Is It Little Surprise That The ‘Football Family’s Black Sheep’ Has Gone Rogue?

Many people see football as somewhat of a reflection of the wider world and those who live in it. So, with that in mind is it little surprise that when like the world in general .

** 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’ : Is It Little Surprise That The ‘Football Family’s Black Sheep’ Has Gone Rogue?


Who is Football’s Rogue ‘Black Sheep’?

So, who is the much-maligned member(s) of FIFA’s self-titled ‘Football Family’ to whom I refer that has largely gone rogue and rebelled due to the way it is and has been treated and categorised by the larger group?

Now when I refer to the fact that the group in question are football agents and intermediaries many may well throw their heads back and laugh, at what may be perceived as an attempt of defending football’s indefensible.

Now please bear with me on this, I am not going to say that the behaviour of agents as a whole is excusable as both historically and in more recent times the behaviour of football agents has become more pronounced and arguably more objectionable to many other members of the ‘football family’. But maybe, just maybe it is a case of examining how and why the problems of football agents (now referred to as intermediaries) have become such a problem in the eyes of many others.


Defending the Indefensible?

In many cases sadly I have to agree that in trying to defend many of the activities of an unacceptable proportion of football agents it would indeed be an attempt to defend the indefensible whether this be on moral, ethical, governance or legal grounds. Hence, in many cases I wouldn’t even attempt to mount a defence, and those who know me will hopefully corroborate how quick I am to point out any unethical, immoral, if not corrupt and illegal activity that unfortunately exists in regards football agent and intermediary activity.

However, defending the actions of some on ethical and professional grounds (rather than moral or legal) is somewhat easier, given the fractured and weak nature of industry regulations both past and present.

Hence governance and regulation are the first area that has allowed football’s ‘black sheep’ to behave in an arguably more unacceptable and roguish manner than many would want, due to the weak and largely ineffective ‘shepherding’ by the football authorities.


Have Things Got Better or Worse?

Depending on who you ask and their knowledge and experience of the industry; opinions as to whether matters relating to football agents have got better or worse will indeed vary; or indeed whether football has ever been close to a good system of agent governance.

Indeed, ask people from different footballing territories around the globe they too will have different opinions of football agent matters because of the global variations in agent regulations over time. These global variations are nothing new, as despite the governance of agents always being primarily the domain of FIFA, the national associations have almost always been permitted to add their own ‘twist’ on domestic agent regulations given the different laws, business practices, natures, cultures and governance budgets in their respective countries.

Yet this fractured approach to the regulation of football agents (further enhanced by FIFA abandoning the former regulations in 2015) leads to confusion, inconsistencies and loopholes that can be exploited by those who want to capitalise on such.


Evolution of a Business that the Game has Failed to Keep Pace With?

The fact is that the agency industry has evolved quite dramatically over the past 10, 20, 30, even 40 years, and football as a whole has failed to adapt and evolve to address these changes at the same rate. This is not just in relation to factors such as the number of agents, or the fees and salaries for agents and players alike ….. but also, the power and influence some agents now wield in the modern game.

Yes, over time the ‘attempted’ governance of agents has evolved; both by FIFA and some of the national football associations (such as the FA), but whether this evolution (and arguable ‘improvement’) is based on such factors as licensing, bonds, fees, examinations, insurance, ‘fit and proper’ tests for agents – they all were steps I believe with the intent of improving football governance. However, some of the main problems I believe were caused (despite good intentions) by the apparent lack of strategy, aim, direction or shared goal. Also efforts seemed to be fractured (i.e. across territories) and the piecemeal approach to the implementation subsequently has led to no clear improvement.


Did FIFA Effectively Abandon the Whole ‘Football Family’?

In April 2015 FIFA ‘abandoned’ the old football agents license and regulations, arguably ‘passing the buck’ to others to shoulder the responsibility (if not burden).

The previous regulations were replaced with a ‘watered down’ version of regulations governing ‘Football Intermediaries’ (in effect the new name for agents); and with this the general requirements for an entry exam and PI insurance or bond was also abandoned. However, beyond the basic framework set out by FIFA, the national football associations were permitted to go beyond the FIFA framework with their own domestic regulations, but very few chose to do so.

So, with that in mind you may well be asking where this left the English FA, who arguably at that time had some of the best agent regulations in the world adding to the previous FIFA framework with additional measures of their own; surely it was an opportunity for them to cement this position as ‘standard bearers’ on such regulatory matters?

But no, we can confidently conclude that the FA also selected to ‘dumb down’ their own domestic intermediary/agent regulations, along with watering down the entry requirements for those to operate as football intermediaries which in turn led to an influx of untrained and ill-informed intermediaries. (This is something I will look to address in a later article).


Is There Even an Effective Shepherd for Football’s Black Sheep?

Whilst I have touched on the matter of disjointed if not weak regulations, there is no avoiding the fact that regulations still exist, and therefore should still be enforced and at least an attempt to effectively control the ‘black sheep’. So, what of actually enforcing the regulations and applying sanctions for breaches of the agent/intermediary regulations?

Well the one encouraging sign from the changes in regulations is that other participant groups have been given more responsibility in the fact that their actions are also subject to the agent’s regulations; this includes players, clubs and club officials. However, from initial observations such charges and sanctions have been very limited and when compared to breaches of things such as FFP and TPO the sanctions are somewhat ineffective when compared to transfer embargoes and suspensions from football activity. But in saying this, it appears that charges are rare against all of the protagonists in a case where breaches of the agent regulations are identified with the agents taking the brunt of the blame which leaves agents both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ with little faith in the system to which they have signed up.

Unfortunately, I think many people; both those with a knowledge of the industry and some of those observing from outside would be justified in thinking the sanctioning for agent breaches is flawed and is no deterrent to errant behaviour.

Whether it be cited that there is a lack of proof or evidence to charge, ignoring certain targets and matters because other cases are more conclusive and easier to pursue. Or dare I say, targeting those who may not have the means to more robustly defend themselves to tick a box for regulation credibility and a PR exercise for good governance, the focus on where and how to regulate agents seems to be very blurred. Added to this disproportionate fines, suspensions and sanctions for breaches of agent regulations often have little effect or are perceived as unfair and inconsistent.

I know for a fact some agents ‘roll the dice’, and knowingly bend (if not break) the rules with it in mind they may never get caught. And if they are caught and investigated they are aware they may never get charged, and even if they are charged it is probably worth it and is merely seen as an occupational hazard for some.


What is the Worse That Can Happen?

So, what is the worst that can happen to an agent/intermediary who innocently or indeed knowingly breaches the rules and regulations?

Well in effect they can be suspended if not banned from acting in such a capacity, bit drastic you may think: but in all honesty this may be the most attractive outcome for some and hence even more encouragement to go rogue.

How is this so, you may ask? Well as a non-registered intermediary (or previously unlicensed agent) what can the football regulators do about you breaching the regulations; and the answer is nothing, as you are no longer a participant under their jurisdiction.

After all, prior to the 2015 regulatory changes there were a lot of unlicensed and high-profile agents operating outside of the football regulations (some of whom have been permitted to become registered intermediaries since), so do we really think it will affect them dramatically to no longer be unregistered and be somewhat shackled by observing the regulations.

The simple answer is no, many of these agents are very astute business people and will tailor their business model and at the most basic level instead of presenting themselves as agents or intermediaries, they will classify themselves as advisors, consultants, even scouts.

In fact, in reflecting on this: the old FA line when asked prior to 2015 ‘what are you doing about unlicensed agents?’ typically responded with something along the lines of ‘well we can’t do anything, as they are unlicensed’, and sadly I doubt this mantra has changed.


Is There Any Value in an Agent Being A Cooperative Member of The Football Family?

With all this is in mind is there any true benefit in being an authorised agent/intermediary? And in all honesty, it is very difficult to identify any benefit whatsoever, so is it little surprise the group have gone rogue.

The extent of the situation has led to a large proportion of the good and professional operators have chosen to either (i) leave the industry, or (ii) change the way they operate and bend if not break the rules this is not to thrive, but in many cases just to survive. In my opinion the loss of good and professional agents is to the detriment of the football community as a whole, and for those who think one less agent is a good thing you can be assured the vacuum created will no doubt be filled by others (plural)




Read Part 2 of this Article :
Who Else ‘Encouraged’ Football’s Black Sheep to Run Amok?