Agents are starting to play a role that is ever more important. What job do they do? How much do they earn? And why do they get such bad press?
These middlemen that are known as agents, haven’t’ seen much change in their job over the years. They take care of advising players with all of their needs and, of course, getting their clients into better teams and more lucrative contracts. This isn’t the only thing they do. Agents help and guide players with their off-pitch affairs. Players nowadays only want to concentrate on what happens on the field and they’re leaving all off-field aspects to their agents to deal with like: legal, tax and finance queries…
Pedro Bravo talks about “360º advice”. The president of the Spanish Association of Agents (AEAF), has 25 years of experience in the sector and around 100 players on his books. When talking about his work, Bravo explains that his objective is to “guide the player through their professional and personal development with extra added values. The footballers know that they can count on us with any issue the may have, and we ensure that everything gets resolved”.
Nowadays anyone can be an agent. Obviously they need to know the insides and outs of the sector, but since a few years ago there are no longer anyformal links regulating the profession. Before the situation was different and agents were managed under FIFA’s rules. However, the organisation in charge of international football decided to step away from the players representatives, leaving the subject in the hands of National Federations to regulate the sector. With this change in guidelines, agents have turned into “advisers”.
What’s changed? “Nothing. I do the same job I’ve been doing from the start. It’s exactly the same”, assures Bravo. “Before FIFA would oblige me to have social security and pass an exam. Nowadays, even this isn’t necessary”. We’re in a moment where agents are targets for constant negative press, FIFA hasn’t decided to introduce stricter rules, and has advocated for the profession to be deregulated. “It’s not logical. They’re intentions are to protect players from agents, but what’s happening is starting to become a real mess”, the president of the AEAF stated.
What Bravo is referring to is the way some agents have been interfering with certain players day to day activities. Especially with younger players. It’s gotten to a point where a top tier side like Valencia CF has decided to ban all representatives from entering their training grounds. The club accused agents of trying to take on younger and younger players and teach them “attitudes that go against togetherness”. For example, by giving presents to their ‘chosen ones’.
“The problem is that most agents are looking for quick success and end up using the kids just to sell them”, explains Jose Ignacio Marcet. “Agents have a lot of influence, most of the time they aren’t prepared and they tend to forget about the players education, on an academic level as well as personal. They forget that there is a life after football”. According to Marcet’s president, “this results in uneducated kids that go from infancy to retirement without them having learnt anything in between”.
Bravo, who had Sergio Ramos on his books, has acknowledged that a lot of agents aren’t fulfilling their obligations. “I remember other times, when this professional was gratifying. There were more values in football, more moral codes. Nowadays agents are waiting in hospital delivery rooms waiting for the next maestro to be born. But this also happens in other sectors. In any profession there are good, normal and bad professionals. The problem is that only the bad ones stand out. People are fascinated to hear the negative parts of things. On the other hand, I know of endless professionals that are well equipped. It’s important to highlight that in Spain there has only been one case of civil liability against a representative. To the contrary there have been hundreds of agents accusing players of not paying fees”.
For the president of the AEAF, when it comes to representing minors, the priorities have to be clear. “I have a motto: ‘Book in hand and ball at feet’. And if one of them happens to fail, hopefully it’s the ball”. A principal that not everybody follows. And a lot of times, the parents are to blame. “It’s not strange to find that the demands of the player’s families sometimes exceeds our intentions”, Bravo explains.
“To attend correctly to a footballer during their learning phase, there’s a need for team work”. Says José Ignacio Marcet, reiterating that the advice given needs to go further than just financial aspects and include an academic, psychological and medical side… “To offer this type of service, agents should set up their own businesses”.
The more services offered, the more work and as a consequence, higher fees. FIFA tried to regulate agent fees by recommending to reduce the commissions on transfers by 3%. Although a big majority of agents nowadays are asking for anything between 5% and 10%. “Setting a legal limit would mean going against the grain”, condemns Bravo, “I don’t understand why our sector should work any different to others. A plumber can decide the fees he wants. The same as an electrician. A lawyer as well. In our case, everything depends on the type of work we do. We can’t have the same percentage as everyone else, because it depends on the type of assessment and advice we offer, which can just be footballing aspects but also legal, financial, etc.”.
It’s very clear that being an agent means being able to deal with constant negative feedback. The president of the AEAF thinks that football clubs play a big part in the negative press that agents receive. “It’s the clubs that are the ones that say that it is wrong for agents to approach young players. A lot of clubs put their young players under contracts that contain million-dollar clauses, and then they go saying that it’s us, that the agents that are the villains. But in reality it’s the players representatives that that are fighting over this types of slave-labour. It’s part of our work. This is why I am extremely proud of being an agent and taking part in helping dozens of kids in the footballing careers. And not just because of what I say, it’s because of the great feedback I’ve received from the players themselves”..