An agent in football is no different than an agent in any other profession or workplace.
Humans hire these suited-up individuals for the sole purpose of handing them responsibilities that they otherwise would not be able to handle on their own for various reasons. In other scenarios, they may well be equipped to handle their own business, but would rather keep things as simple as possible and let an expert get the job done.
Real estate agents are hired to make it easier for home owners to sell their property, without having to deal with so much complicated paperwork. They also don’t have to sit down with potential buyers; the agent takes care of everything in exchange for a cut of the final sale price.
In the sports world, it’s no different.
The main task of a sports agent is to handle talks with potential suitors in order to agree on ideal conditions and salary during the player’s time with a team. Aside from this, they may also take up a number of other responsibilities, including but not limited to public relations, sponsorship agreements, financial planning; basically every aspect of an athlete’s commercial life.
They may even go as far as planning out their grocery shopping list, paying their bills and planning holidays, which is known as 360° service, something fairly common in the football world.
The main reason why agents have grown in popularity in the last decade and why so many footballers have hired these representatives to handle much of their off-field duties is to limit unnecessary distractions and focus on football.
Sure, this may make a lot of sense from face value. Professional footballers play nearly every day of their career and, aside from the occasional day off, will be limited to just a few hours a day to put some attention on their personal lives.
That being said, do footballers really need their agents? Is it worth giving up a certain percentage of their earnings in order to avoid these so-called “distractions”? With proper planning and discipline as an adult professional, who’s to say they aren’t capable of representing themselves?
In this special newsletter, we try to find answers to these important questions. 👇
The lure of a sports agent comes in the form of one simple, yet attractive proposition: they make the lives of athletes a whole lot easier.
Although it may certainly vary from person to person, players will generally want to lighten their load as much as possible, and with how much footballers are capable of earning nowadays, they have no issue with paying someone a 5-10% cut in order to make it happen.
It should be taken into account the idea that football agents today are not the sort of agents that existed back in the mid-1990s to the late 2000s. During that decade and a half, all agents did was negotiate contracts with clubs and handle every aspect of a deal between a player and the new team. Otherwise, the player may be susceptible to a bad contract, simply because they don’t know how to negotiate for favorable terms. And it makes sense; why would a footballer need any other skill besides actually being good at football?
FIFA actually didn’t recognize agents on an official level until 1994, which changed the entire landscape of world football when it happened. Now that it was recognized as a legitimate profession by the governing body of the beautiful game, players were free to go after hiring agents with no fear.
Back then, the average salary of a footballer was very low compared to the figures that are being made now. The UK record for weekly earnings was actually broken in 1994, when Chris Sutton began earning £10,000 per week. Only 7 years later in 2001, Sol Campbell signed a deal with Arsenal worth £100,00 per week.
With the money starting to pump into the sport, it was only a matter of time before agents began showing up to get these players the best contracts possible and, at the same time, earn a pretty penny themselves.
Without a football agent, players during this era ran the high risk of falling short in their contract negotiations with clubs, simply because they do not have the necessary skill sets. In turn, they have missed out on a salary that they probably deserved.
Flash forward to today, and you’ll have a hard time finding a professional athlete without some sort of representation. This can be attributed to their desire for higher wages and better terms when it comes time to negotiate with their current or future suitors, but it also has to do with the changing world that we live in.
Footballers are regular people, despite having so many millions of eyes on them throughout the season. Because of this attention, though, they have much more on their plate. They may want to go after creating their own personal brand, develop a social media presence or secure some cool sponsorships.
If they choose not to do any of this, they may still have other things to worry about, like keeping up with/raising a family, managing their diet and traveling.
For these reasons and more, hiring an agent to take up many of these responsibilities (excluding family, of course) can make their football careers a much smoother ride. At the end of the day, the hopes of all managers, coaches, club personnel and fans alike is for their players to be focused on football, so it makes sense why they’d want to simplify their off-field lifestyle.
Luckily, the modern agent is as versatile as they come. Back then, they were really only relied on for transfer and contract negotiations, but just as the world has changed in the past decade and a half, so have agent responsibilities.
Today, football agents are capable of handling most, if not all, of the following tasks AND more:
Anything that can contribute to the removal of stress from a player’s life, an agent is probably able and willing to do.
A quote from an article on the topic by Alex Wynter says it best:
These traits are what makes agents good ones. The problem is, they aren’t the easiest to come by, and as a result, they typically hold somewhat of a bad reputation.
Which is actually why some footballers opt to go agent-less.
Sure they can! Footballers are fully capable of handling much of their non-football related business on their own. Most recently, three well-known stars are reported to have been holding their contract talks on their own: Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Joshua Kimmich.
These three players are similar in that all of them cut ties with their most recent agents because of some sort of controversy. De Bruyne’s former agent, Patrick De Koster, was arrested in 2020 after the Man City midfielder himself actually filed a complaint related to a financial dispute.
Sterling’s former agent, Adrian Ward, was banned by the FA earlier this year after he attempted to sign a player to his agency before turning 16. Sterling has represented himself since September 2020, when he cut ties with Ward, and has not looked for a new agent since.
Meanwhile, Kimmich simply chose to stand up for his own values and views, deciding that he wants to live up to his own personal responsibility, away from any sort of third party influence.
The case of De Bruyne stands out in particular because of the way he negotiated his most recent contract renewal with the European and English champions. The Belgian actually turned to analytics technology in order to work out his own transfer value to prove to club representatives that he was worth the contract upgrade he desired.
Weird that out of all players, Kevin De Bruyne had to prove his worth to his club, huh? We don’t really have an explanation for that. 😅
Just like that, De Bruyne renewed his contract until 2025, and everyone was happy. No agent, no third party, no problem.
De Bruyne, Sterling and Kimmich are certainly in the minority at the moment, but the mere fact that they’ve chosen to go alone, being the household names that they are, proves that a shift in world football is happening.
If arguably the best midfielder of this generation can work out a proper contract renewal without an agent and without vast knowledge of the transfer market that only an experienced agent would boast, who’s to say more footballers won’t join this list in the coming years?
Jose Manuel Espejo - a FIFA-licensed agent - actually says so.
The Spaniard believes that agents will remain of vital importance, despite this recent trend of world-class players opting to represent themselves in contract talks. His argument? That footballers must remain focused on football, and that anything else unrelated to their playing career should be handled by agents.
The argument makes sense. Footballers have plenty on their plate, and it can be easy to get distracted if not put in check. It goes beyond just representing players when it comes to discussing a contract; the modern versatility of an agent almost makes it obligatory for them to be around to help players off-the-field so that they can work as hard as possible on it.
Put yourself in the shoes of a professional athlete for a moment. You are a talented player, and you live and breathe the game. You have a reasonable salary and, thanks to that contract of yours, you don’t have to worry at all financially. However, you notice that your list of off-field responsibilities has actually grown since rushing onto the scene. With so little personal free time on your hands (you have training 4-5 days a week and matches twice a week), you struggle to balance things like sponsorships, finances/payments, family & friends, diet, mental/physical wellbeing, social media.
With all of this on your plate, wouldn’t you hire an agency to take a lot of these responsibilities away from you?
While we think the answer is yes, we do also believe that precautions should be made. Footballers should be careful not to select an agent that will do nothing more than hinder their ability to focus on the game, and if they run into problems, they should drop their agent as soon as possible.
But at the end of the day, it depends on the individual. Not everyone lives the same life, and although most professional athletes may end up living out the same routine of playing & traveling nonstop, their personal lives can be very different from one another.
We are all for top players ditching their agencies if they can handle it. Generally speaking, though, it’s still worth the 5-10% cut.