As soon as a talented young football player is about to sign his first professional contract (and even before), he enters into a new environment. As from that particular moment, the world of football completely changes for the player. Suddenly a lot of business and non-sports related matters enter into the life of football players, while before the only thing that really mattered was the game itself. There will be more attention and pressure from fans and media. Also the first contacts with football agents take place, and this generally in a more aggressive way than expected.
Football agents have a bad reputation. All too often with reason. Together with female attention, financial mismanagement and injuries, agents may be considered as one of the biggest risks to a footballer’s career. A lot of players are therefore reluctant and even a little afraid to work with an agent. Stirr Associates would like to share some guidelines with football players when dealing with football agents.
Discuss in full detail the philosophy and vision of the agent
Never (never ever!) just sign a contract with a football agent without first talking with other football agents. Next to that you must make sure that you have more than one (and preferably more than 3) meetings with the agent you would like to work with before making the final decision. It is important to take your time before you decide to start this kind of collaboration.
The relationship between the football agent and the player is a very intense relationship. Moreover, it is a relationship that at certain moments in the life of a professional football player can be under a lot of pressure. Certainly during the most important phases in your career such as a possible transfer or new contract signing the relationship will be tested.
In the event of a possible transfer, every day new rumours will appear on the Internet, in newspapers but also on your Twitter and Facebook page. During these periods, other agents shall also contact you and try to convince you with proposals from different clubs (real proposals but sometimes also fake). These moments of high pressure and stress can be a huge challenge for your relationship with your agent. The quality of that relationship will at that time be of the upmost importance if you do not wish to risk to miss out on a transfer or contract extension. Therefore it is essential that there is full clarity on the role of the agent for you (but also for the agent).
Be careful of ‘namedropping’ and the promise of offers from (other) clubs
The best agents are great salesmen and know very well the art of convincing players. During the first meetings an agent will always mention a number of well-known players he has worked with or some important transfers he has arranged. Do not let yourself be fooled by this. Agents do know that it is very difficult to check from the outside which agents work with which kind of players and who was responsible for certain transfers. Therefore they do not always tell the truth (or at least not the complete truth).
The best possible way to check the track record of an agent is to talk with other players working with that agent. You could even get more valuable information out of a conversation with a player who has left that agent.
A former top player is not necessarily a top agent
Very often football agents are former professional football players. As far as sports advice is concerned, the fact that an agent has been a professional player certainly has its advantages. He will understand the ins and outs of the game and certainly will have a network of relationships, which can be useful. Such agents will be able to support you with all your sports-related choices.
The guidance on sports-related topics is, at least in our view, only one of the aspects in an agent’s assignment. The agent will also have to negotiate complicated contracts in foreign languages with a tax and legal regime he is not familiar with. Ideally the agent would need to have a legal and/or a business background to cope with this.
Most of the former players, who become agents after their career, never had such an education. As the FIFA agent licensing system has now recently been banned by FIFA, agents no longer even need to have a minimal know-how of FIFA regulations. This means that the person dealing with the most important contracts in your professional life literally is no longer required to know anything about this profession. The malpractices and lack of professionalism that were already present before the FIFA agent licenses were banned will most likely only increase in the future.
Work on the basis of a written agreement
Whenever you decide to work together with an agent, you should put the details of the collaboration in writing. A written agreement will give stability and trust to your relationship.
In such an agreement it should be stated what each party can expect from the other. It should also be clear when and on what grounds you can terminate the agreement. Doing so means avoiding having to deal with any unpleasant surprises during the most important moments of your career.
Contact a legal specialist to check the agreement with your agent
The regulations regarding the job placement business (i.e. the agent business) are very complicated on a national and certainly on an international level. Players and certainly young players are not aware of these regulations.
Agents often make use of (or abuse) the fact that players have a lack of know-how. All too often agents state that the agreement can be terminated unilaterally by the player and this without any costs and without notice. But when a player effectively wants to terminate the contract, the agents threaten to sue the player and file a claim for high damages.
In every agreement with an agent, the following points should be considered very carefully:
- Compensation of the agent – how much and who pays the compensation?
- Duration – when does the agreement expire?
- Grounds of termination – on what grounds and at what cost can the player terminate the agreement?
- Exclusivity – what happens if a player signs a contract without the involvement of the agent, or with the involvement of another agent?
- Assignment – what is the exact role and assignment of the player? What are the exact rights and obligations of both the player and the agent?
- Applicable law and jurisdiction – what law is applicable and which courts have jurisdictions in case of a dispute?
It is best that this agreement is being checked by a specialist or at least someone who is familiar with reading contracts.
Be aware of how agents earn their money (and who is their true principal)
Although the agent represents the player, the clubs shall in most cases pay him. In other words, the agents will be paid by a party whose interests conflict with yours. Often players are not even aware of the exact level of their agent’s commissions. We experience that the commissions agents effectively earn are not in line with what agents say they earn (or what they can earn according to their agreement). Some players are even convinced that the agents do not cost them anything, as they are not paying the agents themselves.
The fact that the agent is often paid by the club and not the player has the consequence that the real principal of the agent is the club. Yet the agents should represent the interests of the player. This conflict of interest is very common and to deal with it the agent should have a high level of integrity.
Full service and full service are not the same
A lot of agents offer a so-called full service or 360°-service. This full service includes guidance for all non sports-related and all sports-related matters. Some agents consider full service as the filing of tax declarations or the referral of their clients to private bankers or real estate developers.
An important question to ask the agent is whether he has expertise in these non sports-related matters. Does the agent just refer the player to befriended real estate agents and bankers? Does he get a commission from these real estate agents and bankers for such a referral? Also here the importance of a written agreement is obvious. You should know exactly when an agent makes money.
The choice of the football agent you are going to work with is critical. Making the wrong choice could ruin your career on both a sports and a financial level. Choose the right management from the start. You should be able to focus on football, and your agent should take care of the rest.
Feel free to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to have more information.
Stirr Associates, the athletes’ CEO