Summer Transfer Window from an Agent’s Perspective
For many involved in football to any extent, the summer transfer window can be the busiest and most turbulent period of football in a calendar year. Away from the rollercoaster of on-pitch activity, the transfer window is an exhilarating off-field source of entertainment, or stress, for concerned parties from sporting directors to football fans to coaches. In this blog, however, I will provide a behind-the-scenes insight into how the summer transfer window takes shape for the agents that conduct business on behalf of their clients.
For any transfer that takes place, the window must be open for the National Association to which the player involved is moving to. For example, a player may move from Europe to the MLS during their ‘pre-season window’ which is between February and May in the USA, despite the window being closed in European associations. This is also the same in European leagues; so for a country like Turkey which has a later transfer deadline day in September than most other European associations, they are still able to sign players from these other countries. The only exception to this rule is for free agents who can be signed at any point during the football year. This has been the case since the 1995 Bosman Ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sports to protect a player’s right to free movement and employment legislation.
Whilst the Southern Hemisphere (January to March) and the US are different, I refer to the ‘summer window’ as the period of time between the start of June or the start of July and September which is when European associations open their windows in the build up to and start of their seasons. During this time, agents must work tirelessly to seek and agree upon the best possible deal and opportunity for their clients, whether this be finding a player a suitable new club, getting them the wages that they deserve for a contract renewal or acting on behalf of a club in sourcing and bringing in new talent to sign.
The work for the summer transfer window is not within such a narrow time frame, it is constant throughout the year. It is not widely known that the norm in global football is that many deals and negotiations have taken place prior to the window opening and are ready to be confirmed once it is finally open. This is within the laws of the game and allows for clubs, players and the agents to engage in discussion at any stage of a season. This prevents such a mad and desperate rush within a short time-scale for a proposal to be made and for a fair agreement to be reached.
There are only two stipulations to this. Firstly, that the deal cannot be officially confirmed and signed unless it is within the transfer window. The agent must also reinforce that the buying club obtains approval for the selling club to speak with the player and their agent and engage in proposing a move and negotiating personal terms in order to avoid any breach of their current contract and regulations if they have more than six months left on their contract. If a player has less than half-a-year left on their contract then they and their agent are already eligible to engage in conversations with prospective buyers.
An example of this pre-window preparation in action is Erling Haaland’s recent move to Manchester City in the Premier League from Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund for an estimated £51million that will eventually end up at around £85million once agency fees, signing-on bonuses and other payables have been met. The five-year contract is also understood to be worth wages of £375,000 weekly for the 21-year-old forward.
Haaland’s move was announced by City just a few days after the transfer window opened. He had been a point of discussion in English football for over a year and was always tipped for a move to his father’s former club. However, a transfer and contract of such magnitude could not have been through the entire proposal and negotiation process in mere days. This epitomised the pre-planning and preparatory work that goes into these transfers. The hard work and intricate details had already been finalised by the time the transfer window began in the UK. Even the most complex and sensitive areas of negotiation such as wages and release clauses would have been discussed and decided upon far before this date.
This is a lesson for agents that, particularly for high profile or complicated deals, preparation and negotiation outside of the window is vital if it is at all possible. It helps mitigate against stressful and time-sensitive situations in which the ability to reach a desirable outcome may be compromised due to factors outside of the control of an agent. Agents that work hard to bring deals as close to complete as possible and prepare adequately for the window are more likely to serve the best interests of their clients.
Even if there is not a ready-made transfer that just needs preparing ready for finalising once the window opens, there is still plenty of preparatory work an agent can carry out before the business end of things begins. The agent should be proactive rather than reactive. Entering a new transfer window, agents will often have already identified opportunities that they will aim to capitalise on. The behind-the-scenes graft involves pinpointing clubs that require certain positions or a certain kind of player and an agent may be able to present one or more suitable options to the club. Furthermore, the agent must have access to such players which may involve reaching out to their agent and obtaining a mandate as well as communicating with the club to ensure that a potential deal is possible.
For agents, the transfer window is often manic. At any one time, an agent could have several ongoing deals and negotiations that require attention. It can be months of hundreds, if not thousands, of phone calls with various concerned parties from the player, to their families, to the sporting director and coach of a club. The research and investigation into finding opportunities for clients never stops. Whilst I explained that many deals are built upon foundations laid far before the window opens, there are still an extensive number of transfers that begin during the window.
There are major factors that an agent must have knowledge, understanding and an insight of that influence and change the opportunities that are available. For example, clubs may delay engaging in transfer negotiations until they have sold a player in order to free up funds to invest elsewhere. Big deals often have a collateral impact and create a knock-on effect that initiates many other discussions and deals. On the opposite end of the spectrum, an agent should also be able to identify that clubs may also be experiencing financial difficulty for a number of reasons such as being newly relegated or under financial fair play pressure and even sanctions that prevent certain deals being possible.
A further event that might alter the transfer window landscape is preseason injuries, unhappy players handing in late transfer requests or other unforeseeable incidents that suddenly creates a missing element for a club. As this is likely to occur nearer the end of a transfer window, this becomes somewhat of an emergency transfer. However, most clubs will be eager to commit a significant level of back-up investment funding to ensure they are not left short on a certain position. This is what an agent is paid for, operating under highly time-pressured situations and complex environments and producing a successful outcome for a client.
Agents must not be seen as wasting the time of people within clubs or a player. This will damage the relationship one might have with prospective clients and be detrimental to the reputation that the agent holds within the industry; meaning that future deals with these clients are less likely. A lot is to be considered and many conversations are necessary to establish where an agent can offer their services in order to obtain a desirable outcome for all parties. Whether representing clubs or players, attributes such as age, personality, skillset, strengths, contract status, wage demands, loan or buy, and other clauses play a part in whether a deal is feasible and likely rather than being unrealistic. An agent must have a profound ability to monitor and study the market and have a high standard of comprehension of what certain clubs look for which is affected by their culture, owners, team chemistry, manager, formation, finances, style of play and otherwise.
Deadline day, in any national association, is often the most eventful day in the footballing calendar for the majority of fans. It can be an emotional rollercoaster filled with hope and despair. For agents, it is just as eventful and can test their professional aptitude to the limit. It is the last chance to finalise deals and as if they hadn’t had enough phone calls already during the window, deadline day can reach a whole new level.
Hopefully everything has been put in place that is needed beforehand and sometimes it might be a matter of putting pen to paper and passing a medical. However, it is not uncommon for a deal to almost start from scratch in the early hours of deadline day and be concluded, or sometimes fall through in the dying hours. An agent has a large responsibility in mediating all of the activity during deadline day and ensuring that their client is looked after and their best interests are protected.
It is possible that the rushed nature of deadline day can cause an agent to compromise to an extent that they would not have gone to if it wasn’t for the high-pressure circumstances. It is integral to remember to serve the best interests of their client and to not agree to a deal that is not absolutely suitable and reflects the value of their client. The agent must have enough knowledge and information to prevent such an occurrence and to know the value and interests of the client that withstands the intensity of deadline day.
Football transfers are complex entities in themselves. However, an agent must account for a far broader spectrum of factors when serving the best interests of their client. These additional considerations are a vital part of any transfer, particularly relevant when representing a player, but could also be seen from the opposite side of the deal for a club looking at prospective signings. They go far beyond football yet can play a significant deciding factor in whether the transfer materialises as a success on the pitch.
For a foreign player moving to a new national association, an agent must ensure they have thoughtfully discussed the lifestyle that the player would move into. There have been well-documented examples of players who have struggled to settle into new countries and leagues for a variety of reasons. Fitting into a new culture and society and sometimes a new language can be difficult for anyone, especially when they have to go out and perform in front of audiences in the millions.
It may seem simple but it is absolutely fundamental to show a player that they are going to enjoy where they are moving to. This includes, but is not limited to, their living situation, their religious beliefs, the coach that they will be playing under and often most importantly, does it suit their young family.
Consequently, agents will have to deal not just with the player themselves. Families have a large influence on whether a player is willing to move to a certain club. In order to carry out their roles and responsibilities most effectively, the agent must have a strong relationship with the family of the player as well. They must openly communicate with them and unbiasedly decide whether or not this is a sensible and family-friendly move for them.
Similarly, the agent must open up a dialogue between the coach and the player and maybe the sporting director and other staff. This is important as the coach or club staff member may have had a previous relationship with the player and can help them to understand the club that they might be moving to. Even without this prior relationship, it is an opportunity for the player to suss out and consider the coach they would be playing under and the club they could be a part of. This should take place over a transfer window as it can enormously help the client make an informed decision and agree personal terms in order to complete a deal.
The other considerations that an agent must make are also related to off-field business. In the modern era of football, commercial value, image rights and boot deals are the norm and have a perhaps surprisingly large effect on negotiations. The agent must also obtain knowledge prior to the transfer window that helps them implement these factors into negotiations and the contract that is eventually agreed upon or rejected. Knowledge of the value of their client is imperative.
In summary, the summer transfer window presents an array of opportunities for an agent. This is their chance to play a large part in progressing the career of their client. Its importance must not be overlooked and an agent must do their due diligence to ensure they are appropriately and adequately prepared for the window.
There is a lot to consider for a transfer window from the eyes of an agent as the busiest time of the year. Whilst keeping the family up to speed as well as appeasing and negotiating with sporting directors and other staff, it is a balancing act to maintain the chances of a successful outcome that fulfils the best interests of their client.