Talented Players and an Agents Perspective
In 2015 there were around 500 agents, now it is closer to 6000 in the UK alone! This may show the selective nature of being an agent before 2015, or it could show the immense dedication and passion some individuals have for becoming a football agent. Or could it be something else? Do the governing bodies of the FA and FIFA have more to do with it all?
I recently spoke with Brian, an agent with SCSA Sports Management that are representing over 15 players at varying levels from semi-professional to professional standards. Brian has a long-standing relationship with the world of football and has been actively involved from a young age. He also comes from a recruitment background and with this skill has developed a keen eye for a footballer’s talents. Brian has a unique take as an agent on the process of selection and his area of specialism, being an agent. In fact, there were several interesting points about his role that have somewhat enhanced the idea of being an agent. For example, to become an agent prior to 2015 you had to pass an exam with FIFA and pay them an indemnity fee of around £100,000. This is no longer the case! Now you simply need to pay a registration fee of £600 to the FA for a licence which is renewed annually at a fee of £300. This may help explain the rising numbers of agents in the UK, certainly going from 500 agents in 2015 to 6000 in the UK now is some jump!
But what really fascinated me with my conversation with Brian was not necessarily the numbers, but what his focus was. Brian had a relationship and player centred focus that was very refreshing to hear. It seems like there is a lot of criticism and scepticism in the world of football, especially for a young player. But Brian explained one of the biggest limitations a player will have is that the market is saturated, probably even more so now with COVID and maybe even Brexit. Therefore, players really need to be doing something extra to be seen, taken a chance on! This is where Brian and myself shared some commonality, in that Brian truly believes in a second chance for players. This is where we briefly discussed Pitch and how it enables players to showcase their talent to many scouts on the only validated website platform in the UK. Pitch also helps with selected players gaining a highly selective trial – sorry, not everyone is invited! You need to meet the standards. The whole premise is to allow players a second or third chance for their talent to be identified by scouts, with which Brian agreed and seemed to be very close to his personal ethos. We also discussed briefly the role that scouts, and trials bring to a player’s opportunity to get a position at a club, which the agent has a direct role or involvement in. From Brian’s experience trials are very important, and help players getting that vital exposure to scouts and coaches, and these types of events have been around for a while.
We discussed this point for some time, and we evolved the conversation to the focus of barriers to an agent’s job, that was equally fascinating. Some of the biggest barriers seem to be that, as stated before, there are A LOT of players out there now and so competition for places is high! Also, there seems to be a guarded nature to a small number of agents and their ethos, driven by the competitive nature of the industry. For example, Brian has found a few times that some may not give full details of the club or what it is they are specifically looking for, which makes his job of placing an appropriate player a bit of a challenge. Equally, there are other issues where a player may not make the standard at a professional club in the UK, but then travel abroad to play for a few years, say in a Greek league, and get some great game time. But then they come back to the UK and the market is still saturated and the system seems to work as a pyramid reducing system, as in players are always being released from top flight academies. The competition only grows, and the demand to fill a position means it is increasingly difficult for certain free agents to break back in. Additionally, when you factor in the potential money shortage in the lower leagues with a lack of fans at games and potentially reduced revenue from sponsorship, this means ultimately clubs have less money. This knock-on effect means they may not be able to afford to invest in playing squads as they have done and indeed may not be able to meet the demands, potentially, of some players. When you also think about the current climate we are in with the COVID pandemic and Brexit, it is no wonder there are so many issues in the industry. It appears to me that a lot of people are very uncertain in these times and will have a lot of worry. Brian being one of them too, but still this did not detract from his personal or player centred approach. He was still very empathetic in this regard and always considered the person first!
These uncertain times the football industry and all are going through moved our conversation on to the current state of players wellness and mental health. Something that I feel very passionately about and so did Brian. We spoke about the difficulties in the environment today and how players who are released are even further impacted with potentially having to stay at home and train. This must be such a challenging time for them, and we have more recently seen the shock of release for some players, namely Jeremy Wisten of Manchester City FC, who had been with the academy since he was 13 and who after release suffered depression and ultimately committed suicide. This is such a shame, and my personal condolences go out to his family and the football community. But the point being that clubs release players all the time, and this is an unfortunate consequence, it would seem, of how we identify or develop talent in the UK. The whole conversation of mental health was of great interest to Brian too, and he stated something to me that I thought was quite profound. He said ‘’you know Saul, there is a statistic that states 1 in 4 people suffer some form of mental health issue when the reality is, 1 in 1 people suffer from a form of mental health issue’’. This really got me thinking, this is so true. At some point everyone will feel depressed, anxious or nervous at some point in their life, so the reality is we need to stay connected and make sure we keep in touch. This certainly was true of Brian. He stated he always wants to keep in touch with players, and that it was always critically important to be on the other side of the phone for them and to deal with the person first. He had a truly empathetic approach that really considered the players position, in fact he even stated ‘’you know you need to think what it must be like for a player, they may have been rejected, had some form of disappointment, or they trialled and didn’t get the job/position. There are so many things you need to consider’’. I thought this was so true. We often go through life fighting our own battles often not thinking of the others that are fighting battles too. Then we may often think of a football player as a highly privileged position to be in, but the truth is we don’t always see the day to day sacrifices they make, like being away from home and family, eating pasta for breakfast, having a career that at best may last 12 years or the uncertainty when their contract is coming to an end and they have a family to provide for. The point is they are fighting a battle and, like Brian said, they are human too!
For me, this chat with Brian was a real eye opener, as I had never spoken with an agent and I really did not know what to expect. I have to say I was impressed with Brian’s empathetic approach, his kind words about a player’s mental state of mind, but probably the most remarkable skill he had was that he was a real listener. It was fair to say I liked Brian from talking with him, and I imagine the players he represents must feel the same. He also did something else that showed the true character of the man, well for me anyway. He did something that very few people do EVER, and this one thing showed how much he listened, how empathetic he truly was. He thanked me for my service as a Royal Marine! I have never had any English person do this, he is the first person to do it!
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