The Pressure Is Permanent’: A Football Agent on January’s Transfer Window

The Pressure Is Permanent’: A Football Agent on January’s Transfer Window

Friday, 4 January, 2019 - 07:00
Getting a player to sign on the dotted line is only a small part of the process in making a transfer happen. Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
London - Joel Macadar
The midwinter transfer window is an ‘emergency’ window. It is an opportunity for clubs to patch up a problem rather than find long-term solutions and can also be a difficult time to undertake business given prices soar. A few years ago, £15m might have bought pedigree. These days it could secure a Premier League side a promising right-back from a lower-ranked Bundesliga club. Yet, in what is a cut-throat environment for both clubs and agents, desperation drives the market and deals will be done.

As well as representing individual players, I have been registered as an FA intermediary for most of the last seven years – barring a brief spell when I concentrated on developing commercial agreements with some clients – and it is in that capacity that the January window will keep me busy, most obviously helping to bring players to England. The intermediary’s role is that of a facilitator whose contacts, knowledge or even language skills might benefit sporting directors in this country or agents based overseas.I would typically spend the leadup to December putting out feelers to clubs or scouts, usually face-to-face at games, before supplying sporting directors with lists of options to pursue in the window. Simultaneously, I will have cultivated relationships with agents abroad to ascertain what their clients offer, securing written mandates to represent their players in negotiations in England or even with specific teams. The mandate system is not foolproof. The Chelsea forward Willian posted a photograph on Instagram last summer of a mandate document on which someone had forged his signature. Agents can also give out multiple mandates, and there are occasions when the whole system is abused.

Three years ago I was contacted personally by a player, freed by a Premier League club, who assured me verbally – I was naive in that regard – he did not operate with an agent and supplied a mandate to secure him a move to a Major League Soccer club. I negotiated a four-year deal which included an annual salary of $3.5m, a car and a house, and he claimed to be happy. Then, as the club was drawing up the formal offer, he called to say the deal was off. The next day he announced on Instagram that he had signed for a side in Europe. He had apparently worked with an agent for around 10 years and had merely been using me to coax out a better deal over there.

You learn quickly, but the pressure is permanent. Take a scenario: it is 10am on transfer deadline day and a club, to whom I have already sent videos of a mandated player based abroad, belatedly decide they want to push through a deal before the 11pm cut-off. They will be aware of the player’s asking price so, as the intermediary, you have to assume that aspect of the move will not prove problematic. It is now a matter of securing the best contract possible in what time remains. So, having spoken at length with the player’s existing agent, I would fire off an email to the club – it is essential it is in written form – laying down the basic pay and, just as significantly, the bonus structure acceptable to the player.

Those bonuses can be incredibly intricate, and quite volatile. There are standard team clauses: the amount owed for winning the league, gaining promotion or avoiding relegation; for lifting the Champions League or qualifying for Europe. Then there is the potentially prickly issue of image rights, as well as personal incentives – top scorer, goal or appearance bonuses – and sums due for playing a certain number of games. Within that you might specify what constitutes an appearance: 45 minutes, an hour or even coming off the bench for a minute of stoppage time. If you are doing a deal for a club going for promotion you could seek a guarantee to raise the player’s salary in the new division. Likewise, you might accept a salary drop, or insert a release clause, in the event of relegation.

The demands are then emailed to the club, who could make amendments of their own. Once the deal is agreed in principle, you await the formal contract offer, usually drawn up by the club’s in-house solicitors and emailed over . That, too, has to be legalled at our end and there may be more to-ing and fro-ing over the finer details before, once the green light is given by both sides, you address the logistics of bringing the player over.

Nowadays there are concierge companies who work in the industry and can fly a player over to a private airport – a Farnborough or Biggin Hill – at short notice. Those costs are covered by the intermediary but if the player ends up signing for the club, his new employers tend to reimburse the costs. I would always seek to pick the player up myself from the airport to take him to his medical, a procedure that tends to last around an hour and is usually undertaken at a private hospital.

As for the fees due to the ‘fixers’ – the agent and intermediary – the FA recommends the equivalent of 3% of the player’s gross salary over the duration of the contract signed. That might be pushed to 5% taking in legal, accountancy and commercial guidance, with the fee split 50/50 between the agent and intermediary and, generally, paid either quarterly or six-monthly.

It can all be a frenzied process. But the hope is that all parties – buying club, selling club, the player and the agents – are satisfied once the deadline has passed.


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