The Essential Work of a Modern Football/Soccer Agent
In previous blogs within these series we have discussed the nature of the football agency profession as one that is ever-evolving along with the modernisation of the game of football. The roles and responsibilities of an agent are very different to what it was when the very first agents existed. It is fascinating to consider the different extensive skill-sets and traits that an agent must possess to succeed in the modern football world. In this blog we will do exactly that, outlining what we perceive to be the most important attributes for an agent to succeed in the current business and sporting landscape of the beautiful game.
The ability to network well is an integral facet of being a football agent that has withstood the test of time. Ever since the profession began, the role of the agent is to connect their client with attractive opportunities. This means that talking to others in the industry, building relationships with them and finding opportunities through them has always been a demand of an agent.
For an agent to be good at networking they need to be personable individuals who know where and how to connect with people that can be helpful in finding the right move or opportunity for their clients. Establishing a relationship is difficult but the hardest part of networking for the modern agent to master is maintaining and utilising these relationships to improve the services they are able to provide to their clients. This is something that an agent can develop over time and with experience and those that are best at networking will stand themselves in good stead to be a successful agent.
Whilst the concept of networking has remained an unmoved necessity for football agents, the actual art of networking and the techniques employed by the agents has evolved with the times. For example, in the early days of the agency profession, landline phone calls and faxes would have been the most digital method of connecting and communicating with people from afar. The majority of networking was done in person and in face-to-face meetings. In many ways this was easier for agents to present themselves in person and develop a rapport with others.
In the modern football landscape, this is dramatically different. The majority of agents will first connect with other coaches, club directors, owners, scouts and other agents digitally, on platforms such as LinkedIn and football forums. Phone calls and Zoom meetings are commonplace in all professions in the modern technological era and this is also the case for football agents. It provides a more convenient and efficient way of contacting others anywhere in the world and expanding your network. However, it is well-known that judging characters and building a strong and sustainable relationship online is more difficult and challenging than an in-person friendship and professional working relationship.
If you are interested in the skills of how to network and different techniques you can use, we would recommend reading chapter 6 of How to Become a Football Agent: 3rd Edition.
The art of negotiation is widely documented and extensively researched for all walks of life. It is said that in any of our day-to-day activities we will negotiate in some form or another; either with ourselves or others; consciously or subconsciously.
For agents, negotiation lies at the heart of what we do; finding the best opportunities for clients and ensuring they receive the best possible deal for taking the opportunity. Agents must go into any meeting in the knowledge of the true value of their client and will deploy their negotiation skills to produce the most favourable outcome. To put it simply, the better an agent is at negotiating, the better the service they can provide to their clients.
There are a variety of books, resources and other materials available worldwide which go into extreme depth on the art of negotiation. It can involve different approaches, methods and techniques depending on the circumstances of the situation and with whom one is negotiating. In chapter 17 of How to Become a Football Agent: 3rd Edition, we aimed to analyse the key points of how to negotiate as a football agent and the skills that are applicable and most successful specifically in the football context.
A summary of our 7 key negotiation points in football which an agent needs to know and implement as part of their essential toolkit is as follows:
- Behave professionally at all times: To be successful in the long-term as an agent you cannot let the intensity and conflict of one difficult negotiation force you into portraying a bad reflection of yourself and your character. This could make future deals and negotiations more difficult. Always remain patient, be polite and well-mannered, conduct yourself appropriately, listen to the opposing party and demonstrate you understand their perspective, do not make unfair demands and overall, give a good account of yourself.
- The BATNA concept: Always have a ‘Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement’. In other words, as the agent you should always prepare other options or a ‘plan B’ for your client. Having alternative possibilities for your client has several benefits for your negotiation position such as leveraging your ability to negotiate more favourable terms.
- Getting to “YES”: The four basic principles of the ‘Harvard Concept’ of getting to yes are:
- Separate the person, the feeling and the problem.
- Don’t become narrowly focused upon the position of the other side that they speak about externally.
- Behave cooperatively.
- Establish mutually accepted standards for evaluating possible solutions.
- Prepare: If an agent’s preparatory work is sound and sufficient, it is likely that you will be in a far better position to effectively negotiate, especially if you reinforce your negotiation with numbers, statistics and relevant data.
- The importance of time limits: Deploying time limits can be very useful for your position in a negotiation. Although this can be an advantage, a disadvantage and a risk. Part of negotiating for agents is to find a way of respectfully and appropriately ‘playing with time’ to receive other offers or enhanced offers.
- Setting an anchor: If an agent and their client are clear on their own position they can be stated from the outset to create an anchor. This can increase the efficiency of a football contract negotiation.
- Appropriate timing: Knowing when to ask for certain things is something that an agent needs to learn the art of.
Personal Branding and Marketing
Gone are the days when the top professional footballers were simply just elite high-performing athletes. They are now celebrities, household names in some cases and their personal lives are documented as well as public scrutiny over their on-field performances. Agents now must include at least a foundational knowledge of personal branding and marketing to be able to promote their clients positively in the public spotlight. Avoiding issues is one thing but the status of modern football players can also open up new opportunities for agents to prove their worth and benefit their clients.
The modern football agent will now be charged with the task of seeking off-field endorsements and commercial sponsorships for their clients with anything from car and watch brands to shampoo and food or beverage companies. The popularity of the players means that large corporations are interested in utilising them as ambassadors. Agents need to understand how they can most appropriately and effectively build a personal brand around their clients which will lead them to creating more off-field opportunities and generate new sources of income.
You can read more details in chapters 23 and 24 of How to Become a Football Agent: 3rd Edition.
The official languages of FIFA are English, Spanish and French. The FIFA agent exam is only given in these three languages and hence, needless to say, an agent must possess one of these languages in order to obtain their agency licence in the first place. However, the importance of languages and a multilingual skill-set is not confined to just helping an agent pass the exam. The reality is that being able to speak two or more languages immediately expands the network which is accessible to an agent. It becomes far easier to connect and build a relationship and effective rapport with another person in a different part of the world if you are able to speak the same language as them. The likelihood is that if you learn and know their language, you will also be exposed to the different cultures and lifestyles which will help you to relate to them on a deeper level.
In recruitment this is also the case. If an agent can only speak English then they are unlikely to be able to sign any Spanish-speaking players for example. Learning languages can never be a disadvantage, the more fluent an agent is in any language, the wider their pool of potential clients and useful contacts becomes. It is strongly recommended that an agent uses a language learning platform daily if possible to continually upskill themselves and their ability to network and communicate with others in the football world.
Following the Market
Warren Buffett is world-renowned for the emphasis he places on reading and being knowledgeable about your area of expertise and beyond. This is a very applicable habit for a modern football agent. The world of football is constantly evolving and changing and hence, an agent needs to keep up to speed with everything that is going on as it has a direct effect upon their business. Subscribing to high-quality football news platforms and other resources and taking time to read key articles on a daily basis needs to become a part of the routine of a modern agent.
Agents need to have an in-depth understanding of how clubs function, their transfer strategies and their key interests for example. This spans from knowing the ownership of the club and their approach to recruitment and financial circumstances, to the current squad at a club and which areas they may look to reinforce or have players with soon-expiring contracts.
This kind of knowledge is also particularly relevant in the new age of agents representing clubs and coaches. Finding the best and most well-suited opportunities for coaches relies upon agents understanding the market and identifying a club system which would benefit the approach of the coach. Furthermore, if representing a club, the agent must have comprehensive knowledge of the kind of players the club is looking for, whether for a buy or for a loan and the region for salary and transfer fees that they are able to give.
An agent would be nothing without their clients. For example, possessing things such as a knowledge of personal branding and marketing is pointless unless the agent is able to recruit a client which has the success to make off-field sponsorship opportunities a possibility for them. This is why agents still need to have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the game of football and must have an eye for talent.
Recruitment is absolutely imperative to the profession and by scouting at youth academy games and other fixtures, agents should have the necessary skills to be able to identify possible recruitment targets that could go on to have success in the game and be an exciting client to work with. In-depth scouting should not be underestimated and is a difficult skill in itself; many agencies employ scouts for this specific purpose but we feel it remains an important part of an agent’s toolkit in modern football, at least on a surface level.
The art of scouting is outlined in chapter 10 of How to Become a Football Agent: 3rd Edition if you would be interested in finding out more.
In light of the previous section on scouting, the modern football agent seems to be using digital scouting techniques and tools more and more frequently. The number of platforms available is ever-increasing in the modern football landscape and databases such as Transfermarkt, Wyscout, Instat and Comparisonator facilitate an agent to scout players from all over the world from their lap. If an agent has a strong digital understanding, they will be able to utilise these platforms and maximise the benefits from using them in identifying talent almost anywhere in global football.
Agents can now also use their own personal online presence to promote their services. Creating a professional and comprehensive website and social media pages can demonstrate the reputation and services of an agency to clients, potential recruitment targets, other agents and football professionals. The digital world and a nous for how to best utilise it can be an advantage for a modern agent to possess as part of their toolkit for being successful in the industry.
The first thing to note is that this is not an exhaustive list of all the necessary components and attributes for an agent to possess in the modern football world. However, what we can see is that a diverse and varied set of skills can help an agent provide a better service to their clients and many factors can contribute to the opportunities which the agent will be able to find for them. Fundamentally, continued education and upskilling is the most advisable activity for an agent; whether in media, marketing, business or scouting, learning different facets of the modern football game will further completion of the ultimate football agent toolkit.