The Evolution Of The Football Agent

As part of the Football Innovation Summit we look closely at the relationship between Agents, Clubs and the importance of positive relations to ensure effective pathways and careers for their Players.
With the increasingly global market alongside other cash-rich Championships emerging in Russia, Australia and now China, opportunity is arguably more abundant than perhaps ever before. With transfers becoming increasingly international, in particular players moving to leagues outside of the traditional powerhouses of England, Germany and Spain the algorithms and traditional pathways are changing.
Last week we caught up with leading Football Agent for Celtic’s Moussa Dembele and Managing Director at Mansa Sports Management Ramadi Fofana, and David Seligman, Sports Lawyer at CM Solicitors.

How has the role of the Football Agent evolved over the past 4/5 seasons?

MF - From what I've seen, the role of football agent has evolved pretty well. Agents' powers have increased and their influence has become bigger.
The club-agent relationship has become more crucial and important in the business as both parties have a key role to play in the world of football.  

DS - It has evolved greatly. Agents bear the burden of a whole host of services that they provide for their player clients as well as clubs. From a club point of view the role of the agent is useful in scouting players, as well as managing the expectation of potential and current players. The most important aspect is ensuring that the club-player relationship is one that benefits all parties. Football is a business, a well-managed player can make himself wealthy as well as earn vital funds for a football club.

With more international transfers taking the place (something that will continue to increase) the agent’s role as a ‘deal broker’ liaising between two foreign clubs will become even more important. 

With the top clubs across Europe now having such multi-national Academies does this make it increasingly difficult for home-grown players to find opportunities?

MF - I am certain that if a young English talent trains and plays every day with top foreign players, it can only make him\her a better player. There will always be a place for English players because they are quality players. So, at the end of the day the best players will always play.

DS - This is something that gets a lot of exposure in the media every time our national team fails (which is often!). It is inevitable when any team (whether it be at senior or youth level) has foreign players the opportunities for home grown players are diminished. However, it is my opinion that our problem lies within coaching. We have four fully professional leagues; this give ample opportunity for young British players to develop. We should look at the foreign academy graduates as a marker as to where our young players should be. If we invest in coaches and coaching the disparities will diminish. As outlined earlier, the opportunities are there in England; players may have to drop down a division to eventually go up two.

Do you believe the high numbers of young players spending time out on loan is beneficial or detrimental to their development?

MF - It can be detrimental as well as beneficial. When a player makes a move and goes on loan, the agent and club have to analyse the player's situation and then be able to find the right club for the player to carry on his development. It should never be the case of going out on loan for the sake of going but about making the right choice to make the move beneficial. There is nothing wrong for a player to go on loan if there is a plan behind it. The whole point of it is to play in order to keep progressing and developing.

DS - It depends how much they play. I have number of agent clients with young players out on loan at League One and League Two clubs. If the player on loan is playing he will develop his game. However, if the loan player is being used as a substitute, he may be missing out on playing 90 minute matches at a crucial stage in his develop. First team football is vastly different to under 23 football, in my opinion it would always be better to gain league experience over opting to remain in an academy at under 23 level. 

How is the Agent & Club relationship increasingly important in putting the player first and creating positive outcomes for all involved?

MF - The relationship between agent and club is very important and more important than we may think. The agent is not just someone in a middle of a transaction to make deals happen. Both agents and clubs have combined interest in working together to create a positive outcome. We need to understand that we are stronger by working together for the player's career. Clubs and agents are business partners, not rivals or enemies. Working together in trust, by going in the same direction can only be beneficial for all parties involve.

DS - Massively important, a happy player produces better performances, it is a simple as that. The agent must finely balance the club-player relationship to ensure that all parties are working together to the benefit of everybody. In my position as a Football Lawyer I am often caught in the middle of club/agent negotiations. The best agents strive for the best deal for their client, however this must not be at the expense of the club. A clever agent will make every situation win/win. 

When a club signs a player, they want two main things; 1. Success on the pitch & 2. A return on their investment. The two go hand in hand. If you underpay a player he is likely to be slightly resentful and could underperform. It may be short sighted of the club to penny pinch on a player's salary meaning they could eventually miss out on a huge transfer fee.

The agent’s job does not end when the ink has dried on the player’s contract and their agency agreement. The agent needs to continuously work with the club to ensure that they are getting the best out of their player. He also needs to manage the player to ensure he is giving his all for the club. 

The better the player does the more he will be paid. The better the player does the more money the club will make on the player. The agent plays a crucial role in this cycle and should be paid well for it.

What are your views on the evolving global football market and how do you see this impacting the English game?

MF - The global football market keeps growing every year with the emergence of new markets and championships that are investing highly to get more involved in the world of football.
There has been a lot of money spent in English football and a lot of profit made for many years with success in international competitions such as Champions League or Europa League.
Domestically, we are able to attract top class players from every country around the world as well as top managers and propose the most entertaining and exciting football in the world.

DS - The football market has been global for the last 30 years. The global market has enabled the English game to attract some of the world’s greatest ever players. With the wages that the Premier League Clubs can pay this will continue to grow. If we take Crystal Palace by way of example, they are a struggling Premier League team yet they have a £30m, Belgian International up front and a French International in midfield. 

The big 6 clubs have always been able to attract the best players from around the world. The riches of the Premier League has meant that every Premier League club has the ability to attract high profile, talented footballers. This will filter down into the second tier and beyond and can only benefit the English game. For example, we have a former Champions League winner and Real Madrid manager managing in the Championship in Rafa Benitez.

There is another aspect of the global market that affects the English game that generally sees little media exposure. There are many English professional players earning a living in Thailand, India and Australia for example. The option to go abroad if proving popular and League Two players are finding their salaries trebled in Asia.  As the leagues abroad continue to develop I anticipate that we will see more lower league English players move abroad. 

What impact do you believe the Chinese Super League will have on the global game?

MF - The Chinese Super League can have a huge impact on the global game. It's a new market with a lot of money involved in transfer fees and salaries. We are already hitting world records in terms of salaries paid to players. But, we've seen that in the past, in Middle east and Russia where clubs gave a lot of money to attract high profile players with no big success at the end.

Let's not forget the fact that the country's population represent roughly 1/5 of the world’s population. The Chinese market alone is gigantic and the government appear intent to create the required infrastructure to develop football long term. We can only wait and see how it's going to develop over the next few years to fully evaluate its potential.

DS - At the moment it is difficult to predict the exact impact it will have. It will be interesting to see if the big name players stick around and see out their lucrative contracts. If they do then the CSL could end being a real threat, its teams could challenge those in Europe and South America. 

In my opinion however, the CSL will always be limited as there is very little continental competition and this means that the interest is mainly contained within China. I struggle to see global audiences taking a keen interest in the CSL clubs. The difference is that for the CSL to be a success it does not need to be a global success, it just needs to be a success within China. The population of China is approximately 1.4billion compared to Europe’s 750 million.

The Football Innovation Summit takes place at Wembley Stadium on 22/23 March. Mamadi and David will be speaking in addition to 30+ leading figures from the world of football and sport.

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Football Agents, Football Innovation Summit, Sports Agent, Sports