If you are considering a career as a football agent then your existing grounding and connections in the football world will stand you in good stead, however, you will need more than that if you are to attract, retain, and represent the best athletes. Whether you are recruiting rookies, players with untapped potential, journeymen or superstars, I cover 16 key concepts to keep in mind.
1. GET CERTIFIED AND REGISTERED — Although not mandatory, it is a good first step to become an official registered intermediary through the Football Federation Australia (FFA), if you’re based in Australia, each country has an equivalent organisation that falls under the jurisdiction of FIFA. The process is far easier than it once was, football’s world governing body, FIFA, controversially scrapped the previous player agent system which required an exam a couple of years ago. There is background vetting involved. Upon passing, a new intermediary/agent is notified of his/her certification and it is official! There are FIFA and FFA regulations which must be followed, and discipline attached for violations.
2. DEVELOP YOUR BRAND — Think through and be able to articulate how your philosophy will add value to the life of a footballer. From scouting, contract negotiations, second career planning, endorsements, injuries, to charitable contributions, and other issues, how are YOU as the agent specifically going to counsel this athlete? What in your background enhances your ability to do so? Create a presentation that spells out who, what, and why you do what you do. Understanding people management is one of the keys to successful long-term relationships.
3. CREATE CLIENT PERSONAS — What geographical, sociological, family structure, high school or college, personality, character, field positional profile are you most likely to gel with? It is rare, yet possible, to recruit young superstars and get them large contracts. Many agents then have trouble signing other players until they have figured out that “role model” athletes were their ideal fit. Make sure you professionally gel with whoever you are signing, getting along with someone personally is also highly advantageous.
4. IDENTIFY THE BEST INITIAL CONTACT — Some footballers will handle the process themselves, so they serve as their own contact. Most players will have a parent, relative, or compliance as an initial screener, who will have established a process. It is important to honour that process and not go directly to the athlete. The “screener” will probably hold initial catch-ups, narrow down the field and present a smaller group to the athlete later on to meet with. Building trust and being seen to act with integrity is key in an industry where at times it can be difficult due to people not honouring their promise.
5. LISTEN INTENTIONALLY — It is important to ask questions and listen in order to understand what the true priorities and concerns of the athlete are. Don’t present generically because each individual will have their own unique priorities.
6. IT TAKES A VILLAGE, AND A LITTLE BIT MORE — The athlete themselves will always make the ultimate decision but a variety of people may be influencers. Figure out whether parents, siblings, relatives, coaches, club presidents, a spouse, partner, religious figures, or teammates will have an impact.
7. NETWORK YOUR CONNECTIONS — Social and/or professional networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Fieldoo are great ways to meet new acquaintances, but statistics can’t show you what the eye of an expert can see (or even hear). Go out, watch games, speak with people, get to know club managers, coaches, executives, sponsors, the media, other agents, players, their parents and friends. Also, don’t forget to use the connections you may already have in football: maybe former teammates, coaches or just friends who like watching football but are not agents or scouts. You never know who might have seen someone who may be interesting to you. Ask them!
8. GET RECOMMENDATIONS — Your current happy client, clubs, players, and their parents are always the best referrals. Treasuring your current clients with great service lays the foundation of growing a practice. If you are new, ask if there are people in your life that can speak to your talent in a relevant way.
9. BE ACCESSIBLE — A good agent can be reached at any time. Yes, 24/7. You never know where the next opportunity is, so be prepared for it. A single phone call can make or break a transfer or a representation agreement. In the era of digital communication, be sure to have apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber and Skype – not only to be more accessible, but also to cut down costs. If you do not know the mentioned applications – they make overseas calls next to free! Depending on where in the world you conduct your business, be prepared for lots of long days and late nights to accommodate for the different time zones your clients and partners may be living in.
10. BE CULTURALLY SENSITIVE – Respect others peoples cultures. What works in your country may not be the way things are done in another.
11. RESEARCH YOUR POTENTIAL TALENT — Know every detail about a prospective client and their family. Read and absorb every article, statistic, and projection. Knowing how they are perceived (by the media, by others in the industry) is vital. Any feedback that you can get as to their future is valuable.
12. RESEARCH THE PROCESS. KNOW THE NEGOTIATION GAME — Know what goes into a negotiation and a contract, which will be different in every club, league and country. Know the critical aspects of the Collective Bargaining Agreement from each member federation. You need to be the authority and expert with the answers on the tip of your tongue. Understanding the legalities of an agreement is a bonus and adds credibility.
13. LEARN ABOUT THE GAME AND ‘THE GAME’ — Football has its rules and so does the game behind the curtain – where the transfers, loans and other contracts are made. As with everything else, you must first gain experience. Mistakes will happen, so learn from them. Read a lot – you never know which information might come in handy. TransferMarkt.com and Soccerway are good ways to start exploring – see who else is in the game, who their clients are and where they operate. This will also provide you with key stats on players, clubs and leagues. Remember: every journey starts with small steps. Usually it’s at local games. Can you spot the talented youngster who hasn’t been scouted by the established agents or big clubs yet?
14. BE UP TO DATE — Nearly all of the best players in the top flights usually already have agents, so it may be wise for a new agent to start at a lower level – and move up from there or partner with big agents to open up new markets for them. Big shot agents usually don’t have the time to think about the problems of younger, not yet proven players, but the fact remains – one of those kids on the field, running with 21 others that won’t make it, could be the next national team captain or European star. I’ve seen this happen. Do you see them? Be up-to-date with events. What is already news is not good news for you. Because if people can see somebody perform well on TV or read about them in a newspaper, clubs won’t need an agent telling them they need to sign. Once you prove that you can spot talent well before other people can, things will get much easier.
15. PROTECT YOUR REPUTATION AT ALL COSTS — Your reputation is everything. Your reputation will also reflect, positively or negatively, on your potential clients – so don’t give them a reason not to support you. Be known for your honesty, integrity, good work and results – not for antics and a sneaky manner. If clubs hate doing business with you, the word will spread quickly and you’ll be hard-pressed making an impact anywhere. The industry may at times be suspect, however that doesn’t mean you have to be. Connect with the many great people out there who have reputations that match your values.
16. BE CONFIDENT — Even if you have never represented someone before, everyone in the field started somewhere. Why not you? Believe in yourself and what you can add to a young person’s life and how together you can make a positive impact in the world.
These 16 key elements in recruiting will make you more competitive in the field and could potentially land you your first client! Other elements include branding the talent, setting up brand sponsorships and endorsements and managing all media and PR commitments (in coordination with the club).
Jon-Paul Michail is a FIFA-registered intermediary and the Football Projects Manager at FIA Sports Management.
© 2015 FIA Sports Management – This article first appeared in April, 2015.