Intermediaries – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.
The proposed measures recommended by the FIFA Football Stakeholders Committee which took place on the 25th September 2019, has once again sparked debate regarding the re-regulation of football agents and their activities in the transfer market. The proposed recommendations will be presented at the FIFA Council meeting due to take place on the 24th of October this month. One of the main objectives of this reform according to FIFA President Gianni Infantino is to keep the huge sums of money paid to agents by football clubs from exiting football. The proposed legislation would limit the commission available to football agents for completing the transfer of football players and the restriction of dual representation of football players.
FIFA – Regulation – De-regulation – Re-regulation
In 1994, FIFA introduced its first legislation regulating the activity of football agents with the introduction of (PAR) Players’ Agent Regulation. The legislation was implemented as a result of increased volume of agent activity within the football industry, and wanted to bring the activity of agents out from the shadows and into the light. All agents operating in transfer activity on behalf of football players or professional clubs would be required to obtain a license. The legislation was intended to ensure only licensed agents could conduct transfer activities on behalf of players and football clubs. A shake up of the legislation was implemented in 2001, which required agents to register with their respective national football associations directly. This was partly due to EU law and a number of complaints raised against FIFA’s PAR, such as the Laurent Piau case. The new regulation required all registered and licensed persons to undergo and pass a multiple-choice exam on law and sports. In additional, prospective agents would need liability insurance and a clean criminal record background. As per FIFA’s 1994 PAR legislation, a contract needed to exist between agent and player and stipulate the agent’s remuneration. In the event of a fee not being agreed, the commission would be capped at 5%. A revision to the 2001 PAR’s was implemented in 2008, which defined an agent as, “a natural person who, for a fee, introduces players to clubs with a view to concluding a transfer agreement”. The definition ensures only person’s not entities could facilitate the transfer of football players to clubs, preventing the activity of football agencies and management companies. FIFA for the coming years was locked in disputes with the EU over providing an open market. Some argue this was foundations to the de-regulation of football agents and licensing. Regulation on Working With Intermediaries RWWI was introduced in 2015, a new set of regulations replacing the forming FIFA PAR Player Agents Regulations legislation. The new changes to regulation classified those conducting activities as intermediaries rather than agents paving the way for agencies and sports management firms such as The Stellar Group, IMG and Gestifute to operate. Most significantly, intermediaries would no longer require a license in order to conduct transfer activity or pass a knowledge exam. The changes were imposed to make the system more transparent and easier to manage with enforcement from national level.
Current situation of agent
The de-regulation of football agents in 2015 has led to many industry professionals comparing the transfer market of current to the Wild, Wild, West. On top of all this sits a handful of prominent agents, agencies and sports management firms controlling and dictating activity in the marketplace. Football club owners have publicly stated that clubs are being bled dry and held ransom over agent fees, and there have been a few notable disputes between players and agents concerning transfers and their professional ethics too. Premier League clubs spent a total of 260million GBP on agent fees during the summer window of 2019, an increase of 49million GBP on the previous season. The new proposal seek to address this by implementing a number of changes to the current system. Establishment of a cap on agents’ commission (10% of the transfer fee for agents of a releasing club, 3% of the player’s remuneration for player agents and 3% of the player’s remuneration for agents of engaging clubs. The Association of Football Agents are angered over the proposed measures and have stated publicly that they are considering taking legal FIFA over the new directives, but any legal actions against FIFA would likely be expensive and lengthy. FIFA isn’t stopping there either, having already announced the FIFA Clearing House system aimed at making payments centralised and transparent, FIFA is also developing its plans to re-introduce the mandatory licensing requirement of football agents which will include further education measures and continuing professional development.
I’m sure for many players’, football clubs and industry professionals this will come as welcomed news. There are too many non-qualified individuals conducting transfer business out of their own scope and means. I recall such a case when I was contacted by someone claiming to an intermediary, looking to facilitate the transfer of a very high profile French international from Europe wanting to find a new club in Asia. When he mentioned this player’s name I absolutely knew there was no possible way such a prominent footballer, playing for a top-10 European club and in his early 20’s was looking for a retirement deal in Asia. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon too. Persons’ acting on behalf of players without the correct authentication or authority is business as usual, unlawful as it may. The transfer marketplace needs to be free and transparent but as with any profession, teachers, engineers, or lawyers, football needs qualified and responsible persons’ acting on the behalf of young and professional football players.
To be a football agent you need to concede to working long hours, shrug off numerous disappointments and endure long cold weekends away in remote places. Being a football agent is not all glitz and glamour, though it does have its fair share. Agents are constantly available to their clients, offering advice, mentorship and emotional support. In an open market environment can we safely say young and professional footballers are being appropriately informed and advised by respectable and qualified professionals?