I think it safe to say many people would admit they have made a mistake with decisions they have made in regards to their career choices and their professional and working lives; whether it be choosing the wrong options at school, undertaking a degree that leads to limited opportunities or staying in a job for too long and/or for the wrong reasons; all of which can have an effect on their working lives.

Yet, how many of these such circumstances seemingly tarnish someone’s cv, employability or professional status to the extent that it is detrimental to their future professional status? I would hazard a guess it would not be that many, as surely there are transferable skills, experience and knowledge that are desirable and valuable to a new job or employer.

Having spent the last 10 years (almost) as a sports agent primarily working in Association Football, this is a predicament I now find myself in. I have even jokingly referred to the fact that my CV detailing 10 years at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ may come with less stigma than that of 10 years as a sports (football agent), given the widely perceived stereotype.

Is the stereotype a fair one?

As I have said (and written) publicly, privately and through the media, the general football agent stereotype is deserved in an unacceptably large proportion of cases; whether this is in terms of lacking professionalism, exploitation or ignorance to client care in favour of self-interest. However, there are a lot of genuine people in the industry who work hard and are totally focussed on the interests and success of their sporting clients ahead of their own interests – yet sadly many of these have left the industry in recent years, which in turn leaves a vacuum which is filled with the inexperienced and/or the undesirable further fuelling the negative stereotype.

Advice to others

On many occasions people have come to me asking for advice on how to become a football agent (as I did, in asking others when I first started), and whilst I have always said it is possible yet very difficult to be successful as an agent I have never told anyone not to do it, or that they cannot do it.

However, I have always said that they should be well aware of the risks, the questionable culture and also some advised safeguards they should have in place (e.g. keep another revenue stream and/or job ongoing, at least to begin with) and this has definitely not changed in recent times.

Why walk away?

So, if I still wouldn’t categorically deter anyone else from entering the industry; why am I walking away? Well, the truth is that due to the current state of the industry, the poor governance situation and various other things; this is actually a point in time where I would actively try and deter people away from entering the industry unless they had some key and absolutely necessary skills and resources to ‘survive’. And whilst the industry was by no means a ‘bed of roses’ when I entered it as a licensed agent, the ‘landscape’ now is far worse and arguably spiralling even further out of control.

Sadly, for those who routinely operate within the regulations, comply with the football authorities and aren’t prepared to bend (or ignore) their moral compass and ethics, it is difficult to survive let alone thrive. Hence my decision to in effect walk away from mainstream agency activity with what appears to be little or nothing to show for 10 years of ‘blood, sweat and toil’. Are skills and experience seemingly unrecognisable or of little value to potential employers and recruiters?

Surely there is some credibility and transferable skills

Looking back on when I first received confirmation from the FA of my approval as an FA Licensed Agent it was something I took great pride in; not just by means of passing an arguably rigorous exam (which traditionally had a very low pass rate), but also being authorised by The FA (an organisation I perceived as professional and reputable) to being licensed and authorised at a time when many were unlicensed agents operating without any form of accreditation.

I will now admit to my own naivety at that time, not least as in regards to the latter 2 of those aspects with the first warning sign being issued with my ‘FA Agents License’; which as you can see in the image below was a laminated piece of paper not least unevenly cut, and something if you lost it you had to pay an overpriced sum for a replacement (and demonstrates the standing afforded to FA Authorised Agents compared to the likes of Athlete Representative and UK-Athletics and the IAAF).

I am sure many would agree that this over time became a true reflection of how the likes of the FA perceived agents as participants; offering them little consideration, support or help, and to this day FA Authorised Agents (and later FA Registered Intermediaries) are the only group of recognised FA ‘football participants’ having no education pathway provided by their governing body, meaning 10 years itself comes with no meaningful qualifications or accreditations from the governing body.

The total disregard for a group of individuals by the Association who authorises and regulates them is incredibly disconcerting and frustrating; especially when you consider this seeming contempt (whether innocently or knowingly) is transmitted to other football participant groups and those outside of the sport, thus further embedding the stigma and stereotypes.

Football Industry Experience is Surely Des

As has been commented to me by many, both inside and outside of the football industry; the old adage of ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ may be a prevalent approach for clubs and football bodies (e.g. FA, Premier League, Football League, UEFA, FIFA, PFA) when it comes to the possible recruitment of those with knowledge of the football agent/intermediary industry.

Whilst I have over many years now observed and witnessed the somewhat total misunderstanding and naivety of clubs and such organisations towards agents, regulations and the industry; it still seems that the approach of clubs and football bodies is still to recruit from within, or on a basis of “who you know, and not what you know”. Subsequently, it is little surprise to those with a knowledge of the industry that such an approach often results in agent-related matters coming back to ‘bite them’ due to a basic lack of knowledge, understanding, ability and vision.

The only conclusion I can draw is that for clubs this comes down to one of two key factors:

  1. the club maintains a rather uninformed stigma and stereotype of agents and thus won’t contemplate considering to employ them (yet still paying agents fees in terms of recruitment), this, in turn, results in maintaining the lack of awareness and understanding that holds the club back or may damage them. or
  2. The club (or elements within) wish to deal with only ‘preferred’ agents/intermediaries, or do not want to engage with those who have credibility; a matter for which I will let you draw your own conclusions about why they effectively ‘block’ people who would want to do the best job for the club.

In terms of the other football organisations; in general, they seem to be very much a ‘closed shop’ in terms of recruitment; some of this may be down to an element of self-preservation, feeling threatened, not being able to acknowledge weakness or exposing a lack of knowledge, ability or vision.

Sadly clubs, football organisations and associations give little or no consideration to the knowledge, experience or unique perspective such people from the agency side of the industry may bring to benefit the organisation or its stakeholders (unless a ‘preferred’ contact ???); which is ultimately a loss for all involved.

So are there any positives to take away from 10 years

It is easy for me to look at my current situation with a great deal of negativity and almost draw the conclusion that the last ten years was a total waste of time, money, and effort; that has ultimately been a detriment to me professionally and my future prospects.

However, in ‘stepping back’ from the situation and looking very (very, very) hard and ‘panning for gold’ in all the crap that has come from this experience, there are some valuable nuggets to be found in terms of knowledge and experience.

Operating in a professional manner within the industry does bring with itself a whole plethora of useful skills and valuable experience from an understanding of contracts and law, skills in negotiation and mediation along with aspects of tax, health, governance, employment, immigration, finance, performance, health to name but a few.

And whilst thus far the positive feedback from prospective employers has been limited to a few, which seem to be the more broadminded corporates, a large proportion definitely put the onus on the stereotype of the football agent. Yet hopefully in time some will see through the easy option of considering the stereotype and look more on the skills and experience, but sadly it seems the football community; clubs, organisations and associations alike ignore the skillsets and knowledge from the agent industry.

Time to step away, but with ‘Head Held High’

So, with this in mind, I will continue my search for the right opportunity and challenge, where I can bring value to whatever organisation, sport or business that may be. Safe in the knowledge that in the not too distant future someone will have the vision and be openminded enough to see beyond an unfair stereotype and instead reflect on the skills, knowledge and benefits (and others like me) that are available to them, and that I can offer.