The Challenging Reality of Being a Football/Soccer Agent
On the surface it may seem as though being a football agent is a ‘dream job’ for anyone who loves the sport. Through various mediums such as popular culture, the media and even Hollywood through Jerry Maguire, the agency profession is portrayed as an extravagant and luxurious lifestyle. The press have played a significant role in publicising the flamboyant and flashy side of agents, particularly those that represent the very top clients. This has moulded the common public perception of agents and the work that we do that is usually very different to the reality.
In this blog, we will offer an insider’s view into what being a football agent is really like. Beyond the idyllic impression that agents earn lucrative sums of money, mix with the rich and famous, manage world-class athletes and get to watch football all day long, there is far more to the job that isn’t quite as glamorous. This blog is aimed at informing and educating a wider audience about this crazy but brilliant industry we work in and highlight the importance of understanding the challenges we face and the vast volume of work that successful agents need to put in behind the scenes and beyond the glitz and glamour.
The Financial Reality
As in any industry and profession, money in football agency is hard earned. The majority of agents, particularly at the beginning of their career, will spend lots of time battling to find enough of an income to support their livelihood. In some cases, agents will work another job to supplement their income in the hope that one day they will be able to take on agency as a full time occupation. The press will only speak about the biggest agents that are involved in the biggest (and often most lucrative) deals, transfers and contracts. For the other 99% of agents, this is usually far removed from the job they are doing. The issue, of course, is that not every agent can represent top clients that earn tens or possibly even hundreds of thousands every week in the top leagues.
Getting the first client and, thereafter, the first commission income is usually the first obstacle to be faced and can be the most challenging aspect of the job. Agents can spend years grafting and grinding, developing their network, their knowledge and their capabilities as an agent yet it can be to no short-term avail and they may not earn any money from the job during this period. This is a harsh truth for many who may have entered the industry under the common belief that there is an abundance of money to be made as a football agent.
Even for an agent who is representing a client and earning good commission from them, it is impossible to become complacent and comfortable. An agent always has to be on their toes and proactive in the industry to ensure that they keep the situation that way. Clients can come and go, sometimes through no fault of the agent, and suddenly this source of income is lost. For agents that earn solely through commission, this can be incredibly difficult and they can feel an unbearable sense of pressure. If the agent is not with a larger agency that pays stable and set salaries, there is no secure and guaranteed income and losing a client can have a catastrophic impact upon an agent’s livelihood. Any profession where income is not guaranteed is a daunting one and it is a frightening part of football that agents, particularly independent ones, have to face and be prepared for.
Sometimes other financial obstacles arise that an agent may be unprepared for. For example, I have previously dealt with a club that spoke directly with the player and his family before signing his first professional contract and said that he should not use an agent. The family took the advice and my part was removed from the deal and negotiation. However, as it turned out, the club brought in their own agent who was a close friend of the sporting director instead to help him financially benefit. Agents that work unethically with club officials can be an economic burden for agents that try to conduct their business professionally and morally.
Relentless and Continual Competition
Football as a whole can be an unforgiving and turbulent environment. This is most certainly the case for football agents too. Far from being a typical ‘9-5’ job, the reality is that an agent is ‘on the clock’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A client can and will need to contact their agent at any hour of the day with almost any request and they need to be available to help and assist. It is difficult to succeed as an agent if a client feels as though they are uncontactable; the role of the agent is to be there to support them whenever, wherever and however.
The scope of the job is equally endless. The tasks that agents have to fulfil for clients and the challenges they may face whilst doing so are incredibly unpredictable and can be of almost any nature but will become a part of the job description and consequently, another tickbox in the criteria to fulfil to be a successful agent. In short, no two days will ever be the same. This can often be a considerable difficulty for an agent. The sheer extent of obligations to clients, the day-to-day turbulence and the immense unpredictability of the profession can be difficult to come to terms with and can be a daunting mental battle.
It takes a certain character and person to willingly and successfully commit themselves to such a lifestyle. It requires a lot of sacrifices and a unique degree of passion and desire to work in the industry. Many things that can be taken for granted in other professions do not quite work the same in agency. For one, holidays without a phone or laptop and complete breaks from work are difficult to manage. Usually, a client will still need the agent during this time and there may be ongoing discussions and deals that cannot be completely avoided and delayed for a prolonged period. An agent must accept this reality and will hopefully have a supporting and understanding family around them to help balance the lifestyle. It can become incredibly draining and mentally taxing to feel as though you can never fully switch off from work. It is vital that agents find a way of switching on and off efficiently to protect themselves and look after relationships with family and friends whilst also being able to successfully operate as an agent.
An important factor to note that further complicates things is that the profession is incredibly competitive in almost every aspect. Every part of the job involves some form of competition with other agents or other professionals in football. It is an industry where the volume of work and purposeful dedication an agent invests into it directly correlates with their career success in financial terms and beyond. The mental challenge that agents face is that for every hour they are not working or are not contactable, there may be plenty of other agents out there who are. From the process of signing a client to trying to get a deal over the line, agents are under constant pressure and in direct competition with colleagues. Other agents may want clients that are already signed or want to be part of a deal and a lapse in professionalism and focused dedication may mean an agent loses out on an opportunity. Some agents will try anything and everything to oust other agents and it can be an unpleasant, cutthroat environment to be a part of.
What can make the level of sacrifice and dedication required even harder is the frequency of disloyalty that you may be shown as an agent. Unfortunately, in some cases you may have put in two or more years of devotion to the career of a player but they may decide to leave you if another agent offers them money for example. The unspoken truth is that the families of players can sell their child to other agents for their own financial gain. Agents should never offer players money in my opinion as those that come for money will leave for money and it creates a toxic relationship with unstable foundations.
An extreme example of what the consequences of exchanging money may be was when I was asked by a father to pay a sum of €25,000 to continue representing the player. I was unsure what the money would have been for so spoke further with the wife who informed me the father was looking to fund his gambling addiction. Hence, I objected to sending any money. As a result, after five years of service to the player, the father changed his number and explained that they no longer wished to work with us anymore and we lost the client. This emphasises the reality that loyalty from players is very difficult to come by.
Put simply, agents do not have it easy when it comes to the actual nature of the work, exaggerated by the fact that the industry is a brutal, unrelenting and unforgiving one. A point of consolation on this is that there is actually a small protection mechanism in place for agents. If a client does leave you but, for example, they have two years left on the contract you negotiated for them, you are still entitled to this commission. This prevents your work becoming completely futile.
A lot of the work that good agents do is thankless. The job demands a vast array of extensive and occasionally laborious tasks that an agent completes behind the scenes in order to best serve their clients. What the public sees for football agents may be the photos taken at transfer completions posing with the client and is often accompanied with details of large sums of money that will be exchanged and shared between parties. What isn’t as commonly portrayed and explained is the volume of work that the agent had to put in to get to that stage.
Negotiations, discussions and addressing issues are usually processes that go on for a prolonged period and will occupy a considerable proportion of an agent’s time. It can be a stressful and demanding part of the job but is a necessary one to eventually reap the rewards. Sometimes, it can seem as though problems continually raise their heads and as the agent, you are simply moving from solving one problem to the next. A key role of the agent is problem solving and this is not a narrow field; remember a client or anyone the agent is dealing with can raise any kind of issue that needs addressing at any time.
Another part of problem solving for agents is made more difficult by the ever evolving landscape of football and the extensive and intricate regulations surrounding the work of agents. This adds another daily or at least weekly task onto an agent’s to-do list. Keeping up with regulations and the current market is absolutely imperative for a successful career as an agent and to avoid encountering ethical and legal issues. Clients may often make requests or enquiries that require research and knowledge that the agent needs to conduct and obtain. It is hardly an exhilarating requirement of the job but it is an unavoidable and necessary one.
For the client, particularly if they are a young player you are an important mentor for their career and hence, you are also considered as their personal problem solver. Your role is to address challenges they may face and to motivate and to support them in overcoming it. This may be as simple as messaging before and after a game to encourage them or to console them after a bad performance, the burden is shared with you. There are a lot of problems that may arise such as injury or mental health struggles and this becomes a part of your service as the agent to ensure there is no long term detriment to the player’s career.
The fundamental challenge that this section has outlined is that an agent need not only overcome their own problems and difficulties in their lives but that they also are required to solve the problems of others as part of the job. The best work of a good agent is predominantly done on the worst days for a client. When a client faces a bad day, week, month, transfer, contract situation, football issue, family concern or any other issue, it is the responsibility of the agent to act in a way to alleviates the problem from the player as much as possible. Taking on the additional burden of other people’s problems may not seem like a desirable task and it is the case for many that this part of the job can be overwhelming and unsustainable. However, the best agents are able to thrive under the responsibility of solving their clients’ problems. Once again, this is something that is rarely mentioned in popular culture and media when forming perceptions of football agents.
I have already touched on a major expectation that agents face in this line of work; namely that of being available 24/7 to clients. However, it is not just the client that sets high expectations of an agent. Pressure and dependency can come from a variety of angles and an agent has the sometimes impossible task of keeping everyone happy as much as they can.
There is an extensive list of parties that are invested in and involved with the work of the agent. Of course, the client is the top priority and everything an agent does is to best serve them, but there may also be a wider responsibility to others. For example, the family members of the client will be another watchful eye on the agent and the value they are adding to the relative’s career. An agent has to handle, develop and maintain a relationship with their family and hence, has to dedicate adequate time to this or they will risk losing the client.
Then you have added pressure from another source; the clubs. This can often involve several relationships with individuals such as the Sporting Director, the coach, other players, scouts, the club doctor and more. The reputation of an agent, the way they operate and the manner in which they conduct their business is incredibly important here. However, reputation in football is as fragile as it is important. I always say that it can take years to build a good reputation and consequently, strong relationships with people in the industry, but it can take five minutes to tarnish it forever. This is arguably no truer than for football agency. Even the simplest of mistakes and errors can have a significant and lasting impact on an agent’s career success. The vulnerability and instability of these relationships, particularly with clubs and clients is an extraordinary pressure that comes as part of being an agent.
For agents working under the umbrella of larger agencies, there will be additional expectations set of them. For example, an agency will have different targets that each agent is expected to reach depending upon their exact role within the company. This places a specific demand upon the agent that becomes another aspect of the expectations they must work hard to meet, reinforcing the reality that an agent’s career is fragile and perishable. It can sometimes feel as though demands and requests are coming from all angles and an agent can become consumed by this excessive responsibility for such an array of things. It can be enormously difficult to cope with everything, keep themselves organised and stay on top of anything that comes their way. Yet for the parties, this is irrelevant. They set these tasks to the agent as it is a part of the job and their expectation will be that the agent will complete whatever it is they need. This can be a difficult challenge.
A final point to note on the level of expectation that can be placed on you as the agent is from the partners of players. The reality is that wives and girlfriends, for example, are a significant factor in a player’s life and career. They can create issues if they feel an agent is “uncontrollable” to them and is not meeting their expectations. It is not uncommon for partners to meddle and to try to remove you to bring in an agent that they can dictate to to benefit them. Often their expectations can be difficult to manage and meet and it is somethings agents have to take into consideration an handle carefully.
The work of an agent is exciting, unique and can be very rewarding in many ways. It is a privilege to be able to work in the beautiful game and alongside the athletes that make the sport of football, or soccer, what it is. However, the falsehood of the lifestyle of an agent that has been, and continues to be, fabricated by mainstream popular media can give a dangerous impression of what it is really like to work as a football agent. Our hope is that this blog highlights the important, and often unseen, parts of the profession that can be incredibly challenging and difficult. It should have shown that to succeed as an agent requires extraordinary dedication, unrelenting motivation and a particular type of person. By educating people on the work of agents, hopefully a more realistic perception of the industry will become commonplace and a greater appreciation for the role we play and the value we add to football.