Keeping the Money in the Family
The Growing Popularity of Using Family Members as Agents
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the last week, you’ll have heard that Lionel Messi is no longer a Barcelona player and has made the move to Paris Saint-Germain after 21 years at the Catalan club. The interesting part of this transfer that I will discuss in this week’s blog is Messi’s agent, Jorge Messi, is his father.
Employing family members as agents was first brought into the public spotlight in 1999 with Nicolas Anelka’s move from Arsenal to Real Madrid which was orchestrated by his brothers. In recent times, it is become increasingly common with players such as the now PSG trio Neymar, Mbappe and Messi all represented by their fathers.
In this blog I will discuss why using family members may be an attractive option for players but also the issues that may arise from doing so. I will then consider how family members should be treated compared to regular agents and how they might be regulated in order to ensure ethical and legal compliance.
Why Would a Player Prefer to Use a Family Member as Their Agent?
Football agents, whether applicable to each individual or not, carry the burden of a bad reputation that is associated with their profession. Players are cautious that the agent may not always act in their best interests but instead will be motivated by filling their own pockets.
The relationship and level of trust that a player places in an agent may never come close to what they have with their family members. A familial connection will mean that a player can be more confident that their agent wants the best for them. Particularly in young players who are wary of agents approaching them, using a family member is a more attractive option as the close, trusting relationship is already there, rather than having to develop a bond with an agent whose intentions may not be known or pure.
The obvious appeal of employing a family member as an agent is that any commission they receive for their services is kept within the family. For example, it is estimated that Neymar Sr has received £100million for Jr’s transfers whilst Jorge Messi has earned approximately £75million in contract commissions for his services. The success of sons and brothers also financially benefitting the rest of the family is a more attractive option than having to remunerate a stranger with a football agent license that may not have the player’s best interests at heart.
In a perfect world, the love and trust between a father and son or brothers would mean that each party is acting in a way that benefits each other as much as possible. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There is a risk in mixing familial relationships with professional business. The combination may lead to big fall outs. Even family members can develop a hunger for money or power-grabbing from representing their relatives.
Can Family Members be Regulated as Agents
An additional risk that arises from using a family member as an agent is that they may not be qualified enough. Before the removal of an exam in FIFA’s regulations in 2015, family members were exempt from taking it. This made it easier for them to be registered as the representative of their son or brother.
In the case of Juan Mata, his father was a former player and obtained his agent license once he had retired. He now has a client list including players such as his son and Salomon Rondon. There are many other cases in which close relatives of the players are representing them. For example Eden Hazard’s agent is his father, the agent of Sergio Ramos is his brother René Ramos, agent of Mats Hummels is his father Hermann Hummels. We also have Mauro Icardi from PSG who’s agent is his wife Wanda Icardi or Dane Rashford as the brother and agent of Marcus Rashford. So are the brother of Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold and the father of Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic.
FIFA’s proposed changes to regulations coming into force next year will see family members treated in the same way as all other agents. The regulations contain a clause that prohibits family members from acting as agents unless they are fully licensed. Importantly, this includes the requirement of passing the agency exam. This is a step in the right direction as it will ensure that family members receive a level of education and qualification before they are able to represent their relatives. I expect that FIFA will emphasise that players should only use agents that have a proven level of aptitude in the industry and are qualified enough to serve them well.
Furthermore, a cap on commissions could minimize the ability of relatives to collect disproportionate fees for their services, reducing the risk that they will act on their own greedy interests rather than to seek what is best for the family member they are serving.
Transparency, once again, is vital. If a family member is representing a player, all transactions, commission fees and gifts should be recorded and accessible by FIFA. This will overcome the worry of many that an unnecessary amount of money leaves the game and cannot be accounted for through payments to agents.
Using family members as agents is becoming increasingly popular and will remain an attractive option for players. They may have a level of trust that can only be had with a family member and not the kind of relationship they could develop with a separate agent.
However, the risk of mixing family and business may not always lead to a beneficial outcome for both parties. Issues arise from greed and power and the lack of qualification that the family member representative may have. It is important that a system is in place that maintains the legal and ethical appropriateness of family members representing players.
FIFA’s proposals for agent regulations are certainly going to improve the dynamic and standard of family members acting as agents. By ensuring that they are sufficiently educated and qualified whilst also preventing them from receiving an unfair and extortionate level of remuneration, the standard of agents will rise and it will go some way in preventing the concerns that prevail from using brothers, fathers or wives as agents.