At a time when there is a constant barrage of criticism targeted at sport agents especially those in football, it should be asked “who is to blame for the behaviour of football agents?

Certainly you wont find me defending many of my fellow FIFA football agents and some of their activities, whether they are licensed or not, as most of the criticism laid at their door is very justified, but wouldnt it be more accurate to ask the question as to “who is responsible for the bad behaviour, misdemeanour’s and malpractice of football agents?” as ‘blame‘ is often an innaccurate word to use.

 


 

IS FIFA RESPONSIBLE for the ‘unethical’ behaviour, misdemeanour’s and malpractice of football agents?

This may be true to an extent, but currently FIFA are changing the system and in the very near future the issue may well be addressed when FIFA change the regulations governing licensed agents.

People cant argue that FIFA are not addressing the issues of agents, they have a licensing programme (unlike someother sports), a list of exhaustive rules governing agents, and FIFA aren’t scared to say there is a problem and then try to address it (e.g. unlicensed agents).

I may be left to eat my words about FIFA when the new agency regulations are announced in the Spring of 2011, they may relax the laws and thus end up with a culture akin to the ‘wild-west’ although less so the gun but more so the power of cash and the law.

 

ARE THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATIONS RESPONSIBLE for the bad ‘unethical’ behaviour, misdemeanour’s and malpractice of football agents?

Well, to an extent the national football associations can only really follow what is stipulated by FIFA and subsequently their own governing confederation (e.g. UEFA).
The association can supplement the rules (with FIFA’s approval) with their own little caveats to often align themselves with their own legal system but unless they have the power to enforce regulations what is the point. I personally have always found the English Football Association (my home association) very helpful if you do things in the right and legal way, but I do get the feeling they have a lack of power when it comes to enforcement, through no fault of their own, but just to have the resources and support from other quarters to clamp down on major Agent misdemeanour’s.

This however is not to say that other Football Associations are not so rigorous and as efficient as the English FA in monitoring agents, certainly some national associations may be more effective, but I can say with certainty that some confederations and national football associations do not regulate their agency activity as closely as the FA (e.g. from the number of contacts I get from unlicensed agents typically from similar countries).

A BBC report said that “as few as 30% of international transfers were concluded by licensed agents”.

 

IS THE MEDIA RESPONSIBLE for the ‘unethical’ behaviour, misdemeanour’s and malpractice of football agents?

I am probably putting myself up there to be shot at by various quarters by even raising this question, but bear with me there is some relevance in the question.

My first query is in regards to the common charge laid at agents and clubs in ‘unsettling a player’, this is often done privately and ‘behind closed doors’, but quite often stories are leaked to the media with the aim of achieving the objectives of the agent. True, the media are just doing their job in reporting the news and giving people something they want to read, but then to accuse an agent of unsettling a player surely some of the media must face the same charge.

Under the current rules of FIFA parties are ” prohibited from approaching any player who is under contract to a club with the aim of persuading him to terminate his contract prematurely or to violate any obligations stipulated in the employment contract”. And in addition to this the English FA stipulate “No Authorised Agent nor any person acting on behalf of any such person, shall enter into negotiations, make any approach, take any steps, solicit or in any way facilitate discussions between parties with a view to a Transaction (including the making of statements to the media)”.

On the other side of the coin how many good stories in the media do you hear about an agent, I have seen one, and that was from a fellow agent who was pleased to have pulled off such a coup, and it was well deserved after operating for over 10 years within the law and looking after his clients. True, good stories about football agents probably don’t sell papers but after speaking to several people in the media the focus seems very much on stoking the fire that ‘all agents are bad’, maybe by publicising the work of good agents will help in hampering the bad.

No matter what involvement the media may have in accelerating the practices of bad and unscrupulous football agents, they are reporting the news and maybe whilst assisting the aims and objectives of some agents. The media has clearly helped in identifying a problem which the authorities are hopefully addressing.

 

ARE THE FOOTBALL CLUBS RESPONSIBLE for the bad ‘unethical’ behaviour, misdemeanour’s and malpractice of football agents?

This is a slightly more complex issue than the question suggests, as not only are we dealing with the club as a single entity but we are also dealing with individuals who ‘represent’ the club, much like any company where one director is different to another as is any member of staff different to another.

It may also be asked as to how many clubs knowingly use ‘unlicensed’ agents or fail to check if an agent is licensed,- this may not be applicable in domestic transfers under the guidance of the FA, but in October 2010 the BBC reported that “as few as 30% of international transfers were concluded by licensed agents”.

Many clubs have their own policy when it comes to dealing with agents and that is their right as the club, e.g. we are aware of two clubs, similar positions in the league, no more than 15 miles apart with 2 good academies, however the clubs have very different policies governing agents. For one club agents aren’t allowed at academy matches and officially at reserve team matches, whereas the other as long as you make a request and abide by their rules a licensed agent can attend academy and reserve matches.

Now I am not saying one of these clubs does it right or that the other does it wrong – but there is clearly one who controls the activity of agents, whereas the other may just find agents operating covertly and in essence against them. So if clubs were to work with agents there may be a fairer, more cohesive and cooperative working relationship, this is not however to say where a club has its ‘preferred’ agents will always mean you get an ethical relationship as surely there may be a conflict of interest.

There have been many high profile cases highlighted in the past of club representatives, associates and employees working with agents – another case of where the media does a good job in regards to agents and the football authorities and some clubs do address this issue – but surely if a club representative recommends an agent to a player or vice versa surely they should be doing it for the right reasons.

We at Chiron are constantly trying to evolve what we do and how we do it to not only benefit our clients but also the sport in which they participate and work cooperatively with others. However, on several occasions whether by letter, by email, over the telephone or even in person we have tried to engage with clubs, executives, coaches, managers, ex-players, scouts and what has been our response – well I would estimate 15% (20% at most), is it any wonder some agents look to bend or break the rules and work effectively against clubs?

 

ARE PLAYERS RESPONSIBLE for the bad ‘unethical’ behaviour, misdemeanour’s and malpractice of football agents?

Now this could be very dangerous ground if any current or prospective clients are reading this, and how can I justify even beginning to blame players for the bad behaviour of agents? When a player gets their first agent it is quite often decided by their parents, sometimes it is not, and as such choosing the wrong option at this early stage can be excused (although being very damaging) as whether player or parent this is typically something very new. So how MAY the decision made: Advice may be taken from a ‘trusted’ source (e.g. club or even coach/manager) but this leads to the earlier question being asked in that is the ‘trusted’ source making the recommendation for all the right reasons and in the interests of the player.

  • The decision is often made on the basis of the promises made by the agent (or in some cases the agents representative) – this is very unfortunate as not only are promised made but also unrealistic expectations raised and ego’s sometimes built.

So once a player has chosen to be represented by someone who is hopefully a licensed agent (and not the agents representative) what can be the damage? Well the simple answer is bad advice and lack of guidance. Which is typically for a period of 2 years where under certain circumstances the agent can receive commissions for the length of the contract.

Probably the safest option for a young player if they cannot find someone they are comfortable with is to opt for a 6 month representation agreement and have the agent gain their trust, alternatively the PFA may also advise (although the PFA have their own player representation arm/company).

Even after a period where the player hasn’t been adequately represented they often choose to renew. Is this more down to the fact that ‘better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t’, they don’t know the alternatives or they fear it will be a the detriment of their career.

One personal observation is that, despite not being able to speak to another agent whilst under an exclusive representation contract (as per FIFA regulations), the player is permitted to speak to any licensed agent in the last month of their existing representation contract thus assessing their options. The shock is that many players either don’t know when their representation contract ends or are under the impression that they have to renew their representation contract at the expiry which is not true despite what their agent says.

 

ARE THE AGENTS RESPONSIBLE for the bad ‘unethical’ behaviour, misdemeanour’s and malpractice of football agents?

I would be lying if I said agents weren’t to blame for the majority of bad behaviour and malpractice, but then again without rules and regulations, new loopholes are always going to be exploited, and without substantial reinforcement of such rules they are going to be broken, otherwise after all wouldn’t we have a crime free society?

I often have the discussions about agents and sports agency work with several professional associates (e.g. lawyers, accountants, bankers, financial advisers) and they are always amazed at the loopholes and caveats in the regulation and enforcement of football agents. Lawyers and solicitors are shocked at the possibilities for dual representation, Financial experts bulk at what loopholes can be exploited (something they could never get away with the FSA) but if these loopholes are not addressed there is always going to be an unethical element that exploit them.

One fact remains however, and referring back to the start of this article where i said “you wont find me defending many of my fellow FIFA football agents” a large proportion of the blame and responsibility does lie with the agents. Most people would accept that in any walk of life there are good and bad, people who look after the interst of others whilst others JUST look after themselves and agents are no different – but whilst the less ethical agents are allowed to easily operate their unethical practices they will probably continue and others may well follow.

 


 

VERDICT :
“SO WHO IS RESPONSIBLE,
WHO IS TO BLAME ?”

It is easy in the sometimes surreal world of football, for it sometimes to turn into a bit of a pantomime so it is only natural for there to be a bad guy, someone to booh, hiss at and centre all the blame whether it be FIFA the Football Association, the owner, manager or even the agent.

So who is to blame for the bad behaviour, misdemeanour’s and malpractice of football agents?

The simple answer to this is mainly the bad and unethical agents, but various quarters have a responsibility as to how agents operate and in the current climate have to shoulder at least some of the blame.

Hopefully with the new regulations due to be unveiled by FIFA, the majority of malpractice and unethical activities amongst both licensed and unlicensed agents can be reduced.