The use of paid contracts fuels the appetites of many people around young prodigies. In this area, there is an essential person: the player agent. This one often suffers from a bad image, especially because of the many cases in which some of them have been involved. Now seriously framed by the law, they can nevertheless become true mediators at the time of exchanges between families of apprentices and training clubs.
Despite the deregulation of the profession advocated by FIFA since the spring of 2015, many States have chosen a specific legislative framework to provide for the limits of action of sports agents.
Intermediaries between private teams and players, most often as agents, their role is not limited to this mission: they must, if necessary, be able to give advice on career, financial investments, management of image and advertising contracts. During an interview, an agent told us that he works regularly with major sportswear brands in order to obtain partnerships for his clients.
If the knowledge of the world of football is an important prerequisite to a good agent, it is not sufficient because it also requires great technicality when are mentioned the legal and commercial issues relating to the practice of the profession. Also, only the persons who have previously obtained the agent’s license can appear as proxies. International law allows the entourage of the footballer to take the place of intermediary, but the French law is much stricter: “Any person exercising on an occasional or usual basis, against remuneration, the activity of putting the parties in contact with each other interested in the conclusion of a contract relating to the paid exercise of a sports activity, must hold a sports agent’s license. Once the diploma is in the bag, the agent can then contact players or coaches to build a portfolio.
No success without investment
In France, there are five hundred sports agents licensed in the field of football. While all have the right to play the role of intermediary between clubs and footballers, there is another barrier, financial, which limits the activity. Thus, only about fifty professionals are in exercise and a score of twenty live correctly of this activity. The difficulty of the business rests mainly on the fact that it is necessary to have enough contracts to ensure the travel and the expenses of the company but also to release a salary. For agreements with footballers, the maximum remuneration of the agents is set at 10% of the total amount of the player’s contract. In fact, this rate is more generally of the order of 7%, according to the contract of mediation.
Alongside the popular imagination evoking record transfer amounts where agents can thus receive large sums, a significant part of this activity is not remunerative. This is particularly the case for all the advice given to young residents of football training centers. Article L. 222-5 of the Sports Code prohibits any financial transaction before the majority of the athlete: “The provisions of Articles L.7124-9 to L. 7124-12 of the Labor Code apply to the remuneration of any nature perceived for the exercise of a sports activity by children of sixteen and under subject to compulsory education. The conclusion of a contract relating to the exercise of a sports activity by a minor does not give rise to any remuneration or compensation or the granting of any benefit […]. The regulation of the agents, drafted by the French Federation, goes further by raising the limit of the sixteen years to the majority. However, the agents must very early capture the stars of the round ball because they operate in a highly competitive market and, after eighteen years, there are not many free players for the signing of a contract of mediation.
Serious drifts remain
To win new contracts, some are ready for anything, including endangering young players. The resources of European sports companies make young Africans dream who do not have the same training facilities and can not claim such salaries in their country. For example, a Ghanaian first-league player earns an average of three hundred dollars a month, which is a derisory sum compared to the salaries awarded in the major European leagues: “The economic disparities between rich European football and poor African football, especially in developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa are the main forces of attraction and repulsion. Clubs in the Old Continent can offer players opportunities they will never have in their home country. Taking advantage of this unbalanced situation, unscrupulous agents are lending talented Africans a great international career with significant financial rewards. In many cases, it is the athletes who have to pay the cost of transportation by borrowing from their loved ones. This loan will be refunded as soon as the first professional footballer’s wages are collected. But once in Europe, the future is getting darker. Foot Solidaire association estimates at only 1% the number of sportsmen who will finally sign the contract so much dreamed. Without a community passport and sometimes without having signed a mediation contract, the players find themselves in a situation of strong dependence on the agent. The latter, not bound by any agreement, can let the football player who has not passed the tests or who does not correspond to the market demand.
Regularly, we find in the press the story of players left to themselves and undocumented, unable to return to the country for economic reasons but given the humiliation that would be the admission of a failure.
Within the community area, player traffic also exists, although the consequences are less dramatic. From state to state, the rules on transfer and remuneration vary widely. Some intermediaries do not hesitate to change country a minor player in order to be paid in the process. This is particularly the case when a teenager signs in an English club where the payment of the agent is allowed before the majority of the player. For many training centers, the arrival of agents with apprentices is frowned upon because of the risk of falling on someone who comes to serve himself before serving their young client.
Rebalance of the exchanges between club and player
However, the agent also plays a beneficial role to the players if he performs his mission correctly. Relations between clubs and players are, most often, unequal. Sports companies have a huge advantage because of the lack of knowledge of the transfer market by footballers but also the very strong competition of the environment. The number of “free” footballers in France is estimated at around one hundred, that is to say having no proposal at the end of their previous engagement, knowing also that the training centers of the Hexagon host a few thousand eight hundred apprentices ready for anything for a professional contract. Similarly, players have little training on the realities of wages and the rules to be observed when signing contracts.
Without an agent, everything suggests that footballers exchanged between the clubs according to the needs of the latter, without real career management for the athletes. The presence of an intermediary makes it possible to rebalance the exchange. This third brings his knowledge of the texts and the world of football in order to guide his client in an elite course. If the athlete is an expert in the technical field, you have to take the height to carry out a strategy of progression and maintenance in the high level. The agent, who weaves a network for several years in the exercise of his work, can mobilize the right interlocutors to ensure the player satisfactory outlets. Moreover, it is in his own interest because, without a contract, the athlete is no longer remunerative.
In aspiring football players, the presence of agents has become essential in recent years. At the time of recruitment, the officer can intervene in a beneficial way for the novice by advising him in the process and defending his interests during discussions on the amount of training allowances. Mediation contracts, rare before the age of sixteen, become the norm at the end of training and entry into the career. This phenomenon is explained by the complementarity of the needs of the two parties involved: on the one hand, apprentices must anticipate access to the high level by making the right choices and, on the other hand, the agents are approaching the future stars before majority to ensure future remuneration.
Training centers are generally unhappy with the arrival of bulky intermediaries, assisting the teenager and his parents in their decisions. What disturbs is the role of mediator that comes to play the professional in the exchange, previously unbalanced, between the club and the families. Family, often ready for anything for their child’s dream, do not necessarily see the risks of abuse and failure. With an agent, they are then better advised and invited to bifurcations in the learning path if the structure does not want to keep the player in its workforce. The great knowledge of the market of footballers and the many contacts in the environment are assets because they allow to save time during possible transfers. When a resident of the school of football is invited to leave the school, it is necessary very quickly to contact other centers to keep chances to break into the high level. Sometimes coaches take the lead and warn the agent of the next breach of agreement. The role of the intermediary is then to prepare his young client for the idea of changing projects while orienting him towards a structure more adapted to his level.