Agents are the Football Family’s Black Sheep,
But Who Let Some Run Amok?


Whilst I do believe the underlying issue to the football agent regulation problem, is based primarily on poor governance and regulation of football agents; it is all too easy to say that all of the blame lies with FIFA or indeed the various football confederations and national associations for their failure to get to grips with the problem of football agents.

After all, and to use another footballing analogy, FIFA passed the national associations a ’hospital ball’, many of whom have either panicked and ‘kicked the ball into row Z’ or just ignored the ball, rather than take responsibility and deal with the task.

Yet there are many others who have a role to play in allowing footballs black sheep to run amok, if not have encouraged it to behave even worse (whether directly or indirectly).

** Please Note for the purpose of this article I refer to ‘agents’ when referring to both football agents and the succeeding clarification of Intermediaries as per FIFA’s regulation change in April 2015.

 

The ‘Black Sheep’ of ‘Football’s Family’ : Agents are the ‘Football Family’s Black Sheep’, But Who Let Some Run Amok?

 

Misreporting and Misrepresentation by Sports Media

It never fails to amaze me how largely inaccurate, misrepresentated and ill-informed reporting by the majority of the UK sports media is on matters relating to football agents; having dealt with members of the sports media I would guess for some this is not down to ignorance or stupidity but more the need to develop a ‘juicier’ story or headline or even to maintain the parasitic agent ‘stereotype’ amongst readers.

This is even as basic as the inability to differentiate between an authorised agent and one who is not authorised, registered or licensed (which is easy enough to check). Or labelling an agent as ‘a good agent’ because the reporter, station, channel or paper in question knows them, they are connected or old friends – even when they know the person in question is guilty of questionable agency activity.

I appreciate that the sports media have to be mindful of not offending certain sources and also ‘currying favour’ with others; after all they would find it more difficult to get the sources, interviews or cooperation they need for the stories and articles of interest.

Yet it is notable how many football governance, corruption and agency related stories come from the mainstream journalists rather than the sports writers, after all the specialist sports teams may well have direct access to more privileged information and more knowledge on the matter than their news colleagues.

 

The Clubs Who Have Wedged the Gate Open

Time and time again, particularly around the period of ‘transfer windows’ there is no shortage of contempt and complaints from clubs and club officials with regards to the conduct, regulations and fees relating to agents. But the question has to be asked despite these complaints have the clubs and club officials played their part in addressing the problems or in fact are they just as guilty in creating and cultivating the problems?

The fact is that some of the clubs in their desire to get the players they want, will continue to pay agents fees (whether legitimate or not), and sometimes look to exploit grey areas in the agent’s regulations to conclude the transactions they hope will bring them success either in terms of team performance or the business bottom line. Some of this may be out of naivety to the regulations or indeed not acknowledging the power they wield collectively, but the fact remains agents’ fees stem from the clubs in most cases, and in extreme cases clubs will be well aware of breaches of the agents’ regulations and questionable activity, but choose to turn a blind eye let alone actually report it (which they are obliged to do).

Despite hearing on several occasions, the intent of club chairmen, owners or more recently the leagues to address football agent issues and regulations; little true action is evident beyond a soundbite to appease the wider football community and give the media a headline. The fact is from personal experience, despite all the soundbites and rhetoric, very few of those in a position to influence change and address the issues demonstrate no true intent to act, and seem to be waiting for others to act rather than take responsibility themselves (either individually or collectively).

 

Players Indirectly Feed the Black Sheep

Whilst players have a responsibility in agent regulatory matters, as it directly affects their own careers and interests more than any other; they can to an extent be forgiven in being somewhat oblivious to the conduct of agents (whether it be their agent or a third party).

However, changes in the regulations (e.g. in England) have seen a greater responsibility placed on players in regards to their agents and their activities; this is in addition to the responsibility that already sits with them in protecting their own interests and remaining informed.

From my own experience, far too many players are ill-informed of agent related matters and regulations or indeed their own responsibilities; and as such is it little surprise that players become embroiled in problems in relation to agents?

So, who does the responsibility lie with to try and keep players informed of agent matters, so that they can take some responsibility for agent related matters if only for their own interests and benefit? Not least as players too can be charged for breaches of the agent/intermediary regulations if they are aware of conduct that breaches the regulations.

Well you would hope the player agents/representatives would keep them informed, but is that realistic given the fact that in some cases these are the same people who would try to conceal such information from the players because of potentially nefarious acts.

There are as I understand it attempts from the FA to keep players informed of agent related matters, and then there are the Player Associations such as the PFA who for many have a key responsibility to keep players informed of agent matters – but therein itself lies another problem.

I won’t get bogged down in the debate of how well informed some PFA representatives are at the various clubs or indeed whether they should shoulder such a task. Yet, there is another underlying issue for the PFA that is seen by many as a clear conflict of interest; in that the PFA themselves (through a related body) have their own player agents that rival the mass of other agents/intermediaries. With that said my opinion for a long time has been that the PFA would be better undertaking an independent role in informing players of agent related matters and acting as a ‘protective buffer’ for players on such matters rather than being perceived as a threat by agents (and vice versa) that arguably is to the detriment of all parties involved not least the players.

 

Have the FA Now Disowned the Black Sheep?

As I mentioned earlier, in 2015 FIFA chose to ‘abandon’ (FIFA’s terminology not mine) the old regulations thus giving more responsibility to the national associations for the regulation of agents (then reclassified as intermediaries). Yet, as I also mentioned the FA took a similar approach to that of FIFA in implementing a set of watered down regulations for agents when compared to what they had previously in regards to domestic agent regulations.

If you are to ask why the FA chose to dilute their agent/intermediary regulations in 2015, the ‘party line’ would probably be along the lines of – so that they ‘could better regulate the industry and concentrate on the most important matters’. But in the eyes of many and on various agent regulation issues, this is not the case and it was purely a matter of trying to make life easier and ignoring many of the problems by making them compliant with the regulations – which in effect has possibly made the problems worse by effectively legalising actions that were formerly breaches.

Firstly, in abandoning the agent’s examination there is no longer any test to demonstrate that intermediaries have a basic understanding of the regulations to best represent those they act for, and subsequently best represent their interests. This results in the black sheep becoming even more badly behaved as many have no knowledge of the rules that apply to them, let alone adhering to these rules and regulations.

Added to this consideration has to be given to the fact that the FA chose not to implement a standard DBS check to evaluate the criminal records for all intermediaries, choosing instead to implement the check only for those who wish to represent minors. This is something I cover in a different article relating to agents and safeguarding. Suffice to say this does not only justify safeguarding related questions, but also asks : why such a basic check that was previously mandatory has been negated in light of the fact that it would check the character of intermediaries and possibly avoid future unsatisfactory behaviour by authorised agents/intermediaries?

 

Does the Black Sheep Even Know it is Behaving Badly?

I am not naïve enough to think that an unacceptable number of agents knowingly breach the regulations with little or no concern of the consequences for themselves, let alone others. However, I am quietly confident in saying that many of the breaches are innocent and committed unwittingly, some of which come to light whilst others don’t and some may even be conveniently ‘swept under the carpet’.

So, with the lack of an agent’s exam in such an influential industry you would have presumed there would be some form of CPD programme, regular education seminars or even an ‘education pathway’ (to use an FA term) for agents/intermediaries, as is the case for almost every other category of FA football participant.

The fact is there is none of the above for FA Intermediaries (agents) and never has been to my knowledge. This leaves a group of participants regulated by the FA, and (from 2015) paying fees to the FA but are in effect excluded from training, development and education – so is it little surprise a whole group of football participants feel somewhat neglected, whilst others may see this as reason enough to write their own rules and methods.

From my own experience getting accepted onto other FA educational courses (including seminars, conferences and other events) is very difficult. And despite agreeing to pay the same rate as other participants, meeting all the prerequisite requirements and demonstrating the educational benefit to myself from attending as a participant, I have found many hurdles to acceptance if not being unfairly excluded. There is rarely clear reasoning for such an exclusion and in trying to get an explanation in itself for such is difficult with the exception of poor and delayed excuses; suffice to say that from one occasion ‘unofficially’ I was informed my exclusion was solely on the grounds that I was an agent/intermediary.

 

Hearing But Not Listening

From some quarters a long standing argument has been that whilst agents are ‘regulated’ they are not adequately represented, unlike other participants and stakeholders in the professional game such as clubs, players, managers, referees and leagues. And as such, under these circumstances is it little surprise the regulators and the regulated agents aren’t aligned in their views and conflict exists between these partied and also other participant groups in regards to agent activities and regulations.

After many years in the industry other participant groups, stakeholders and regulators say they listen to the agents; but is this true, or just an effort to hear but not necessarily listen, in effect to tick a box in a list of processes. Sadly, from observation, research and personal experience I think there is definitely an issue with the representation of agents in agent related matters, and despite piecemeal efforts of the likes of the FA (and more recently FIFA) it is little surprise that a proportion of the agent community has run amok, after all excluding the group has made them go rogue.

 

CONCLUSION : It’s All the Black Sheep’s Fault! ……… or is it?

So, in concluding it is all very well various members of the ‘football family’ either burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the black sheep or pointing the finger and blaming it for all the miscreant behaviour; but in doing so, are the problems going to be resolved and matters improved?

I am not expecting the ‘black sheep’ to be embraced by others, but at least accepted as part of the family and in time maybe it won’t be such an unacceptable addition to the family portrait.

The football family is at best a lot of the time dysfunctional; but without addressing issues and collectively taking responsibility the family becomes more dysfunctional and often the problems snowball for the whole family. Not least with the black sheep possibly being cut even more adrift only to become more unruly uncontrollable and cause yet more problems and disruption.

 

 

 

Read the Preceding Part of this Article, Part 1 :
Is It Little Surprise That the Football Family’s Black Sheep Has Gone Rogue?

at http://footballagentblog.chironsportsandmedia.com/2018/09/no-suprise-footballs-black-sheep-has-gone-rogue/