What are the Main Issues and Problems, and more importantly the Possible Solutions?


So on to part two of the article looking at some of the problems that affect the regulation of football agents (past, present and future) and also trying to look at possible solutions to address the problems and issues.

For this segment the focus is on :

  • ‘Capping’ of Agent’s Fees (Commissions)
  • Transparency
  • Protection of Minors
Football has more than it's fair share of agent problems. What are the main issues and problems, and more importantly the possible solutions.


Capping’ Agent’s Fees (Commissions)

If there was a ‘big red button’ sitting on Mr Infantino’s desk at FIFA in regards to agents then this is it – the matter of capping agents’ fees. With plenty of people urging him to push the button yet if he does you can almost guarantee a retaliation from the agents whether legal or by just not cooperating and the industry going underground.

The whole issue has been mooted for many years only ever really resulting in bickering, threats and wishy-washy guidelines added to regulations in 2015. My suspicion is that the issue is raised by the football authorities and those encouraging a cap to bring the fees to the public attention with no real intent to ‘push the button’ so as to avoid the backlash on something that is arguably illegal. After all, it is a service cost like many other purchases and business costs; if the client doesn’t want to pay, surely, they negotiate the price or simply don’t buy the service.

So, what is the solution, apart from don’t touch the button and just talk about it. Well it is a difficult one, and although I don’t believe in a cap, I think a sensible cap should be considered as up until now we have had FIFA talk of a totally unrealistic cap of 3% yet there has been no alternative suggestion (well not as far as I am aware).

This may come as somewhat of a surprise to a lot of people who don’t know many football agents: most are in fact reasonable people and they are business people who thrive on negotiation and getting things completed in a somewhat amicable way. Granted, some are greedy, immoral charlatans who will exploit everyone so long as they are ok, but I believe that most agents would confidentially tell the authorities what they typically charge in commission to a player, and if calculated fairly an acceptable (even if time-limited) cap could be workable. Thus, being acceptable to the reasonable agency element, control the greed element and solve FIFA’s problems on the issue.


Transparency

My first point is of imposing effective sanctions for agents proportionate to the offence or the profits they may have reasonably made. My second, and more prevalent point is that of investigating and sanctioning those who are complicit in such activity of breaching regulations, as the regulations are still part of general football governance and do not sit in an ‘echo chamber’. For example:

The whole issue of transparency with regards to football agent activity, is, granted, one of great concern. I would confidently estimate an incredibly high proportion of activity goes unmonitored and thus unregulated, and even when monitored the information and data is skewed and deceiving (whether deliberately so, or not).

Ok let’s ‘annoy’ some agents here 😊 ?, and say from my experience a proportion are lazy (if not unprofessional) when it comes to something that doesn’t result in securing a new client, a new commercial deal, or even a transfer for a client – and that is probably true about some people in all walks of life. Hence when it comes to agent declarations, paperwork, rules and regulations they have objected to the imposition of more rules let alone forms; however, some of this is somewhat justified, as forms in the past have been unexplained, pointless (if not conflicting and duplication) and time-consuming. Let alone the time it takes to file them (especially when hard copy). Is it little surprise that agents are reluctant to comprehend the introduction or reintroduction of more time-consuming processes that don’t help them but hinder them?

The fact is there does in my opinion need to be more transparency, but gathered in a manner that is efficient, effective, its purpose explained and is not time consuming for participants. Despite me being in favour of greater transparency from agents, clubs and players in terms of agency activity for some time, I have been reluctant to ardently campaign for such as I don’t firmly have the belief that the football authorities would do it sensibly or usefully and in a sense we would spend countless hours doing paperwork which they would then file (just to ‘tick a box’) rather than use the data submitted.

So what is the solution? Well I think the answers to this are probably a lot clearer than what they were ten years ago with technology taking us away from the necessity for hard-copy, photocopiers, land lines, low speed modems let alone the beloved FA fax machine; and as such the solutions are far easier to envisage.

However, despite technology (for which my professional history gives me some understanding), the way in which technology is utilised efficiently and effectively is something that needs great thought and care otherwise no matter how good the technology, it can inevitably be wasted. I believe this has been demonstrated by The FA in England with regards to ill though out systems and processes related to agent governance and transparency.

As I mentioned earlier I have been privy to some of the initial proposals from FIFA and The FA in terms of new agent regulations and the signs from FIFA are positive in embracing technology and utilising it in a way whereby agent declaration and data are not only submitted in a way they can be checked and cross-referenced, but also in a manner that makes the agents lives easier. By taking such an approach FIFA are in fact I believe, achieving two objectives (i) encouraging agents to be part of the system, and (ii) making available something of use that will benefit the agents – with agents having not had such a system (akin to TMS) before.

However, in addition to what I mentioned before about planning and applying the technology properly, I think it also important FIFA consult with agents on implementing the system and also avoid either (i) making agents fear their business sensitive data will be compromised, (ii) asking for more or unnecessary information, and (iii) charging agents an exorbitant fee to use the system (which my cynical side says they will to reduce the number of agents, thus devaluing their own system).


Protection of Minors (and their families)

Although not ideal, the age at which young players get consumed into the world of professional football has got earlier and earlier in recent times, as such it is imperative to protect what are just children no matter how talented they are at football. As clubs have come to realise even those under 10 years of age are potentially very valuable assets, this has not escaped the attention of football agents, and as such although illegal agents working with minors aged under the age of 16 is allegedly widespread; and sadly in many cases the lives of these children and their families are somewhat controlled (if not being manipulated) at the expense of their overall wellbeing.

From an agency perspective it is difficult for me to suggest solutions to further control agents when it comes to the protection of minors, needless to say that (i) the football authorities should and could continue to protect under 18s with additional measures, (ii) continue to outlaw agent representation for those under 15/16 years of age, (iii) outlaw payments to agents in regards to the representation of players who are under 18, but most importantly (iv) ensure all agents whether representing under 18 or not, have to undergo annual safeguarding and criminal checks and have to undergo periodical safeguarding education, as with club officials.

There is one point that I have made there that will have other agents ‘jumping up and down’ in annoyance and that is point (iii) ‘outlawing payments made to agents for those players under the age of 18’, but please wait, I accept any such disdain for the notion of the idea, as the player may well reach 18, sign for another agent who then reaps the rewards for the 2 years of hard work working with the young player whilst the original agent received nothing.

I have overtime played with the idea of whether a ‘solidarity’ mechanism of sorts would work in this scenario, similar to that of the FIFA club compensation and solidarity mechanism. Whereby agents involved in the representation of a young player during their developmental years receive a proportionate amount of the agent’s commission received by other agents in later years. Although it sounds workable in the ideal world of a professional industry with resounding efforts, however we are not dealing with such in this case. Three of the reasons why I ruled out the concept over time (despite trying to find a resolution to each) are that : (i) it is difficult enough for the authorities to track normal compensation and solidarity payments and agent commissions are in themselves difficult to monitor, (ii) there is an unsavoury scenario whereby young players will be signed up by agents who have no intention of helping their careers but solely to gamble that some may make it and they benefit from future agents fees, and (iii) the clearest element is that can one agent truly rely on another to accurately declare what agents commissions they have received let alone for the authorities to get payment.

Therefore as an alternative suggestion (and my original proposal) – a caveat to the regulations that limits an agent-player representation contract lasting no longer than 2 years, and as such the agent in question should be able to exercise their right to extend the representation contract for a further 2 years from the date of the players 18th birthday SHOULD THEY have fairly and adequately met all their obligations and duties to the player during the previous contract term. 

What I would say is that in regards to the issues of the protection of minors in football and youth development as a whole, I do believe FIFA and the Football Authorities are reaching a watershed moment in regards to academies (and by this I mean not only club academies, affiliated ones, non-affiliated and private enterprises). The football world is awash with academies, I appreciate some are regulated effectively, and focussed on a non-profit community, social if not educational aspect with good intentions. However, others I would label as bordering on something akin to ‘puppy farms’ for footballers where the sole intention is profit and preying on the dreams of susceptible young players and their families. It would be naive not to think such profits and potential bases of untapped talent would attract the rather unpalatable elements of the football agent’s world.



The Next Part of this Article (pt 3) Looks at ‘Conflicts of Interest’​ for Football Agents. Are they a big problem for Governance, the Industry and the Game as a Whole?

Focussing on What are the Main Issues of Football Agent ‘Conflicts of Interest‘ from TPO (Third Party Ownership) to Duality, Triality and Shared Business Interests

http://footballagentblog.chironsportsandmedia.com/2019/04/football-agents-conflicts-interest-capping-fees-tpo-duality-transparency/




<<< Part 1 of this Article looked why Football has more than it’s Fair Share of Agent Problems – What are the Main Issues and Problems, and more importantly the Possible Solutions?

Focussing on – Agent Registration & Licensing along with Agent Regulations and Sanctions from the football authorities

http://footballagentblog.chironsportsandmedia.com/2019/04/football-agent-problems-solutions-regulations-sanctions-licensing-registration-pt1/