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From the Telegraph

 

 

He had finally got his big break. As a talented teenage defender in non-League football, his classy performances had caught the eye of clubs much higher up the football food chain.

 

When a Championship team got in touch with his club, the chairman did not stand in his way.

 

“They called me and made an offer,” the chairman says. “The deal was basically done in five minutes, we put it in writing and it was all ready to go.”

 

The teenager’s agent, a former player who turned out for more than 10 clubs in a career spanning two decades, was “dumbfounded” to learn that his client was being offered £300 a week – the going rate for players of that age and level.

 

Worried about his cut – around 10 per cent – the agent told the buying club he expected the player to be paid at least £1,000 a week, as well as a chunky signing-on fee.

 

The market has been flooded with people who, although often well-intentioned, are not qualified to act in a young player's best interests

The deal, unsurprisingly, collapsed, along with the young player’s burgeoning reputation. “That agent has soured it for the player,” the chairman says. “He was not even told about salaries.”

 

Welcome to the inner workings of modern football, where, since April 1 last year, the industry’s door has been flung open to people like this newly registered agent, who have little grasp of market rates or the complexities of player contracts.

 

The rose of the rogue football agent - Fifa relaxing rules has created free-for-all

Newly-registered agents have little grasp of the complexities of player contracts CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Fifa deregulated the industry, wiping away the usual route that aspiring agents had to take to become licensed. For the past 12 months, those looking to represent players have no longer had to pass Fifa’s notoriously difficult agent exam, take out indemnity insurance or possess even the most basic understanding of contract law.

 

Now, anyone can become an FA-registered “intermediary”, as long as they have £500 and a clean criminal record.

 

In just one year since the changes, the number of registered intermediaries with the English FA has risen from 518 to 1,516 – with serious consequences for footballers at the lower end of the game.

 

Fifa’s decision to end the old structure stemmed from the fact that only around 30 per cent of worldwide transfers were being conducted by licensed agents. That created a system full of underhand, untraceable payments that had spiralled out of the governing body’s control.

 

The licensing process – including the tough qualification exam and insurance cover for agents – was therefore removed, with control of intermediaries handed to the individual football associations, who would publish in full all payments made to representatives of players.

 

The logic was simple: if anyone can become an intermediary, there is no need for an unlicensed individual acting on behalf of a player to hide in the shadows, waiting for their cut.

 

At the elite levels, the changes have had little impact: the top agents, such as Jonathan Barnett, who represents Gareth Bale, and Jorge Mendes, who acts for Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Ángel di María and many others, have continued business as usual as the big clubs and players carry on dealing with the people they know and trust.

 

The concerns have instead risen at the lower levels of the game, where vulnerable, starry-eyed young hopefuls desperately seek their chance to climb up the ranks.

 

The market has been flooded with people who, although often well-intentioned, are not qualified to act in a young player’s best interests, according to Dan Chapman, a regional officer of the Association of Football Agents and senior partner at law firm Full Contact.

 

“Because a player sees that a person is an FA-endorsed intermediary – and they are on the official list when they check it up – the player thinks that person has an understanding of how the job works,” he says.

 

The AFA’s fear is that anyone can become registered and turn up at a player’s front door with a promise to arrange a big move, despite having no expertise, contacts or – in the case of the agent who scuppered the non-League player’s move – understanding of the finances of football.

 

And, Chapman says, there are no longer any guarantees an intermediary will be able to offer a professional service to their client – despite that person’s entire career resting in their hands.

 

Harry Price, a director of UK Football Trials, which offers open trials for players across the country, has seen a growing number of “ordinary” people at their events who have become FA-registered intermediaries since the deregulation.

 

“They turn up in a suit saying they represent certain players,” he says. “Some of them have been plumbers before, while others are family friends of the players.”

 

In order to be able to advise these newly qualified intermediaries – or at least check they knew what they were doing – the company decided to register Harry’s brother James, another director, as an intermediary himself.

 

 

But becoming an FA-certified intermediary under the new system – where all you have to do is fill in a form, pay £500 and pass a test of good character and reputation – was so easy that the brothers decided they needed further legal training, and have spent thousands of pounds on being taught the intricacies and responsibilities of representing players.

 

“I was amazed at how simple it was,” James says. “It took me an hour. Having registered, I quickly realised I could not start going to negotiations with clubs without any further knowledge.

 

“It is frightening that there are people who know a player, have registered themselves as intermediaries and are going in and speaking to clubs without knowing what they are doing.”

 

One newly registered intermediary, 25-year-old property developer Ben Staab, admitted he had to “blag” his way through representing players when he first signed up in September.

 

"You make mistakes. With the first boy I signed, we decided it would be a good little welcome to get him a pair of boots, but they gave him blisters. So we went and bought him another pair and he didn't like them either. I spent about £450 on it... what a waste of money. It’s all a learning curve"

 

“There are plenty of people like me,” says Staab, who is representing four youth-team players across London and Essex. “I have been in positions where I am absolutely clueless because I have no background, no training, no experience, and I have just had to blag it and try to use common sense.

 

“I have been asked questions and I have had to put my hands up and say, ‘I don’t know, I’m new’.”

 

Staab has since contacted more experienced intermediaries for advice, and is starting to enjoy success with his new football academy, Finesse, which gives a chance to young players who have been overlooked elsewhere.

 

A former scout for Charlton Athletic, Staab has helped some of those players move from amateur football to the youth teams of professional clubs.

 

“You make mistakes,” he says. “With the first boy I signed, we decided it would be a good little welcome to get him a pair of boots, but they gave him blisters. So we went and bought him another pair and he didn’t like them either. I spent about £450 on it… what a waste of money. It’s all a learning curve.”

 

But should handling young people’s careers be a learning curve? David Seligman, an intermediary and sports lawyer at CM Solicitors who passed the old licensing exam, says there should be at least a basic understanding of the role before people are allowed to represent players.

 

 

“That exam we had to pass was really tough and I am absolutely baffled they got rid of it,” he says. “It has just opened the door to people who don’t know how the industry works.”

 

Daniel Lowen, a partner at Couchmans sports law firm, successfully tutored more than 120 agents as they prepared to take the old exam, which was an “extremely difficult” 20-question multiple choice test. In 2009, it had a pass rate of just six per cent.

 

“There was a large syllabus and you needed an encyclopedic knowledge of the material to get through it.”

 

On the other hand, Mamadi Fofana, who represents players in France, Italy and England, including Fulham striker Moussa Dembélé, had been working in football for years, building up a network of players and contacts, but was not an official agent. When the rules changed, he was able to register.

 

 

“Before, I had to rely on other licensed agents and that put me in an uncomfortable situation,” he says. “Some of them were not always honest, or would not give you the cut you deserved. Now the rules have changed I am legally in a position to negotiate and I am protected by the law.”

 

Indeed, an increase in the number of intermediaries has also given more opportunities to youngsters who may not have been spotted before. Staab, for example, has secured two youth-team places for players at Championship sides just this week.

 

The FA, for its part, says it is unlikely that all 1,000 new intermediaries are active, and added that it had gone above and beyond Fifa’s recommended regulations.

 

It has added additional rules which forbid a player and intermediary entering into a contract which is longer than two years, and does not allow an intermediary to sign with a player before they are in the year of their 16th birthday.

 

But those checks did nothing to protect the player whose move to the Championship was scuppered by his intermediary’s demands, and he continues to play non-League football. He fears his biggest opportunity is gone.

 

“We had a conversation with other teams about him but they are worried this agent is still involved,” his chairman says. “It has put a very sour taste in the boy’s mouth and he doesn’t trust anybody now.”

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