Recruiting Your First Client as a Football/Soccer Agent
Perhaps one of the hardest stages of being a football agent is when you are looking to recruit your very first client, particularly if you are working alone and not as part of a larger agency. It can be a tense time that requires patience and dedication to find the right opportunity and then capitalise upon it and turn it into a successful agent-client relationship.
In this blog we will consider the kind of things you should be doing if you are in this position and how to go about finding that very first client. We will also look at the stages of progression towards signing a representation contract and the must-do’s and don’ts for upcoming agents.
Finding the Opportunity
Depending upon your age and previous experience in the football industry, initially finding an opportunity to try to recruit a player can vary in difficulty. For younger agents, the likelihood is that such an opportunity will only arise on the back of attending as many games as possible. By identifying the kind of clientele you are hoping to work with and other specifics can help you to narrow down the kind of fixtures you will attend. For example, a young agent may attend academy fixtures to engage and interact with scouts and parents of players below first team level. Younger academy games are important as this is an opportunity to build up relationships with parents and others which can grow over two years or so before they may be looking for an agent.
As per FIFA Regulations concerning the protection of minors, agents are not able to enter into representation agreements until the player is within six months of when they may legally sign their first professional contract. Hence, agents must be aware that this varies between countries. For example, in associations such as Germany they may sign a professional playing contract as young as 16, so agents will be trying to represent them at 15 and a half. Alternatively in other countries, agents cannot sign representation agreements until they are 17 and a half, before signing their first playing contract at 18. Attending fixtures prior to this age gives you the window of opportunity to establish the foundations of a relationship for when the time comes.
Football fixtures can also be an intimidating environment. There were many occasions when I was just starting out with attending fixtures that I would try to talk myself into approaching parents watching games or even scouts, but found it difficult when the time came to know the best way of instigating a conversation with them and making that first connection. It is particularly important that an upcoming agent quickly becomes accustomed to and comfortable with making initial contact and striking up a conversation in such an environment.
This comes down to repetition. The more you put yourself into an uncomfortable position and force yourself to take steps to speak directly to people, the more comfortable it will become over time and it won’t be long before you have no hesitation in doing so. Although every conversation may not always go the way that you’d hoped, as sometimes others may not be interested in speaking with you, the worst possible outcome is that you fail to build a relationship with them. However, the chances are, the majority of conversations you have will lead to future conversations and could open up various possibilities to you, including the chance of signing your first client. The main aim of these first conversations is to leave a good impression and to obtain the contact details of the other person so you can keep in touch.
The hope is that eventually, after spending long enough putting the hard graft in and making the effort to continue, even at times when it may seem to not be getting you anywhere, an opportunity may arise where you come to learn of a player that may be looking for representation and you have a contact or other way in which you can make contact with their parents or even with the player themselves if they over 18. The next steps are of utmost importance and maybe sometimes comes down to making sure you don’t do certain things rather than what you do do.
An important point to note when finding an opportunity is whether you are operating as an agent alone, as part of a smaller agency or perhaps as a recruitment employee of a larger agency. Each has different advantages and disadvantages, it is up to the individual as to how they would rather work. For example, those working for larger agencies will have greater access to a wider network as well as being able to include senior agents in discussions and demonstrate the services they have provided to star players in the game once they begin discussions with the players and their parents. However, in such situations, they are employees of larger agencies and will be paid a salary. Alternatively, agents may work in more of a commission based partnership under a smaller agency which may give more power and influence to the individual agent. The way in which you are working as an agent will affect the methods you use to identify opportunities to sign players and how you work with them.
What not to do
To summarise what you absolutely must not do, it can be put as simply as: DO NOT ACT UNPROFESSIONALLY.
Expanding on this, once there may be an opportunity for you to sign a first client, it is vital not to become overexcited and to rush into trying to progress the chance quicker than is appropriate. Some agents will want to grab the opportunity as soon as possible, but if this is done unprofessionally, the likelihood is that it will not produce the result you are hoping for.
There are some simple rules for certain things that you should avoid. We will then go onto look at the advisable alternatives later on in the blog.
Firstly, do not use social media platforms to approach players or their families. In the modern era, it is likely that you will be able to find both the players and their close relatives on at least one form of social media. Whilst this may help you in identifying who their parents are and who to look out for on the side of a football pitch, approaching them directly through social media is unprofessional and is unlikely to be looked upon kindly by those you are trying to engage with.
If you have identified the parents or an alternative method to make contact with the player, you must not abuse this position and utilise it in the wrong way. Repetitive pestering and impatient messaging is only likely to irritate the contact and will not help you build a relationship with the player in any way. Do not insist on spending entire games watching with them and making them feel pressured themselves. Presenting yourself as someone who will make the player and their family uncomfortable will subsequently undermine your chances of building a strong relationship and going on to represent the player.
One way in which an agent may also inadvertently discourage the family from allowing you to represent the player is if you give the impression that you are ‘taking them away’. Particularly for younger clients, agents should attempt to integrate themselves as part of the wider support team of the player, almost as another family member. By providing your expertise as well as broader encouragement, you can develop the relationship into a feeling that everyone is working together for the best of the player rather than separately.
In some instances, the opportunity may have arisen with a younger academy player who shows great potential. There is a tendency to assume that if a player has high potential for a future in the game, a lot of agents will be vying for their signature. However, you must not approach them if they are not of the legal age. Not only does this infringe upon FIFA and National Association regulations, but it will also demonstrate that you are unprofessional in your approach to your work as an agent. Consequently, the family and player are likely to remove you from consideration for future representation as they will much rather work with a professional individual.
Since the new FIFA Agent Regulations came into force, there has been some confusion around when you can approach players or families as an agent. In short, you must not present yourself to a player or their families as an agent if you have not yet obtained your FIFA licence. There is a clear distinction between how a licenced and unlicenced individual must behave. Although you may attend games and talk with people freely without a licence, you must not do so in the capacity of an agent nor speak to families or others about your intentions as an agent.
One final point on what not to do is something that is surprisingly common in the agency profession. Our advice would be that you should never pay the player or their families to encourage them to sign with you or your agency. Occasionally, parents may ask for money for themselves rather than for the benefit of the player and if they originally sign for money, the chances are that one day they may move on to another agency for more money. It is not advisable to begin your professional relationship between you as the agent and the player and their families upon the foundations of financial reward. The only instance where sharing money could be appropriate is if there is a family member who is also an officially licenced agent that is representing their relative but would like to partner with you to improve the services they can provide. In such cases, all financial details will be based upon previously agreed shared commission.
On the other side of this is the ‘must-do’s’. To simplify this; DO ACT PROFESSIONALLY.
The professional way of initiating conversation with the player or their families, rather than social media, is to approach them appropriately at a game. This is by far the best way of beginning to build the relationship as in-person interaction is the most efficient method of leaving a positive first impression. You can introduce yourself and briefly acknowledge your position as an agent. From then you will recognise each other at future games and can give simple pleasantries as you walk by or strike up further conversations if the circumstances suit. It is a matter of making a judgement as to when is the right time to make conversation and when it is best to not go beyond a quick “hello”. At some point along the relationship, you may be able to obtain a phone number or other contact details and can then engage in conversation with them professionally and it may get to the stage of having phone calls or a zoom call once the topic of your interest in representing the player as a client has been discussed.
Timing is essential. If you encroach on the subject of representation prematurely, it may be of detriment to your relationship. It is essential to accurately assess your relationship with the player and their family and focus more on building a good and trusting connection with them before discussing the possibility of representing the player as a client. In some cases, if it is permissible and appropriate, agents have entered into purely commercial agreements with players and their families to source them a boot deal at a younger age than they would be able to sign a representation deal. Although you must ensure this complies with regulations, it may be another way of progressing your relationship up until the point of finding the right time to sign a representation contract.
Once you have identified a target and have initiated that first point of contact and addressed the topic of representing the player, you can then move onto the stages of recruitment. Depending on the exact circumstances this may vary; ultimately it comes down to your personal judgement as to the best next steps in each situation and depending upon the point the relationship has reached. However, below is an outline of how a typical appropriate recruitment process may play out:
- The Approach: Being introduced to or approaching the player and/or their family and making initial contact and building the relationship.
- Organised meeting: This is your first chance to demonstrate where you can add value as an agent to the player and to his family. In a comfortable and neutral environment such as a cafe or restaurant, you can initially pitch your attributes as an agent and present an individualised assessment of the player. The goal of this stage is to generate initial interest, intrigue and engagement in the hope of leading to further conversations in the future. This is an introductory meeting rather than a contract signing meeting! The next step may also then be to have a meeting with just the player to develop your personal relationship with him and gain a better understanding of his ambitions and goals in his career as well as what he is looking for in an agent.
- Attending games: Throughout the process it is important to continue to attend games and monitor the recruitment target. As mentioned, this gives you further chances to interact with the family and also to make further assessments on the player. Additionally, the family and the player will appreciate your dedication and interest in attending and following the games, which can boost your chances of impressing. It is vital that throughout the process you are demonstrating how and where you can add value to the player’s career.
- Closing: The entire process may take anywhere from a couple of weeks to even up to a year to run its course. It really depends on the situation of the player and their family and the relationship you are able to build in the space of time. However, once you have judged that it is an appropriate time, or perhaps the player and their family have enquired about it, you can ask if they are looking to make a decision and they may wish to see the representation contract. It is a necessity that you insist on them seeking independent legal advice and are also willing to answer any questions or queries they may have. Significantly, just because the process has progressed this far does not guarantee a decision either way. The important thing to remember is to remain patient and professional. Do not rush the family into making a decision, assist them in any way you can but remember that it is ultimately their decision and you can only give the best possible account of yourself.
Without clients, an agent is not able to do the very purpose of their job. Hence, recruiting the first client is a major milestone in the career of an upcoming agent. Whilst perhaps a daunting and sometimes even frustrating task, it is also part of the excitement and should be a cherished opportunity. It is the platform to launch your agency career and therefore, approach it with utmost professionalism and a willingness to accept failures and learning curves but with the determination to keep persevering and a belief in your own abilities and aptitude that the right opportunity will materialise.