As the New Year approaches it is going to be a stressful time as ever for many young footballers and their families. Not only to see whether their club retains them, but as of the 1st January they can expect further stress (often unnecessary) as a plethora of intermediaries (agents) will be courting players if they turn 16 years of age during 2017. This is the first point at which they are permitted to sign a representation agreement with an authorised agent/intermediary.

I have seen it and heard about it for many years now, as ‘agents’ introduce themselves to parents, guardians and players at matches, academy’s, stadia and training grounds, with promises of what they can do and how they can do it better than any other agent. However, as the number of intermediaries grows and the balance in number sways away from those with the necessary experience, professionalism and knowledge of the industry and regulations, we will no doubt see young players and their families pestered more than ever and subsequently hear more and more unnecessary stories of bad agents and bad practice.

So what can be done in an age when it takes little more than a £500 payment to the FA to become a registered football intermediary and thus be permitted to approach players with the aim of representing them.

Well, for me the responsibility lies primarily with the parent/guardian of the player – not to be swayed by whoever makes the most promises or even the most persuasive promises. Likewise don’t make such an important decision on instinct alone, as even the most talented young footballer through bad representation can set their career back several years before it starts (even if it starts at all).

I thought it worthwhile that I play devils-advocate on this subject and provide a few quick pointers that some parents, guardians and players may want to consider in terms of signing a representation agreement with an intermediary (agent):

 


 

Do you really want and/or need an intermediary (agent)?

There is no right or wrong answer here; if they bring a benefit to the player however small then it is worth considering. However if you cannot identify a clear requirement for having an intermediary (agent) at this stage then don’t have one until you need one (e.g. the first professional contract offer/negotiation from a club).

What do you want the intermediary/agent to do?

Remember the player is the client of the intermediary/agent, and not the other way round. Yes, they may be able to ‘open the doors’ of opportunity for the player, but is it the right time to try and ‘open the doors’, and who are the main beneficiaries of these opportunities.

Is the intermediary/agent authorised?

Now, I would hope that this would go without saying, and all parents/guardians or players would check with the FA whether the agent/intermediary in question was registered. After all those intermediaries registered with the FA should be listed on the FA website, and if in doubt call the FA and check.

In addition to this, to represent players under the age of 18, the intermediary (agent) in question needs further authorisation from the FA. This again can be checked on the FA list of registered intermediaries and again if in doubt check with the FA.

If you have been approached by someone who was not an authorised agent/intermediary, just because they become authorised in the future doesn’t make them a legitimate option.  My recommendation would be to steer clear of them, both now and in the future, as if they are willing to flout and ignore regulations at such a basic level then they will in the future, which may put the player at risk.

How long have they been an agent or intermediary

Before I incur the wrath of many new intermediaries, I must just say this is not a basis on which to make a decision, as many of the new intermediaries are arguably as good (if not better) than the agents who were licensed before regulation changes.

However prior to April 2015 the agents licensing mechanism was more rigorous than it is now and required agents to demonstrate more knowledge and suitability to be licensed agents (than it does now for intermediaries), and as such this should be given some credence.

So in selecting an intermediary for representation, ask if they were a licensed agent before April 2015, and if not why they chose to enter the profession after then ….. I am guessing it will provide you with some interesting responses to be considered, both good and bad.

Avoid incentives to sign

It has long been the practice of agents to offer incentives to players and their families to encourage the signing of a representation agreement with said agents, whether it be a pair of boots or other more substantive and rewarding offers.

However, consider whether that agent is going to ‘write off’ that incentive as an investment or even a loss? Or do they expect to either claw it back over time from the representation agreement, possibly with interest?

If it is a worthwhile return for signing to that intermediary (agent) possibly for 2 years, then maybe so …….. but signing with a bad agent for 2 years for a few pairs of boots, is it really good value?

The other thing to consider is that despite such offerings technically being a breach of football regulations, it is also now potentially a criminal offence under the bribery act, not just for those offering the incentive (bribe) but also those seeking or accepting it.

Don’t go on the recommendation of the club alone

Clubs CAN be good means of checking whether a particular intermediary (agent) is to be cautious of, but don’t necessarily take the clubs word as gospel or ask for the club to recommend an intermediary (agent). Some clubs do have ‘preferred’ agents, but it is worth considering why a club may have ‘preferred’ agents. Far be it for me to say that they are ‘preferred’ for the wrong reasons, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.

By all means use trusted contact(s) at the club as a ‘sounding board’ (whether it be a coach, academy manager, physio, club welfare officer or scout) with a list of intermediaries you may well be considering to sign with. Through their own knowledge and experience these contacts may well be able to warn you off a few unscrupulous elements.

Don’t go on the recommendation of any one individual

Whether it be another player, ‘friend’, club official or other third party …… don’t go on the recommendation of any one individual in deciding who to sign with, as it is sadly the case some individuals are incentivised for the wrong reasons. Yes, consider the recommendation but don’t take it as a ‘gold standard’ of credibility just because one person says so.

Don’t be swayed by who else an intermediary (agent) represents

Just because an intermediary (or the agency for who they work) has a plethora of high profile players on their roster, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get the same level of care, attention or service. In fact it is worth considering the client:agent ratio, if they have many high profile clients will they have much time for relatively unknown talent?

Don’t be swayed by the name of the agency the intermediary (agent) works for

Similar to the kudos and credibility that may be given to an intermediary in regards to the clients they represent, a number of players, parents and guardians are swayed by the name of the agency that they represent.

Now there is no doubt the big agencies do a good job for their big clients, otherwise they wouldn’t be a big agency. However this again doesn’t mean the younger players or those at a lower level get the same level of care and/or service. Also where does the intermediary in question rank within their own organisation for experience, knowledge, credibility and professionalism as it is normally the individual intermediary who represents the player and not the big agency.

Who is the actual representative?

This may surprise some, but quite often the person who represents the player, advises and guides them is not always the official representative named on the paperwork. If you do make a decision on representation based on the relationship developed with an individual as the intermediary, make sure they are the one on the paperwork and the one that be your point of contact will work with you and provide the representation and subsequent support.

Take time to consider the representation agreement

Sometimes the mistake is made to sign a representation agreement without taking time to consider it and all of the implications of the agreement, after all these agreements generally last for 2 years, are exclusive and rarely have clear break clauses.

I have heard it many times where parents, guardians and players have been pressured into rushing to sign a representation agreement (even if just to get the agent off their back); this is WRONG if not illegal. Now I accept some intermediaries panic into getting an agreement signed ASAP before they lose the player to someone else, but this is just a part of the industry I believe they should accept.

For me it is actually a strength of an agent who doesn’t unreasonably pressure someone into signing a representation agreement, as it shows that they are confident that what they are proposing is ‘proper and fair’ and they accept this is an important decision for the player and their family.

Also for the parent, guardian and player to actually go away and consider the agreement shows they are considered and educated in their decision, which may well put a bad agent on the ‘back foot’, and by all means negotiate any points of the agreement you are uncomfortable with, after all you are the ones in position of power when it comes to negotiating how the player is represented and by whom.

Negotiate Key Points of an Agreement

You don’t need to get into the complexities of the agreement to negotiate it to better suit the players best interests, but there are some key areas that need consideration. These included aspects such as remuneration, severability, term, obligations (player and intermediary) and also exclusivity.

Please note, exclusivity can be a ‘double edged sword’ but if used in the correct way can actually be a benefit for players in the early stages of their careers.

If necessary seek independent professional advice

If in any doubt whatsoever seek INDEPENDENT advice from a qualified legal professional in fact it used to be a requirement that all licensed agents recommended any clients sought legal advice before signing a representation agreement, or at least afforded them such time to do so. Personally I would suggest getting an independent lawyer to review the representation agreement and break down the key points for you, if only for clarity and an independent interpretation.

However some key words of warning here (i) be aware some lawyers aren’t aware of the variations and intricacies that exist in the rules and regulations in football (but this does however put them in a position to offer a different perspective), (ii) ensure they are independent as some lawyers ‘double’ as intermediaries, and (iii) be aware of unnecessary costs from suggestions such as redrafting any agreements as in most cases it isn’t necessary.

Become a registered intermediary yourself

Now in saying this, I am not suggesting a parent/guardian will be in a position to represent the player at a professional level, however it may provide a means to ward off unwanted attention from other intermediaries (agents), and also send out a signal that you know the basics. Not to mention the club will know you primarily represent your son or daughters interests as their registered intermediary (but stress it is only a means for them and no other players). If you want to sub-contract representation to another intermediary at a later date then that is always an option, whilst you will also retain some element of control.

However a word of warning with this approach: as a parent/guardian of a player you will always be that players biggest fan, ‘blood is thicker than water’, and there may well come a time where a non-emotionally connected decision is required for the best that maybe a parent/guardian cannot give due to being emotionally connected and thus ‘too close’.

 


 

Whilst between the ages of 15 and 18 it is very much the embryonic stage of what is a potentially professional sporting career, it is an important time where although the right decisions are not necessarily ‘make or break’, making the right decisions for the right reasons is crucial. After all a 2 year commitment and effectively placing a large proportion of career prospects in the hands of a third party is a very important decision.

If in any doubt about signing a representation agreement with an intermediary (agent) then just DON’T SIGN IT!

If this little bit of guidance helps one parent, guardian and/or player to make the correct decision for their own best interests, then I am pleased that it has achieved its objective ……. Best of luck.