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

For those who have read some of my articles in the past, for some, I have been very critical both as to the regulation of football agents (intermediaries) and also the activities of an unacceptably large proportion of those who operate as football agents. This in itself has also come with a considerable amount of criticism, accusing me of being far too quick to highlight the problems rather than the solutions, to which my first response is that I am not the one contracted to correct and/or uphold the regulations but to simply abide by them and thus OBSERVE them as a registered intermediary (and licensed agent).

Over an extended period of time, I have presented proposals and possible solutions to a variety of issues and problems that blight the football industry in relation to football agents. Many of these proposals haven’t been put into general circulation but have been provided to a variety of key parties; not for a self-indulgent ego-trip, but genuine concern. The recipients of such proposals included football stakeholders and participant groups such as The FA, Premier League, EFL, PFA, EFAA, and the AFA, as well academic establishments, professional advisors and also government.

Football has more than it's fair share of agent problems. What are the main issues and problems, and more importantly the possible solutions.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and one of the retained aspects in me looking and campaigning on such issues related to football agents is that I have, time and time again, said (i) no one party can be expected to adequately address this issue and it needs cross-party cooperation, and (ii) authorities and participants need to start showing a bit of empathy towards one another on these issues.

Just one of these projects back in 2017 was a document I composed tagged ‘Tombstone’ and was prompted firstly by the FA being called to give evidence before a DCMS commons select committee (yet again), and thus some of the subsequent responses and answers that came from the FA including matters involving football agents.

Having consulted with a member of the committee on matters regarding agency regulations, I made the offer to compile a document looking at some of the problems in football agency activity and as such, some proposed solutions, concepts and steps that could be taken in addressing the issues. That document in itself is 2 years old now, and on looking back at it, it is by no means grammatically correct and is rather unwieldy not least as I had to reign myself in from going onto marginal football topics affected by agency issues.

Plus, I need to say on some of the issues, my opinions and subsequent proposals may have changed, but if you wish to read ‘Tombstone’ it can be downloaded/viewed at http://bit.ly/TombstoneFootballsWildWest.

Yet as we seem to be approaching a time when FIFA look like reintroducing an agent’s license (of some form) since “abandoning” the old license in 2015, (something I will touch on in another article very soon) I thought I would look back at the football agent problems and solutions that I have touched on many times before.

There were far too many problematic issues involving football agents to cover in one article, and therefore I have split it across multiple articles, including topics such as:

  • Agent Registering and Licensing
  • Regulations and Sanctions
  • Capping Agents Fees
  • Protection of Minors
  • Transparency
  • Conflicts of Interests

So, a good place to start is the issues and problems that surround the effectiveness in the ‘Registering and Licensing’ of Football agents and then the Regulations governing football agents along with the sanctions that accompany them.

Football Agent Registration and ‘Licensing’

For many years I deliberated over issues of football agency licensing; does it work? should it be scrapped? should it be mandatory? should it have multiple tiers? should it be a legal requirement nationally? And to be honest, I don’t think I have a clear and definitive answer to the whole issue that doesn’t require a multi-party approach (led by FIFA) to find a solution that may work globally.

Being someone who has for many years abided by the football rules and regulations; I considered going unlicensed, as being licensed offered no real benefits and was, in fact, more of a hindrance. Being unlicensed presents an opportunity of being in an unregulated position, where the football authorities in most countries (including FIFA) ‘can’t touch you’, but you can still operate as a football agent ‘under the football governance radar’, without paying a registration fee and being protected somewhat by legally binding agreements.

However, what I keep coming back to is that any person who wants to operate professionally and ethically as an agent should look to be licensed by the relevant authorities, not for their own sake necessarily but for that of their clients (whether players or clubs). Yet licensed football agents I believe, deserve to get something in return, and at the very least a relevant license that affords them protection and some benefits from a system that goes to them (otherwise they become the black sheep of football’s family >>>>>>> see article). This could be as simple as funded educational courses and CPD to raise standards amongst football agents (something I wholeheartedly support). In due course maybe we can expect licensed football agents to develop into a profession rather than just an industry, likened as a whole by many to that of the wild west.

But how can such a license be effective, when it spans multiple territories each with their own variations on the regulations, not to mention cultural nuances and national laws? The fact is a global agents registration system is in my mind unworkable; after all, we still have people going around calling themselves FIFA Players Agents when such hasn’t existed for at least 15 years and a period spanning 2 or 3 different eras of football agent regulations.

A global registration system does, however, leave a window of opportunity from which to build upon, that not only gives greater legitimacy to the validity of a FIFA agents license but makes it more workable. In fact, I recall a concept I presented to representatives of The FA, AFA and EFAA in 2014 by way of an ‘Agents Passport’, needless to say, it was ignored (if not mocked) at that time, but reflecting back I have to say I was 90% of the way there. Although initially a European based concept it could work globally, especially when rumours are that FIFA is proposing the introduction of a new integrated agents’ registration and transfer system.

The concept works on the basis that FIFA issue the agent’s registration/passport once the applicant passes FIFA’s criteria to hold the license etc whether it be by means of a criminal records check, passing an exam, or periodically undertaking a course of CPD. However, the registration/passport would not give the individual authority to operate in any territory, until they gain authority from the national football association of that territory beforehand to operate as an agent (using the passport analogy – think of it as a ‘visa’ for the country).

This method would allow not only for FIFA to centrally suspend or deregister an agent from operating globally, but also afford more control to those national associations as to who they want to authorise to operate in their individual territories, and also apply their own registration criteria (e.g. safeguarding checks, standards, exam, insurance, CPD, renewals).

With the suggestions being mooted from FIFA’s new agent regulation proposals and an online centrally managed global system, this method of licensing is now perfectly feasible with FIFA registered agents, FIFA, national associations, and clubs all having access to a system to see who is registered and authorised, and who is not.

Football Agent Regulations and Sanctions

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:

  • If a club/club-official (including manager) is using unlicensed agents – the clubs should be suspended from using those players in all competitions
  • If a club/club-official (including manager) repeatedly uses unlicensed agents – the club should have a transfer embargo imposed
  • If a player engages the services of an unlicensed agent or is complicit in breaches of agent regulations, they are suspended from competitive matches
  • If a club breaches agent regulations, they should be suspended from playing that player in all competitions.
  • Repeated breaches of agent regulation by clubs should be sanctioned with proportionate transfer embargoes, as most agent activity is in regards to the transfer of players.

I would like to say that I appreciate it is impossible to 100% regulate and uphold regulations in such an industry, and as such if the prevalent issues were addressed first and in full it would be more acceptable. However, this shouldn’t be used as a covert method to relax regulations as was the case with The FA in 2015, where we were told the relaxed regulations would allow them to focus on key issues and regulate more effectively …. needless to say, effectiveness is not a word many would associate with what has happened since.

Part 2 of This Article Looks at More Issues and Problems in Relation to Football Agents, and Again Looks at Possible Solutions

The areas covered include capping of football agents fees, protection of minors and overall transparency in regards to football agents.