Time to curb big bucks football agents make from transfer fees

It was found Premier League clubs paid £220m in agents' fees during the 2016-17 season - an increase of 38 per cent – and if nothing is done to plug this gap, the remunerations they get will reach astronomical figures very soon.

By Suresh Nair

THIS is simply outrageous: The football agent for Alexis Sanchez reportedly received £15million (S$28million) in the Chile international’s recent transfer to Manchester United.

Yes, just one transaction!

Fernando Felicevich must be laughing his way to the bank but such silly fees may come to an abrupt halt as UEFA (Europe’s football-controlling body) is considering imposing a cap on agents’ fees following scrutiny of payments made to players’ representatives.

UEFA confirmed in a statement its Professional Football Strategy Group, which consists of key stakeholders in European football, had endorsed a strategy to “shape policy change… by potentially adding a cap on fees, introducing more transparency and accountability, and appropriate sanctions in case of infringement of the rules”.

Even FIFA is outraged. FIFA President Gianni Infantinio said: “We have to tackle this issue, the curtains must be open. I’m very concerned about the huge amount of money that is flowing out of the football industry.”

OUTRAGEOUS COMMISSIONS

Infantino added he was worried “commissions paid to intermediaries continue to rise” while the amount paid in compensation to clubs that have contributed to a transferred player’s education and training falls.

“These increasingly larger transactions are often not done in a clean, open manner and raise a lot of questions about potential misuse of funds,” he said.

What’s a football agent, you may ask, because in Singapore, too, you can count the mere number of agents on the fingers of one hand!

The agent, unlike the famous James Bond 007 model, is a person who, for a fee, procures and negotiates employment and endorsement deals for their player. In return, football agents receive a commission that is usually five per cent of the contract, although this figure varies between various agents.

They may be relied upon by their clients for guidance in all aspects of business. It includes depending on the agent for the client’s social and personal needs.

Agents represent their client, act as the mediator between their client and his club, negotiate new deals with his present club on matters such as salary and working conditions and also help finalise on new transfers.

The well known global millionaire agents include Jorge Mendes, a Portuguese who represents individuals such as Cristiano Ronaldo, José Mourinho, David de Gea, Radamel Falcao, Nani, Pepe and Renato Sanches.

It appears that Mendes has been out of the big picture and Mino Raiola has gained all the popularity. Since last season, six out of four players signed by Manchester United were represented by Raiola. They are the likes of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Blaise Matuidi, Mario Balotelli and Romelu Lukaku.

NOT A BED OF ROSES

But it’s not a bed of roses, says Alfredo Razelish, a Spanish-based FIFA agent. He clarifies that the high agents’ fees are “a culmination of months or years of hard work, networking, lobbying, traveling and negotiating…for most agents those are just dreams they strive to achieve”.

The rule of the thumb is: “You get paid when your athlete (footballer) gets paid”.

There are a couple of ways that agents earn their income: either in the form of representation or transfer fees. In most cases, it should be around 10 per cent of the total sum – but the numbers can vary.

Based on the numbers presented by FIFA, which keeps track of transfers between countries via its Transfer Matching System, as much as 28 per cent of transfer fees last year went to agents and third parties. The system recorded 11,555 international transfers.

Obviously, the fees in European football are supposedly among the highest in professional sport and are comparable with the professional sports league in the USA, where the players receive the highest salaries (in 2012/13 Kobe Bryant had an annual salary of over 21 million euro, while Leo Messi earned “only” 10.5 million).

The agent’s business has its darker sides, but if you manage it correctly it can be really rewarding. As Sam Stapleton, an English licensed player’s agent – also known as ‘Mr Agent’ – wrote in one of his columns for The Daily Mail, you should ensure that you have as many deals in the pipeline as you possibly can and work on them.

SECRET OF SUCCESS

He says that the secret of success lies in planning your activities wisely, as there are usually only a few months in which you have to make your income for the entire year.

There is also the matter of making sure you get paid, as there is a lot of clubs with financial issues out there. Agents should perhaps refer to the movie Jerry Maguire, where Tom Cruise is forced to shout “Show me the money“.

But nonetheless, you should also remember to be totally professional yourself. Like Esteve Calzada writes in his eponymous book (‘Show Me The Money’): After years of excess and poor management, it is time for all the people in the industry to contribute to a more positive and optimistic image of his area of business.

It’s no secret that bad things happen, but they are the minority. It’s up to everyone involved to make sure he does his best to be purely professional. The best deals are not (always) about the money. Think of the long(er) term!

Hey, it’s not too late my brother, you can become a football agent!

 But it takes a special breed of football-smart individuals to reach the Everest ranks of agents. Usually, they are global-operators with great networkers and have fantastic connections. They can influence influencers and they can get deals across the line. Short answer.

The highest earning sports agent in the world is Constantin Dumitrascu. He has aggregated commissions worth around $108 million. Jorge Mendes stands at a respectable top-three position with a cool $77 million.

These figures are only indicative of the earning potential of the super agents. The sport affords more opportunities to make a living than just through commissions.

For newcomers, especially those in the Asean region and Singapore, the “game” starts at a low level, with young players and no real income. It’s really hard work but with good, planned work and a clear strategy things can soon pick up and evolve.

The important thing is to get the player’s (and club’s) full trust and keep your eyes open for all potential opportunities that may come around. It’s not an easy business, but it’s a huge market out there.