Mino Raiola, Jorge Mendes, Jonathan Barnett and Fernando Felicevich, four so-called super agents, have a rooster of players under their control worth more than two billion euros.
Super agents are often described as a player’s dream and a club’s worst nightmare. The media tends to frame them as the root of all evil, as a selfish people who are only out for themselves whilst taking out crucial money out of the game. Yet, the role of an intermediary when a club is looking to buy or sell a player, or when a player is negotiating a new contract, is a necessity.
The rise of agents
Football agents are legal representatives of players and coaches whose primary role is to procure and negotiate employment and endorsement contracts for their representatives. Agents are responsible for getting the best deal for their clients, whether it’s a new contract or a top transfer, they negotiate on the players’ behalf to secure a respectable paycheck. And so, ensuring players are not being taken advantage of by wealthy and powerful clubs.
Agents are a relatively new concept in football. They came to the fore in 1995 with the introduction of the Bosman Ruling. Prior to it, players could not leave to another team at the end of their contracts unless the club agreed to let them go on a free transfer, or received an agreed fee. Named after Jean-Marc Bosman, a former football player, the ruling ensured clubs could no longer prevent players from joining other teams once their contracts expired.
This drastically changed the amount of money involved in modern football. How could clubs ensure they were able to secure the services of players when they didn’t have to negotiate a fee with a club? By offering them the most attractive salaries. Consequently, wages spiked tremendously. In 1994, Chris Sutton became the first player in the UK to earn £10.000 per week (≈10.800€). 7 years later, Sol Campbell signed a £100.000 per week deal with Arsenal (≈108.000€). Today, Kevin de Bruyne is the best paid player in the UK with a weekly salary of £350.000 (≈380.000€).
As wages inflated, footballers saw the need to hire representative to speak for their best interests and maximise their earning. And so began the age of agents. Nowadays their tasks have extended and agents also manage a player’s public relations by arranging interviews and curating their social media accounts. On top of their key role to manage players’ finances, agents have become a paternal figure to some, for instance Raiola to Mario Balotelli. Some footballers come from humble beginnings, agents help them build a portfolio to ensure they are financially free after retirement.
From agents to super agents
The controversy between football fans and agents is not due to the existence of agents. After all, most players are fairly young and uneducated, and having to negotiate their own contracts would be ridiculous. Had they prioritised their academic learning over their professional career, those players would not have been able to reach their goals. Most of the time, their lack of education and young age prevents them from properly negotiate their own contacts.
At the end of the day, behind every great footballer in the modern game there is an agent pulling strings in their favor. Agents are carrying out work behind the scenes at all levels of the game. However, problems arise when rather than remain behind the scenes, they put themselves at the centre of the story.
Super agent Mino Raiola, who represents Paul Pogba, earned a €25m cut from the €96m world record transfer of the French midfielder from Juventus to Manchester United. Figure which could rise to €45m subject to bonuses. Super agents therefore have a financial interest in selling the players they represent, potentially leading to a distorted market. Yet, many claim that the rise in transfer fees is pure reflective of the need of top clubs to recruit the best players. In reality, the main issue is the lack of transparency in transfer dealings.
Perhaps the most annoying tool employed by agents is using another club’s interest as bait to negotiate a new deal for players already on multi-million deals. All the reasons mentioned above have made clubs unwilling or hesitant to deal with such agents, and at the end of the day, affecting the players’ opportunities.
Despite all controversy, agents and super agents are not going anywhere. They are a player’s means of extracting the most out of themselves and a crucial necessity for completing transfers. Players need agents, and so do the clubs; so why shouldn’t the best in their business become successful. Agents are product of football’s wealth, not the cause of inequality within it.