A lot has been written over the past few weeks with regards appointing a single football agent to act as the sole point of contact for a club's player recruitment. In reality, contrary to some of the headlines, it's nothing new in football.
It's nothing new in business either. Recruitment consultants will always try to position themselves to be the sole agent in a given company's recruitment, while an estate agent will often be the exclusive seller for a new block of apartments that are built.
How does it work in football? This kind of arrangement usually comes in to effect when a new manager or owner is installed at a football club and is keen to lay down an early marker. In all likelihood the agent who represents the new manager will have pushed his client into the job. If this is the case, the agent may forgo the normal 'finders' fee but would insist on a proviso that he/she acts as the sole agent for the club. In the process they will then receive payment for any players brought in or moved on.
There is nothing in the rules to say this kind of arrangement isn't allowed. It could be looked on as a restriction of trade, meaning other agents often lose out on deals they would otherwise have been involved in, but that's the nature of the beast and we all knew the score when we stepped into the ring.
That said it's understandable that supporters may be sceptical over how this arrangement works. Will the agent only bring in their own players? How much money will the agent take out of the club for their services?
As an agent, getting this sort of arrangement in place is a major coup and key to making a good living out of the game. Many agents strive to get this kind of gig; hence why more and more agents are trying to get good managers under their control. It happens at the top level and all the way down to the non-leagues. It's interesting to see how the industry is now almost as much geared towards getting managers on the rostra as it is players.
This type of agreement can be seen as beneficiary if the team is doing well in the league (and managing to pay the wages of the new recruits), as these players are often of better quality than they may previously have been able to attract. It's amazing the sway some agents have over their clients!
However, if results don't improve and the players who are brought in by the new manager/agent don't produce, then this arrangement can soon splinter and cause major problems. A number of clubs have come unstuck by such deals in the past. How often has a player followed the same manager from club to club? Often the relationships between managers/players/agents are legally all above board but operating in a morally grey area.
I have to confess that all too often agents are intent on making money and worry about a club's position in the league only as a secondary concern. Unusual and often baffling signings have always been part of the game but with more influence from agents there seems to be a steady increase of questionable transfers. It's up to the clubs, just as much as the authorities, to police these relationships as only the truly naive don't know exactly who they're getting in bed with.
For every bad arrangement that causes unrest there is invariably another that suits both parties and works for the good of the club. The agent who works in a totally transparent way, who works hard to scout new talent and isn't averse to using other agents to find the best possible players available, is always the one more likely to succeed.
Many clubs employ a single agent to conduct a 'fire sale' of players after relegation or if they are experiencing a few financial issues. A lot of these issues are often caused by a previous manager and his agent recruiting average players and paying them exuberant wages. In this case the agent will use his contacts in the football world to try and move on these mercenaries and help save the club.
Of course the agent won't do this work for the fun of it. And why should they? We provide a service at a not inexpensive cost and as the old saying goes, nothing in life is free! Often an agent will receive an agreed percentage of any transfer fees the club receive. More and more frequently it's the agent's responsibility to negotiate the transfer fee and get the best price. Just like in the recruitment of players, the agent will want to be the only one acting for the club as it can become confusing and complicated if more than one shark is working on the same player.
Why can't the clubs perform these functions and cut out the agents?
Apart from putting a player on the transfer list most club officials won't have the contacts or relationships to make that SOS call to the president of a club in Europe to take an overpaid striker off their books. They also probably don't have the resources either to spend time negotiating, often via a translator; hence most clubs have a go-to agent on speed dial.
So just like any other industry using intermediaries to conduct their business, football agents are an essential part of the game these days. Love or loathe them, they are a necessary evil - especially the good ones. Unfortunately some bad eggs in the past have let us down and in football people have long memories.
Let's hope as a professional body we can work together to change this perception. Most of us are decent guys after all!