From Football/Soccer Club Agents to Sporting Directors: A Natural Progression of the New FIFA Agent Regulations?
The impact of the new FIFA Agent Regulations, implemented in January 2023, will be widespread across many different aspects of modern football. One shifting pattern that has begun to emerge in recent times but may be accelerated in light of the new regulations is that of the transition of typical player agents into roles at football clubs, either in executive positions such as Directors of Football, Technical Directors and Sporting Directors; or they become a club agent, providing their representation services to clubs rather than to players or multiple representation. It is expected that agents will continue to focus more on representing clubs as favourable to players. This creates two further categories of agents; ‘brokering agents’ who represent clubs, then agents who come to work within clubs as a board member. Player agents may gradually become a less popular and attractive category proposition.
In this blog, we will shed a light on this emerging trend and consider how it may continue to become a popular transition for agents moving forward. As well as the FIFA commission caps, there are other motivating factors for agents that may lead them to make such a career adaptation.
The Opportunity for Agents to Represent Clubs
This is not an entirely new concept and representing clubs has never presented more of an intriguing opportunity for agents. An increasing population of registered agents are acting on behalf of clubs in football transactions in recent times, even before the changes in the FIFA regulations. This is reinforced in FIFA’s 2022 intermediary report which showed a 22.4% increase from 2021. 7.6% of all transfers involved an intermediary acting on behalf of the buying club. This is shown in the graphic below:
Significantly, the report also goes on to say that almost 60% of high value transfers (over $5million) involved a buying club agent. Currently, the national associations that use and spend the most on club agents for the highest proportion of transfers are in England ($188.8m), Italy ($72.1m), Germany ($45.9m), Spain ($35.6m) and although the fees are not as high, a high proportion of transfers in Denmark and Austria involve an agent representing the buying club.
A similar figure was reported for agents acting on behalf of the selling club if the player is not a free agent. This is a practice that is most common in Italy, Serbia, France and Colombia. Of the transfers that involved a fee, 6.1% had an agent acting on behalf of the selling club as shown below:
It is also encouraging for agents that the level of expenditure of clubs upon agents acting on their behalf whether buying or selling is returning the the financial levels pre-COVID-19-pandemic as shown below in USD:
Being a Club Agent
A club agent will usually be an individual that has had a preexisting trusted relationship with the club which they come to represent. Agents who have this kind of relationship with a club, multiple clubs, or different members of boards of directors, will be given highly sensitive information and specific targets and tasked with finding players and options that fulfill the demands and requests of the club. They will then pursue a possible deal to bring in the kind of player that the club are looking for or to find a new club for a player that the club no longer requires or wants to profit from.
Club agents play more of a ‘broker’ role. In other words, they are given responsibility by the club to mediate and broker a deal to secure a transfer target or a successful sale of a player. Hence, this may be more difficult for agents who are in the early stages of their career. Those that are acting on behalf of clubs are more commonly experienced and established agents who have built strong relationships with clubs over a longer period of time.
Perhaps the primary motivation behind acting on behalf of a club has changed since the introduction of the new FIFA agent regulations, and particularly the hard commission caps. Agents may be financially incentivised to seek to represent the selling (releasing) club in deals as it is possible to get 10% of the transfer compensation rather than a smaller percentage (3%) of the player’s individual remuneration if they were to act on behalf of the player or the buying club. However, agents may also wish to work on behalf of the buying club as well as a player as this remains the only permitted form of multiple representation and can double the percentage of commission they are entitled to (6%).
For agents who focus solely on the club side, they are also relieved of additional responsibilities and challenges involved with representing players. They are no longer required to provide a 24/7 duty of care and attention to their clients which includes completing every day administrational tasks to satisfy the player. Instead, these agents prefer to concentrate purely on their relationships with clubs and the possibilities of deals in the future.
Becoming a Club Executive
Some agents can go one step further than simply representing a club as a client. Something that may become more commonplace is agents switching to sporting/football roles at clubs such as technical directors, sporting directors, directors of football, heads of recruitment or whichever terminology a club uses. This seems a straightforward career path once we consider the breadth of skill-set and attributes that successful agents possess.
Part of being an agent involves having an in-depth understanding of football clubs; specifically their squad and personnel structure, business model, transfer strategy, tactical approach, reputation/status, facilities, financial position and overall identity. This is the same theme of expertise that is required of someone who takes on the role as a Sporting Director of a football club.
Ultimately, Sporting Directors and similar roles within a club do a very similar role to agents in terms of identifying recruitment targets and finding ways to bring about a favourable deal. What sets it apart from agency and perhaps makes it a more attractive opportunity is that there is no cap on the money which a club executive can earn and the role often comes with lucrative bonus payments as a percentage of transfers and player wages. It is a contemporary and unrestricted method of earning money through transfers.
This side of the industry is accessible to agents who have built up connections, relationships and a level of trust with these clubs and the existing executives and staff. Although there may be difficulties that arise from conflicts of interest, as long as an agent can show they no longer have a vested interest in players or clients, it is possible to make this career change.
It presents an opportunity to agents to experience a slightly different side of the football world, through the lens of the club. Many agents may be tempted by such a role if they have the relationships in place to secure it. In the ever-changing world of football agents and the regulations governing us, perhaps this is a more secure and guaranteed pathway that can benefit agents who have already established themself in their career.
As part of the evolving industry and specifically in the agency profession, new opportunities, patterns and emerging trends are growing and becoming increasingly popular for agents to transition into slightly alternative roles. Representing a club is a unique opportunity for the agents that have good relationships with clubs that have been built up over their careers. However, some agents may also take a step away from agency and take on a new, but somewhat similar role, as an executive Sporting Director or equivalent.