The Ultimate Guide to Selecting the Right Football/Soccer Agent for Your Child
A lot of what we have looked at in this series is the agents themselves and the industry system. However, this blog approaches agency from an alternative perspective; through the eyes of a youth player and their parent or guardian looking to sign with an agent for the first time.
The decision of signing a representation contract with an agent is a major decision for a player and the family, particularly if it is the first agent they are signing with as a youth player. Our impression is that the resources available to parents and guardians are not entirely comprehensive. Hence, the aim of this blog is to provide a complete guide to the process of researching, considering and signing with the first agent, for the player themselves and their guardian.
In the next blog, we will look into the slightly different approach to changing agents during a player’s career, if a situation arises where they wish to or are forced to leave their current agent. However, this blog specifically focuses on ensuring the reader is well-equipped to select the right agent to represent themselves or their children. For those readers who are considering a career as a football agent, this blog will also help inform you as to which areas are important to focus upon to provide players with the best possible service if you are hoping to become their first agent.
Why Have an Agent?
First and foremost, a player and their family need to assess when is the right time to have an agent. It is important to begin working with agents once there are extraneous off-field details that need to be managed and negotiated. The agent’s role is to relieve the burden of this away from the player and to help continue the player’s career progression in a calculated and directed manner. For example, if a youth player is highly-rated and already being spoken to by several top clubs, it is likely they will need an agent to ensure they obtain the best outcome from the situation. Similarly, a player that may have just been released by a top academy but is looking for opportunities elsewhere, in lower tiers or abroad, may require an agent to help them find the best option. However, some youth players who have already secured a scholarship and do not need additional assistance may not sign with an agent but may begin to build relationships with agents for the future.
A key factor in the process, as the guardian or the player, is patience. There is no general, universal rule from FIFA that governs when a player can sign with an agent. Each member association creates their own regulations. For example, in the UK a player can legally be approached by an agent with parental consent from the beginning of the calendar year in which they turn 16. However, in some football associations such as Germany and the US, these age restrictions do not apply; a player can have an agent at any age and all that is required is the parent’s signature. The common factor across any association is that the biggest mistake is to become excited by the prospect of having an agent and rushing into an unsuitable representation contract or with an agent that is not best-equipped to represent the player.
Stage 1: Making Contact
The process should begin with contact with several agents that may be interested in representing the player. In some cases, the agent may reach out to the parents of the player in order to strike up a conversation or possibly, it may be the parents who reach out to an agent that they have heard about and believe will look after their child well. Parents who may have already signed with an agent with their child will be able to recommend certain options to them. It is important to consider several options to understand how different agents and agencies work and how each one can offer a different service and benefits. Meeting with smaller and larger agencies is important too as they often have distinct advantages and disadvantages, of which some are more relevant in certain circumstances and for certain players.
At this step I think we must raise a vital point. At no stage throughout the recruitment process should money or extortionate gifts exchange parties. This is a form of ‘bribery’. Some agents may offer parents an immediate payment for their child to sign with them or some parents may even request it.
This is incredibly dangerous and must be avoided for many reasons. Firstly, if it is over a certain amount it must be declared to tax authorities as it is taxable. Furthermore, it can be dangerous for agents as well as it sets a bad precedent for future relations and the parents may move their son to another agent for more money. Remember, the aim of signing an agent is to benefit the player and not the parents or the agent and bribery undermines this. The consequence that may result are not worth the risk and “selling” the player out to an agency that pays the largest sum defeats the purpose of finding the best agent that will benefit their career the most.
Stage 2: Meetings
Over the period of time in which the player and his family finds the right agent, you may meet with a handful of agents. For a youth player it may be more of a responsibility for the parents to deal with this rather than involve the player to avoid extra hassle for them. The age of 16 is an important part of a player’s career development. They will often be set to begin the scholarship stage of youth football and officially signing with an agent immediately may not be necessary. However, some players may want to be involved as building relationships with interested parties at this age can allow a longer duration of time to best understand each offer rather than being forced into a rushed agreement immediately before the player may sign their first professional contract.
During this period, developing an understanding of the agent is vital. This can happen through in-person or digital meetings. I will explain the criteria that should be looked for in each potential interest in the next section but the fundamental aspects are that the agent can be trusted, is the kind of person the player and their guardian want to work with, and that they have a clear and focused strategy for working with the player. Additional and sufficient due diligence and informed research is the responsibility of the player and their family to obtain and assist them in making the right important decision. This supplementary research can also involve things like speaking to other parents or other players who know the agent or may even be looked after by them and hearing about the quality of services they provide. This is why reputation and dedication to each client is vital for agents.
Remember that football is just a part of what an agent can offer. The best agents will be able to show you that they can add value in other areas such as through the player’s educational pathway, by building their social media and other personal marketing or branding, support them mentally through injuries and the high pressures scholar environment and generally help them to become a well rounded and good human being.
Meetings to build relationships should continue throughout the selection process and even beyond. It is common sense that you are more likely to make the best decision on an agent if you have met them several times and have a greater understanding and insight into them as a person and as a professional. These meetings build trust and will often be a major factor in deciding upon the right agent. Once the agent is signed, I would argue that review and planning meetings should continue to ensure that targets are being met and that the agent is providing the value that they had promised.
Stage 3: Filtering and finally calls
As the process unfolds, it is likely that what may have started as a handful of agents gradually depletes to a maximum of two or three of the best options. This filtering process takes place by assessing the interested parties’ compliance with essential criteria that the player and their family are looking for. Remember this process can last any amount of time; a couple of weeks, a couple of months or a couple of years. As long as the player and the family are informed enough and have seen and understood what the agent can offer during their time in contact then the time to sign with an agent may be appropriate. Speaking with friends, family, coaches and getting the opinion of others is vital to further this.
An important point of consideration at this stage is to distinguish exactly the roles between the agent themselves and the agency they work for. For example, in some cases, bigger agencies will use their top agents in the recruitment process. It is important to establish they will be the main point of contact moving forward. Often, once the player is signed, a more junior and inexperienced agent will be the main point of contact and may not be able to fulfil the promises and level of service that the player and their family were under the impression they would receive. Remember that the bigger agencies have numerous players signed with them and there are not enough hours in the day to be able to give each player dedicated and personal care and attention. Be sure that you have established that you or your child or sibling will be signing with an agent that will be dedicated to them rather than signing with an agency where they become a ‘small fish in a big pond’ and are just another number unless they are the top players under the agency.
If it has not been the case before, the final stages of the process and the final calls should involve the player. After all, it is the player’s agent. The age of the player will affect the influence they have in the decision. If they are young it is the guidance of the parents that will take priority but as a player gets older they are likely to be more likely to know which agent is best for them. Regardless, involving them in at least the final calls will help them understand each option and the benefits and possible drawbacks of each one. The final calls should be fully informed and developed discussion which gives the player and his family the chance to ask any final questions or express any other queries before making the final decision.
Stage 4: Signing a Representation Contract
Eventually, without any sense of rush or pressure, the family and the player can decide upon the preferred option and enter into a representation agreement by signing a representation contract with the agent. However, when this stage arises, the parents or the player depending upon the age, should recruit the services of a lawyer to review and offer guidance on the representation contract. This will prevent them incidentally agreeing to disadvantageous clauses and conditions that will create difficulties in the future. Importantly, the ultimate decision lies with the player themselves who is being represented but often the family and friends or other mentors, such as coaches, will be able to help guide them and input their own advice.
I will explore representation contracts in detail in the next blog as it is important for a player and their family to have an in-depth understanding and awareness of all the dangers and issues that can arise from them as well as any benefits and opportunities that could come with it. It deserves its own blog to be able to fully explain the intricate details of such a contract.
A lot of factors that will be considered when deciding upon signing with an agent are subjective to the individual player and their family. This is understandable as the values and principles of each person differs and will likely align with the values and principles of different agents. This will also differ in terms of backgrounds of course. For example, the nationality, language, religion or other personal circumstance of the agent may be an important factor that matches them with a player and their family. There will then be additional considerations for them to meet to then reach the stage of representation.
Despite this element and extent of subjectivity, I believe there are fundamental, essential criteria that a player and their family ought to be aware of when judging prospective agents. The most important of which I have outlined below:
- Trust: An absolute imperative. A player and the family must be able to trust the agent. They must consider the integrity, motivations and intentions and ensure that they wish to represent the player in order to provide the best possible service and to be of benefit to the player’s career. Any indication that an agent is more motivated by financial gain or otherwise is likely to undermine their trustworthiness and professional integrity.
- Priorities: The generic term is an objective criterion to look for in an agent. However, this may materialise in different ways. The player and the family will assess the priorities that the agent may have in advancing the player’s career. This may include factors such as education, off-field commercial opportunities, on-pitch development, mentorship and international transfers. The player and the family will have a good idea themselves of where they want an agent to add value to their career and they can judge whether the priorities of the agent and their professional strengths are consistent with this.
- A Clear Strategy and Plan: Even at a young age, direction and guidance for a player’s career path is important. During meetings, the agent should be able to provide and outline a structured and targeted strategy for the career and can obviously identify where they will be able to enhance the player’s progress and prove their value.
- The Extent of their Involvement: Once again, the expectations of an agent’s involvement is subjective to each player but it is an essential consideration to be made. Some players would benefit most from their agent being in attendance at most of their games and having a very hands-on approach as a mentor figure for the player’s career, this is more likely with smaller agencies for example who can provide a more personal touch. For others, they want their agent to leave them to the football side and to take care of business away from the game, only involving the player once it is relevant and a necessity. The player can gauge this approach through meetings with the agent and the agency they work for.
- Professional Strengths: As mentioned in point 2, in order to fulfil the priorities which a player is looking for in an agent, the skills of the agent are important. A player needs to understand the extent of capabilities that the agent possesses. For example the player and their family may ask the following questions; Is the agent a qualified lawyer with a high-level knowledge and understanding of contracts? Do they have a financial background with a good understanding of money and handling finances? Were they previously a footballer themselves with an in-depth knowledge and insight into the game to be able to provide on-pitch advice? Has their background given them access to a vast network in football and with possible commercial endorsement opportunities? For some players, some of these things may not be important and it is up to them to decide which areas they are hoping their agent can add value in.
Agents have the potential to play a significant role in the success of a player during their career and can influence their footballing path and off-field success. Hence, the decision to sign with an agent, as this blog has demonstrated, is one of utmost importance. We have shown that many different factors are needed to be considered and identified by the player and their families when they first sign an agent. Often, if this decision can be made correctly, the same agent will stick by the player throughout their career and an incredibly productive relationship begins. However, prior to entering the first representation contract; trust, understanding and belief in the agent’s capabilities and skills must be established and the decision must not be rushed or based upon problematic aspects. Even if this is in place, the representation contract must also not be rushed; as we will explore in next week’s blog, considering every implication of what it entails and seeking legal advice is another essential part of the process to ensure the best outcome for the player when entering a professional agreement with the agent.