The unchecked rise of football’s super agents has had a major impact on the balance of power between players, clubs and governing bodies over the past 20 years, though the influence of the game’s most high-profile dealmakers is set to be clipped.
Depending on your particular point of view, opinion concerning agents can land anywhere between greedy leech-like middlemen to a necessary set of brokers greasing the wheels of football’s money machine, though FIFA’s take on the industry is what counts and football’s chief decision-makers are pushing for change.
In 2021, FIFA announced that it planned to publish a new set of agent regulations in early 2022, despite the threat of legal action from some of the game’s biggest players in the space.
FIFA ready to wage war on agents
FIFA intends to publish its new agent regulations this year despite the threat of legal action from some of football's biggest agents, including Mino Raiola, Jonathan Barnett and Jorge Mendes.
Even though a lengthy courtroom battle is probable, FIFA remain determined to bring greater transparency to transfers, while cutting down on what they view as “excesses” in the financial side of the game, which include as a priority, spiralling agent fees.
FIFA revealed that an eye-watering £377.45m was spent on agent fees generated from international transfers in 2021 alone and that 95.8% of the cash that changed hands was splashed out by clubs in Europe.
Speaking about the proposed changes, FIFA’s chief legal and compliance officer Emilio Garcia Silvero said: “Some agents don't want to consult with FIFA. It shouldn't be perceived that FIFA doesn't consult with agents. At the moment, we have a market that allows $500m to be given to agents but only about $60m (£45.42m) is spent on compensation for training players all over the world. That makes us feel uncomfortable. We cannot accept this imbalance. That is one of the key things we would like to change with the agents' legislation.”
In what is currently a free-market free-for-all, the thought of greater restrictions and control was enough to set knees knocking in agencies across the world.
New agent rules: What’s set to change?
In their attempts to erode the influence of football’s super-agents, FIFA hope to impose a set of financial restrictions on how transfers work.
The new regulations, which were supposed to kick into practice in January 2022, include limiting agent fees to a one-off sum equal to 3% of a player’s annual salary or 10% of the transfer fee to a selling club.
In 2016, one of football’s most famous agents, Mino Raiola, brokered the £89.3m deal that took French midfielder back to Manchester United from Juventus and the Italian businessman reportedly earned £24m for himself as part of the arrangement.
Under the new terms set out by FIFA, Raiola’s cut from a similar deal would now rest at a maximum of £8.93m and though that is still a hefty wedge, it falls way short of the bounty the agent had been able to demand.
The first draft of the new guidelines, which was 33 pages long, was put out for relevant parties to consume and critique, though FIFA, who went hands-off on agent regulation in 2015, look ready to reclaim control in the face of a pushback from those affected.
“The easiest thing for us to do would be nothing, but we would like to be a little bit brave in this area,” Silvero continued. “We are very aware that there are some groups that are not happy with some part of the drafts, but we need to protect football from abuses and speculative practices.
“We have evaluated that by introducing these rules, the minimum standards and ethical standards will rise. The activity of agents might be impacted, due to the cap on commissions, but we don’t see a potential financial impact on the transfer market. Agents add an important value for players and for clubs, I don’t have doubts about this.”
Agents ready to fight fire with fire
As expected, football agents’ response to FIFA’s planned reforms has been as caustic as their nefarious influence on the game as a whole.
The unified voice in the form of The Football Forum (TFF) – a body representing agents established in 2019 with Mino Raiola as president and big-hitters like Jorge Mendes and Jonathan Barnett as VP’s – has unsurprisingly been the loudest.
Claiming that the new rules would “threaten a player’s protection” and not agents' ability to syphon off millions of pounds from the sport, Mino Raiola said: “These regulations are about power and that is clearly what FIFA wants. The Football Forum will be taking the fight to FIFA next year as well as standing up for players’ rights and ensuring that these shocking salary caps are dropped as a matter of urgency.”
Jonathan Barnett, who has Man Utd’s Luke Shaw and Welsh international Gareth Bale among others on his books, also chimed in, saying: “We want to help and bring all agents and players together for the common good. We want to help agents who are less fortunate than us. That’s our main thing. And if there are smaller countries who need our help to fight FIFA, we will put the money there. We’ll underwrite it all.”
“If FIFA insist on doing what they are insisting on doing at the moment, obviously there’s going to be a lot of litigation flying around…..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 QCs in England and the best lawyers in Europe so I hope it doesn’t come to it. But if it does, so be it.”
Football’s most influential agents
Set to oversee the summer moves of high-profile pair Paul Pogba and Erling Haaland, Raiola is the most recognizable face in the agent’s industry. With superstars like Marco Verratti, Romelu Lukaku and Gianluigi Donnarumma also on his list of clients, Raoila’s media manipulation and open disrespect of clubs and their figureheads has made him of football’s most despised figures. The Italian likes to make his puppets dance and players in his pocket often engineer moves at his behest.
Portuguese transfer supremo Jorge Mendes likes to shy away from the spotlight more than Raiola, though his influence is just as far-reaching. Mendes has been Cristiano Ronaldo’s long-term advisor, while players like Nicolas Otamendi, Goncalo Guedes, Ruben Neves, Ederson, Bernardo Silva, and James Rodriguez have all had deals administered by Mendes’ agency, GestiFute.
Head honcho at Stellar Group Limited, outspoken dealmaker Barnett, has his fingers in pies across multiple sports, though he is best known for his exploits in football. Barnett was the driving force behind Gareth Bale’s record £86m move from Tottenham to Real Madrid in 2013. England international and Man Utd regular Luke Shaw is one of the biggest names in his current stable of commodities.
While he probably isn’t as well known in the UK as some of his counterparts, Struth is the most prolific purveyor of German talent. Real Madrid star Toni Kroos, Dortmund flier Marco Reus, Bayern's Dayot Upamecano and Chelsea striker Timo Werner are all tied to Struth’s Sports360 GmbH agency based in Koln.