The football world is accelerating at an incredible rate as the sport’s popularity, coverage and economic power increases year upon year. An improved budget for clubs at every level causes increased transfer fees, player wages and agent bonuses. In fact, the role of an agent has never been more important or more scrutinized.
The capital surrounding every aspect of the game has risen in such a short space of time. So, if football has amounted such a large sum of money, why does it continue to take from its supporters?
Agent Fees Facts
- Between February 2016 and January 2017, Premier League agent fees rose almost 40% to £220m.
- In 2017 clubs in the Championship paid £42.2m to agents, an increase of more than 60%. Proving that it is not just the elite agents that are reaping rewards.
- In January 2018, Alexis Sanchez’s agent received a reported £15m for his part in the deal that took the Chilean out of London and into Manchester.
- Agents took 13% of the revenue generated from transfers between 2013 and 2017
The Premier League and EFL are currently in the process of reviewing agent activity and transactions between football club and agent. Meanwhile UEFA are considering imposing a cap on agent fees in reaction to enormous sums being given to agents in those season-defining transfers. It is evident that clubs are growing concerned by the modern agent and the fees that are being demanded.
The Agents Role
To understand why we see agent fees reach the headlines we need to understand what they do, what the clubs and players pay for.
Agents open doors, especially at the start of a career. Doors that are very hard to open on your own. Agents offer a niche expertise that accountants nor lawyers can provide.
The self-proclaimed ‘first super-agent’ Jon Smith spoke to the Oxford Union in 2016 “Talent needs us because talent need to think about its own talent (…) my role is to make sure that your talent is rewarded financially”.
This will include providing medical, legal, housing advice, as well as finding solutions to any problem that may arise in the players professional and personal life.
We must understand that the money agents make is relative to the industry, relative to the job they have fulfilled. It’s all about perspective, it’s only commensurate in proportion to the deal. Rooftop condos in LA will sell for millions of dollars and the estate agents will make a lot of money after that sale.
Lee Philpott founded the LPM football agency in 2008 after an extensive playing career. Speaking to Sky Sports in January, Lee described an agent’s work schedule.
“I rang 39 different people today, but that is nothing out of the ordinary. Since January 1st I have been on the phone from 9am until 10pm at night every single day.”
The Power of the Modern Agent
It is clear to see that modern football has put an incredible amount of power in the hands of agents. Wolverhampton Wanderers have attracted un-wanted attention with their relationship with ‘super-agent’ Jorge Mendes.
When the midlands club were bought for £45m in 2016 by Fosun International, the club was reborn. Head coach Nuno Espírito Santo and a host of Portuguese players came into the club, taking a step down from ‘larger’ elite European teams. The success Wolves have had this season is an illustration of the influence that their ‘advisor’ Mendes has.
Jorge Mendes himself has had to defend the relationship between the sport and the business. Speaking in 2015 to BBC News Mendes stated, “Football is the most important sport in the world (…) It is all about the players, they deserve the maximum”.
The power an agent possesses can also have a negative effect on the player.
Bleacher Report followed Sheffield United’s activity on deadline day last summer. The documentary style video explored the intricacies of those dealings. Jerome Sinclair’s loan move from Watford to United was agreed with the clubs and the player himself, until his agent intervened wanting a 50% increase on the agency fee.
“But, we are giving him the opportunity to play Championship football” Chris Wilder expressed. At 7:15pm on deadline day Sinclair sat in Sheffield Station waiting on instructions from his agent, the deal was never finalised.
Sheffield United targeted, and spoke to 5 different players on that day. “All 5 players wanted to be here, and only 2 of them out of the 5 are here.”
The Culture Change
Football is a product that is being sold and broadcasted to 142 countries worldwide. As the sport grows so does the economy of the industry, so does its value. Football is “the biggest entertainment on the planet” according to Jon Smith, entertainment that touches “2 billion people every weekend with £8bn of income coming into the UK”.
The money is generated from several avenues and naturally comes to the hands of the performers, and their agents.
Jim Erwood, a former football agent, described the reality of modern football. “Players always want to move (…) there is no loyalty in football” the game has evolved and there is a clear footballing pyramid.
Pundits describe certain teams as ‘selling clubs’, a term often thrown towards Southampton. The truth is that every team is a selling club, even the elite. The Premier League’s best move to Real Madrid or Barcelona and even their stars move on, Neymar an eye-watering example.
Players have been constantly improving themselves since a young age, in a competitive environment, and because of this, they want to climb up that food chain. These moves need agents to strike a deal between two clubs, often, for large amounts of money. That is the nature of the modern game. That is why agents are so vital, they will always exist because there will always be a need for them to be around.
Whether it is the fault of the agents or not, their increasing importance represents the trajectory of the Football ‘industry’ in 2018.
It seems that as the beautiful game accelerates it grows further away from its roots. While heritage is still a prominent factor in football, it is naturally evolving into a well-oiled business.
Football has a relationship, an affinity with the working-class gentleman. The problem arises because the interests of modern players and agents just don’t align with the interest of the average man, or the reason he fell in love with the game.
To quote Jon Smith once again “I understand the supporters there get charged £10 for a hotdog and don’t understand it. We need, as an industry, to look after the supporters”.