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The Football Lawyer: Gary Neville, football agents and how excess can be curbed

John Blavo
chris samba 300x225 The Football Lawyer: Gary Neville, football agents and how excess can be curbed

The arrival of Chris Samba at QPR for £12.5m was among the biggest deals of the most recent transfer window

Gary Neville has recently and strongly criticised the influence of football agents in the game, and his thoughts led me to reflect on my own experiences of dealing with them.  Many agents are very professional, and take a long-term and holistic view of their client’s careers.  There are many others, however, who have the sole goal of extracting as much money from the sport as possible.  When dealing with this latter category, a club will often find that, in order to keep a player happy, they must also keep his agent happy.

It is not uncommon that an agent, seduced by the thought of a big money move, will agitate a previously content player, and convince him to hand in a transfer request.  To preclude this occurrence, a club may find itself paying an agent a percentage of a player’s monthly wages.  What seems equally exploitative is when an agent, arriving seemingly out of nowhere, takes a huge commission on a transfer for a few hours of largely undemanding work.  At the same time, it is often the case that a club’s officials will collude with an agent to make such a last-minute deal happen, and so the picture is more complex than it might at first appear.

In either event, this is a subject that needs a broader discussion: and, with so much money involved, it also needs greater regulation.  I wonder whether there might be a place for a body similar to the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority, which has the power to issue fines, publicise breaches of rules, and even bar people from working in the field.  Fifa currently has a registration process, for which all applicants must sit a test, but they could go even further in this respect.  As a solicitor, for example, you must abide by a Code of Practice, and you are also required to undergo yearly supervised training, or Continued Professional Development, throughout your career.

Fifa’s problem, in this context, may be its sheer size: given that it is a global organisation, it is difficult to deal with these issues with the necessary swiftness.  Perhaps they should define a standardised way of dealing with an agent’s misconduct, and then work closely with regional partners to see that this is implemented.  Given that, since I began working in this area, the number of agents seems to have grown by about 50 per cent, this matter is an ever more pressing concern.

Currently, the costs of insufficient regulation are all too evident.  On one occasion, a player was at a leading European club, and had just begun to star for his national team.  He was happy where he was, and as a result was in outstanding form.  It was then that his agents sensed an opportunity, with disastrous results.  Using the interest from other clubs, they tried to force the renegotiation of his contract which still had some time to run, effectively holding the club to ransom.  Unfortunately for them, and even worse for the player, the club wouldn’t budge.  The player’s form plummeted, and he lost his place for club and country; the interest from elsewhere evaporated, and he soon returned home.  Once rising to prominence for one of the world’s biggest teams, he’s barely been heard of since.

Better regulation will not stop every deal from going as bad as that in the paragraph above, but it will help to curb the excesses of those agents who have eyes for nothing more than profit.  It will give clubs, players and agents a framework within which they can plan the most productive future for each party involved.  And that, surely, is preferable to letting unscrupulous agents merely chase the cash, leaving footballers with little more than broken hope.

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