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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Explained: Why football’s super agents and Fifa are on collision course

Fifa has trained its guns specifically at 'super agents' — a group with direct influence on the biggest transfers in football, either through managing the player, or the transfer.

Written by Shashank Nair , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 3, 2021 4:37:55 pm
The FIFA Headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. (Walter Bieri/Keystone File via AP)

In 2019, Fifa estimated that football agents earned around $653 million from player sales, a 19.3% increase from 2018. This figure and its constant rise has put football’s governing body on a warpath against the biggest movers and shakers of the game. And Fifa has trained its guns specifically at ‘super agents’ — a group with direct influence on the biggest transfers in football, either through managing the player, or the transfer.

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What is FIFA proposing?

Fifa has two main agendas in the proposed reforms, which they want to push through in a bid to reduce the power of the modern-day football agent. The first reform proposed is that an agent will only be able to represent either the player or the club while organising a transfer, the exception to this being if both the player and club agree to employ the agent.

The second reform limits the amount of money an agent can make from a transfer. Fifa has suggested a 3 per cent one off sum of a player’s annual salary or 10 per cent of the transfer fee to a selling club.

Who are the prominent super agents?

Italian super agent Mino Raiola is the current representation of superstars like Erling-Braut Haaland, Mattias de Ligt, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba. Also in the firing line of Fifa are agents like Jorge Mendes, Jonathan Barnett and German agent Roger Wittmann.

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Why are agents opposing these reforms?

Let’s take the case of France World Cup winner Paul Pogba. Contracted to Raiola, Pogba was the subject of a £100m transfer between Juventus and Manchester United. In this scenario, according to a Guardian article, Raiola represented Juventus, Manchester United and Paul Pogba, all at the same time. He pocketed a cool sum of £41m from all three parties combined and started a whole debate on conflict of interest among football agents representing multiple parties in a deal.

Under Fifa’s proposed system, that they intend to implement from 2022, Raiola in this particular example of a transfer would only be liable to pocket 3% of the £8.6m annual salary of Paul Pogba, or 10% of the £100m price that both teams have agreed upon.

Either way, Raiola stands to lose quite a bit of money. It has led to him pioneering a fightback of sorts against Fifa.

What are super agents doing to defy Fifa’s diktats?

In 2019, a group of super agents, including Raiola, Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes, Gareth Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett formed the ‘Football Forum’. It’s a group that has specifically been created to unionise in the face of Fifa’s reforms. Barnett spoke to the Guardian on what exactly their gripe with Fifa and the reforms proposed were.

“The caps are only one part [of the regulations] that everyone seems to be focusing on. These rules have been written by people who have no idea what an agent does. They have no idea other than what people speculate about agents. When they say it’s to help players they are talking out of their backsides. There certainly aren’t any of my players who would rather be represented by Fifa than by us. It’s absolutely scandalous that without proper consultation they can write rules that they think will be legal. We’ve got some of the best Queen Councils (an advocate appointed by the monarch) in England and the best lawyers in Europe, so I hope it doesn’t come to it. But if it does, so be it,” said Barnett to the Guardian.

Who regulates agents?

While the Football Forum is ready to take Fifa to court — should the reforms be made legal — their activities have forced Fifa’s hand. Up until 2015, Fifa used to be the regulator of agents, an activity that they then left to member associations. That system has clearly not worked. Fifa in a statement said that they as an organisation have witnessed abusive practices, conflicts of interest and a market driven by speculation – all of which needs to be curbed by bringing agents under regulation.

What are some areas where agents are likely to attack Fifa?

Recently the consortium of Mino Raiola and Jonathan Barnett, along with their players Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale, questioned how EA Sports’ FIFA 21 game was allowed to use their likeness, even though they, by themselves, had never given any explicit consent.

EA’s dealings are directly with Fifa on the issue of brand licensing. Fifa on their part obtain permissions from a combination of either the leagues, such as their deal with the Premier League, or teams themselves, such as their deal with AC Milan or directly with the players themselves.

Bale plies his trade in the Premier League currently and thus comes under that deal, while rights over Ibrahimovic’s likeness have been traded to Fifa by AC Milan themselves.

Other than this issue, the collective of agents is likely to target Fifa’s very own record when it comes to poor governance, corruption and reform. Specifically, a look at the Sepp Blatter (former president) saga will show that Fifa by themselves have struggled to get their house in order.

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