientele that is limited in number and may be represented by just a handful of agents. The advantage of this is that the agencies are able to find their niche in the market. They conduct their business in a certain manner and in a specific area of the industry that allows them to thrive regardless of their size. Below I have provided a short list and brief summary of some examples of these kinds of agencies. Note that this is far from exhaustive and simply aims to depict the kind of company I have described in this section, there are countless agencies that fit the characteristics I mentioned:
- Leaderbrock: A Spanish specialist. They have a particular stronghold in La Liga and in top Spanish football talent. They prioritise ensuring they are able to successfully represent players in this market and to understand its intricate nuances and opportunities. Leaderbrock represents clients such as Pedri and Ferran Torres on the back of the reputation they have built in their unique speciality.
- GR Sports: Dominant force in Italy. Once again, whilst perhaps not a globally recognised name, GR sports look after over 50 players in the Italian leagues as well as Italian national team players. Their clients include Sandro Tonali and Gianluca Mancini and they are involved in numerous deals within their territory.
- ND Sports Management: French-African Players. As you may have realised in the previous two examples, these medium-sized companies find a particular area of the industry to specialise in. They capitalise on their own expertise and network in order to best serve a very particular clientele demographic. The previous two examples focused on a national jurisdiction. ND Sports Management, however, look after clients of a certain race. Their major client is Arsenal’s William Saliba who reflects the rest of their clientbase in his mixed-race ethnicity. All of their clients are French citizens with African backgrounds and the agency has successfully built themselves up as the go-to agent for such players.
- Haspel Sportconsulting (Ingo Haspel): Individual expertise. Haspel represents a notable collection of German players, best known for looking after André Schürrle. We will look at individuals more closely in the next section but he is a great example of targeting a specific niche market to grow business as an agent.
It is also a significant factor to mention that the size of these agencies does not necessarily restrict the magnitude of transfers, deals or contracts they may be involved in. Although an all-encompassing network and limitless access may not be readily available to them, they will often still be able to find a way to engage with the desired party. Often, agencies of this size will utilise the network they do already have to collaborate with others and manufacture and complete the desired deal.
Some of the best known individuals in football agency have built their reputations and achieved their success because of the exact nature of their business; conducted as an individual. Names such as the late Mino Raiola and Pini Zahavi, known by some as the ‘Godfather of Agency’ may be the first that spring to mind. Both of these agents have built their empires as individuals and have represented the cream of the crop.
Raiola’s clients included Erling Haaland, Matthijs de Ligt, Marco Verratti, Gianluigi Donarumma and Paul Pogba. He was involved with major international transfers and deals throughout his career and was a globally-respected agent. He was never a part of a major agency but built himself a close team with an extensive network that enabled them to experience success across the footballing world. His clients are now represented by Rafaela Pimenta who had been a longstanding part of Raiola’s team.
Zahavi is also a solo operator that has always had a clientbase limited in numbers but exclusively represents a select and exclusive calibre of player. His current clients include Robert Lewandowski, Christopher Nkunku, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Aleksander Mitrovic. Zahavi and Raiola are rare examples of special characters that are able to conduct the business and services of an agent as well as personally develop a worldwide network to best serve their clients.
Another example of an agent who began alone is Jorge Mendes, the agent of Cristiano Ronaldo. Although he now has his own company, Gestifute, he is a noteworthy example in this section. Of course, he was in the fortunate position of starting out by representing a future Ballon d’Or winner, but he has utilised and developed his position to maximise his success in the industry. Rather than purely leaning on CR7’s success, Mendes has found his own niche just like some of the companies mentioned in the previous section. He is another example which shows how an individual who experiences such success can also create a company to aid their further growth in the industry. Below is a list of some further notable examples of solo agents who have established themselves across different football markets:
- Ingo Haspel has successfully implemented a similar operation in Germany as mentioned before.
- Pascal Pavel dominates the Czech Republic market with 60 top players from the region.
- Hernan Berman has over 40 Argentinian players.
- Fernando Felicevich in the Chilean market.
Lone-operating agents may also be the family or friends of players. For them, there is less of a need to be a part of a company. They will often just represent their relatives. However, they will likely have to collaborate with other agents who can give them access to a wider network and opportunities. In some cases, as with Mendes and Cristiano, the agent may use this as a platform to continue and to develop in football agency. For example, the brothers of Danny Welbeck have taken on additional clients as well as their brother and have set up their own company. Others have done the same including the brother of Sergio Ramos or the father of Lionel Messi; the father of Neymar is also his agent and it is becoming a more common pattern in modern football. The family agents often work with other agents with wider networks to manufacture and complete major deals.
This blog has hopefully given you an insight into the variety of structures, systems and approaches of agencies and agents in the world of football. From world-dominating multi-sport agencies to individuals who build themselves up alone, there are many ways of achieving success in the industry. The integral part of the success of these agencies is their commitment to building a network and the principles they conduct themselves by.