Could the upgrading of FIFA’s TMS (Transfer Matching System) be an integral part of plans for a new football agent licensing system and regulations?


Please note this information and the subsequent analysis does not emanate officially and/or directly from FIFA, but from various sources who have been able to relay the outline of discussions and subsequent proposals thus far.

As I mentioned in the previous article, the news that FIFA are being seen to address the problems and issues with football agent (intermediary) activity is to be welcomed, although many would be quick to shout either (i) ‘we told you so’, and/or (ii) ‘it is better late than never’ (at least 4 years too late). And with the overall objective of the ‘framework’ stated by FIFA to be:

“Raising professional and ethical standards for the occupation of intermediaries to protect players who have short careers and to protect contractual stability and solidarity”.

….…. it brings together several underlying elements which in themselves largely fulfil very important objectives:

  • Raising Professional standards through such measures as agent licensing, fiduciary duty, standard contracts, standard invoices and enforcement/sanctions.

  • Raising ethical standards through transparency, preventing conflicts of interests, limitation of mandates, clearing house, potential cap on agents’ fees.

  • Protecting contractual stability through aligning agent activity with that of the transfer system, protecting the solidarity mechanism, capping on agents’ fees to avoid a speculative market for non-sporting objectives.

  • Better regulation of agent compensation and representation.

I will endeavour to look a bit further into the specific details made available thus far on what FIFA’s ‘Football Stakeholders Committee’ are intimating to be looking to introduce, and more importantly whether these proposals are plausible, realistic or that more importantly won’t meet with objections or ultimately fail to be effective.

The first part of these proposals centres around the FIFA TMS (transfer matching system) to incorporate functionality and processes in relation to the regulation of football agents and agency activity. The first thing I would be quick to highlight here is that this TMS stage of the proposals in itself has the 3 steps, so there may be some scepticism as to how long FIFA intend to take to implement the proposals given their track record for procrastinating and delaying on football agent matters.

TMS Changes – Step 1 : Agent Licensing

Centrally Administered Licensing System

It is a relief to see that FIFA intend to reintroduce an agent licensing system (which they previously chose to ‘abandon’ in 2015), although the notion of a centrally administered system could be doomed to failure depending on how much control and responsibility FIFA envisage the system having. By this I don’t mean that it may have logistical and administrative challenges that come with such a global system being a potential nightmare, but more importantly the matter of the legal, cultural, lingual, commercial and other nuances that vary between countries and regions.

As I mentioned in one of my other articles (‘Football has more than it’s Fair Share of Agent Problems’  ; a central register of agents at FIFA in conjunction with authorisation from the various national associations is a far more workable approach, with centrally registered FIFA Player Agents, and then subsequent licenses to operate issued by the individual National Football Associations (i.e. a passport and visa ‘type’ mechanism). Subsequently clarification needs to be sort between the meanings given to (i) registration, (ii) licensing and (iii) authorisation – as they can be interpreted to mean very different things with their own unique challenges and implications in this context.

Agent Exams (web-based)

I am sure many would agree that the reintroduction of an agents exam (again after FIFA abolished this in 2015) in order to assess basic knowledge and understanding is another good step by FIFA. And thus if used in tandem with proficiency exams/tests from respective national associations as to their own regional nuances and variations, this would work towards raising standards and an effective system.

However the notion that a large group of participants may be totally exempt from such a procedure (I.e. all those licensed and authorised agents pre-2015) may lead to some problems and objections in terms fairness, consistency and not least that of ‘raising professional standards’, given that since this time regulations may have changed, as has the industry as a whole.

Added to this is the notion of an initial entry/licensing exam being ‘web based’ does raise concerns about the manipulation of licensing and examinations. As arguably before 2015 there were many reported cases of national associations being somewhat lax in their exam and licensing procedures (when compared to others), including the ‘leaking’ of paper/answers and ‘ringers’ sitting exams for the applicant.

(D)TMS and (I)TMS Access for Agents

Over several years now there has been acknowledgement of the growing influence and effectiveness of FIFA’s TMS (Transfer Matching System) in the management of international transfers (ITMS). As such it was little surprise that the testing of similar domestic systems (DTMS) in the likes of the Netherlands has led the way to the notion of both DTMS and ITMS coming more on-line in an enhanced role.

* although my sceptical side still has concerns about TMS (and associated systems) and its original envisaged purpose when conceived many years ago – in terms of suspicions that it was a mechanism ‘geared up’ to monetise and control the transfer system somewhat for FIFA power brokers and a small associated group

Up until now only FIFA, the national associations and clubs have had access to TMS mechanisms but not agents. And although some agents I believe are sceptical to them being linked to TMS, I believe not only in terms of transparency but also efficiency and professionalism, that it will benefit legitimate and licensed agents/intermediaries in both their administrative duties and also make their business activities more efficient.

Licensing of Parents, Relatives and Lawyers

The licensing of parents, relatives and lawyers can often be a somewhat contentious issue as to whether it is ‘overkill’ in terms of those who are arguably qualified (I.e. lawyers) or may only represent one or two players (i.e. relatives). However, the measure to make sure all of those who act as agents are qualified to the same standard does make sense not only to protect the game but also its participants (including the agents), after all a well-meaning relative may not be qualified, much like a lawyer from an no sports-related legal background may not have specific industry knowledge.

Professional Liability Insurance

As per the regulations prior to 2015 an authorised agent also had to have in place the required level of PI insurance or file a bond with FIFA as security, and whilst this on the face of it has a very valid purpose in protecting the agent and those they represent, the financial sums (and subsequent liabilities) in football have increased dramatically in recent times and vary quite considerably.

As such FIFA may need to take a great deal of thought as to how they implement this requirement, despite strong campaigning by some player unions to get this implemented in whatever form. For example, if an agent in question is required to take out insurance that covers their liabilities how should this be calculated as adequate, e.g. from transactions concluded in the previous season and extent of their global activities, rather than a fixed amount levied on all agents which does not take into account their activities or resources.

Open Term Licenses with CPD (Continual Professional Development)

The suggestion of agent licenses being for an ‘open-term’ is understandably going to raise some eyebrows, however the introduction of such licensing from FIFA incorporating some form of annual CPD (as in other sports for agent licensing) is a very plausible and useful approach. BUT ONLY IF FIFA, the confederations and national associations implement the process of CPD adequately, fairly, efficiently and work to eliminate manipulation of the system by those looking to retain their licensed status.

Corporate Entities as Agents

The allowance for corporate entities (legal persons) to become licensed agents is a relatively recent phenomena (mainly from 2015 with the new regulations), and as such it is understandable that it may have been a well-meaning oversight by the football authorities that has caused confusion and degraded transparency. As such reverting back to the previous system whereby the representation agreement is with an agent as an individual (natural person) is another welcome proposal.

However, one step further for increased transparency and addressing potential conflicts of interest would be for each licensed agent to be required to associate themselves with a single recognised corporate identity (e.g. Ltd, Gmbh), thus helping amongst other things to identify connected agents and trace transactions in terms of payments, whilst also protecting the business interests of a company/agency who may have multiple agents working for them.

TMS – Step 2 : Agent Registration

As I touched on earlier the use of ITMS and DTMS systems by agents should be welcomed if only to encourage transparency, help with regulation and increase efficiency of those involved in agent activity (including the agents).

Not least as this system should (if implemented correctly) go a long way to address a long-standing problem in the agent industry in identifying who is the recognised and legitimate agent(s) of a particular player; which in itself is vitally important for clubs, players, associations and agents alike for various reasons.

I am well aware that there will be resistance from some agents in regards to these proposals when cited in the need for greater transparency; but all in all I honestly cannot understand these objections and can only guess they are down to factors such as technophobia, something to hide or resistance to change and deliberate awkwardness.

When compared to the likes of the on-line intermediary systems of some national football associations (e.g. IMS from The FA in England) there is little difference to the information sought on those systems, such as uploading representation agreements and related information to those changes suggested for TMS by FIFA. Granted FIFAs proposals go a few steps further in specifying standard representation agreements (another good move in my opinion) and requiring that specific details contained in the uploaded agreements also be submitted on the system (e.g. commission percentage, agents client(s), proof of payment), and these do seem legitimate requests that take little time and if implemented correctly will provide benefits for all legitimate participants. Granted with the advent of football leaks and the competitive nature of the industry many agents are reluctant to submit sensitive information to such systems. However, should FIFA be able to adequately substantiate the security of the information held and also reinforce the benefits of the system to legitimate agents, then this proposal should be widely welcomed by legitimate operators.

TMS – Step 3 : Disclosure in Instruction/Transaction

The main purpose as I see it in the proposals from FIFA in terms of TMS changes relating to disclosure in regards to instruction/transaction with regards to agents, is again to facilitate greater transparency, better regulation and overall efficiency. As such I can actually see a benefit for all participants and governing bodies (agents included) in adopting this proposal on this basis, IF the system be administered fairly, securely and efficiently, but I openly recognise (as before) that some will object to these proposals whether for good reason or not.

As I understand it, currently the (I)TMS is accessible just to clubs and associations in managing and registering transfers/transactions of an international dimension, and the purpose of the TMS system is to amongst other things to ensure that information from the clubs correlates in terms of the transfer (e.g. fees paid, agent/intermediary involved) as a means to address such factors as fraud, exploitation and money laundering as well as upholding football regulations. Much of the information being mentioned in the new proposals for agent regulations and enhancement of the TMS is the same as that required in the current transfer mechanisms (including TMS) and some of the National Association systems.

As such giving the agents access to the system just gives an added dimension to check that the information submitted is correct and correlates with that of the clubs; and ultimately making the agents more of an official participant in the process than before.

To negate the possible objections of some agents to these proposals, FIFA should look to reiterate the potential benefits to agents; in not only reducing their paperwork and streamlining processes, but also giving them added protection with regards to addressing the issue of unlicensed agents and a legitimate agent being ‘pushed’ out of a transaction. Added to this it is worthwhile considering that implementing efficient ITMS/DTMS mechanisms alongside that of an effective ‘clearing house’ for payments will help ensure payments to agents are correct and on time; a matter that is rightly a concern for many legitimate agents.

In regards to English agents I am sure that many will welcome the possibility of an effective registration and transaction system alongside an effective clearing house, as the domestic systems introduced by the FA have been widely identified as having many problems and issues of both a technical and process nature.

However, a worrying factor I did notice in the text of the proposals is that there is evidence of potential ‘loopholes’ already starting to materialise, if not even the potential for further retrograde steps with the regulations. The proposals state that should an unlicensed agent be entered onto the system as being involved on a transaction it will ‘flag’ up on the system, however it states that the player/club ‘represented by the agent must ensure that the agent undertakes steps to be licensed and registered’, which contradicts current regulations that state this must have already been undertaken prior to seeking to conclude a transaction (if not commence agent/intermediary activity).