As the growth in the commerce and trade of players continues each year, particularly in the big European Leagues and the Chinese League, it would seem there’s never been a better time to be a football agent. Paul Pogba’s €105 million transfer to Manchester United prior to the current EPL season set a new transfer record.
The last two years have seen a mushrooming of the numbers of player agents worldwide, made possible by 2015 FIFA reforms which deregulated agency legislation to the national associations, making it significantly easier for anyone to become a registered agent.
As a result of the reforms, an individual doesn’t need to apply and be granted a FIFA Agent’s Licence. They’re no longer required to sit and pass an agent’s exam. They don’t require criminal background or bankruptcy checks nor have professional indemnity insurance. The reforms also put the onus on a player/club engaging an agent to ensure compliance with the rules.
These changes have made it a lot easier to become an agent. In Australia, the number of registered agents has increased from 30 prior to 2015 to 70, with an estimated 20-30 additional unregistered agents. In the UK, the number has grown from 400 to 1,000 over the same period.
The concern expressed in some quarters is that not all of these agents are able to provide a high, professional level of services, and that this poses risks for players dealing with such agents.
However there is one association of agents in Australia, the Australian Football Agents Association (AFAA) which is trying to adhere to the higher standards despite the difficulties of increased competition.
AFAA president Peter Paleologus has been a football agent since 2004. The Melbourne-based lawyer runs his football agency, Libero Consulting, as well as working for the corporate regulator ASIC and has a passion for the specialised area of football law, being the Australian contributor for Football Legal, a top European journal for football law.
Paleologus spoke to Neos Kosmos, sharing some insights into the complexities of the agent’s role in the modern game and some of the risks facing players in the more uncertain environment he believes has resulted from the deregulation of the profession.
While a player’s talent, work ethic and attitude are of primary importance for a successful professional career, Paleologus says, “a good agent can facilitate and open up opportunities. The agent’s role is to facilitate, put the player in front of the right coaches, the right teams, to open up trials with teams overseas and to promote the player. As a representative, you’re there to put the player in front of the right people and advise on the right contract − very important”.
But as Paleologus explains, the agent’s role is not simply a case of “I’ll get the best player available and put him in a club. It’s become very legal, with regulatory aspects as well”.
Paleologus says he is often approached by other agents who come to him with questions about contracts.
“If a club doesn’t pay a player, how do you deal with that situation? If a player is being bullied and ostracised in a team, how do you deal with that situation? There’s always the Players’ Union, which does provide advice to players. But then there’s also agents, who aren’t lawyers or who don’t have a legal background, that need advice for players, because for instance, the player wants to get out of a contract, or isn’t getting paid. Also, when players go overseas, each country is very different with its own football regulations, employment laws and visa requirements.
“So there are a lot of challenges there.”
The role of a football agent isn’t limited to representing players. They can also represent clubs. This is where an agent’s network of connections to other agents, particularly overseas agents, is vitally important. Paleologus explains that if a club has identified a player it wants to buy, but who is still under contract to another club, it can ask an agent to talk to that player either personally or through the agent’s overseas connections.
Conversely, if a club is looking to offload a player (because, for instance, a new coach doesn’t want that player), it can ask an agent to scope and find another club that could be interested in buying or taking that player on loan.
“So there are several roles for agents, not just representing players, but clubs and dealing with other agents.”
Paleologus believes that the deregulation in the industry has meant that “players have to be a little more savvy about which agents they deal with, because the onus is on you, for your agent to do the right thing”.
“What’s happened with the reforms is that FFA and FIFA, they still regulate the players, but in essence, they don’t really regulate the agents anymore. So if an agent does the wrong thing, it could fall back on the player. The onus is on the player to make sure their agent does the right thing.
“That’s a big change and that’s a concerning change. Because before, at least with the licences, the FFA and FIFA could take a lot of action against agents who do the wrong thing. Now it’s more of an open market.”
Paleologus has advice to players in this riskier environment when choosing an agent.
“The important thing for players is they need an agent who knows how to basically deal with the club. To make sure they get the right salary, the right (contract) clauses, if they want to transfer. There’s a lot of agents now who don’t provide the right advice, and are not the right fiduciary. What I mean by that is, an agent owes fiduciary duties to a player. He must disclose everything. So if the club says ‘this is how much it is, this is how much we offer’, the agent must tell that to the player- and also how much the agent is getting.
“There’s always a risk now, because it’s been deregulated, you don’t know what’s going on. A player has to be vigilant in choosing their agent to ensure they’re transparent. And the key is to ask about their agent’s reputation, what deals they’ve done, which players they’ve represented, what their networks are with clubs overseas. And what pathways they can open up.”