A recent article published by Joel Leigh and Jamie Rhodes analysed preliminary findings from Edge Hill University, designed to revolutionise the regulations currently governing agents in football. These are due to be presented in their final form at The Future of Sports Law and Business Conference in Manchester this Friday. Joel and Jamie considered how focused regulation could assist agents in becoming fully integrated footballing stakeholders, rather than being tolerated as some kind of necessary evil. A remuneration sub-report from Edge Hill went on to examine arguably the most controversial aspect of football agents: their remuneration. Below, I set out my thoughts as to what might be done to address this controversy once and for all and whether a restriction on agents' fees might represent a viable way forward.
An emphasis of the word "agent" written into the regulations "would represent an acceptance of agents as full footballing stakeholders, rather than a necessary evil, to be implicitly kept at arm's length and limited to involvement with transactions". https://www.howardkennedy.com/Latest/Article/Welcome-Agents-to-the-footballing-family
As the quote suggests, agents are undoubtedly considered a necessary evil by most across the football industry. The sub-report correctly highlights that agent remuneration receives by far the most media attention and is also an almost inevitably viewed with public disapproval. Indeed, a typical football fan only usually discusses agents in respect of the often eye watering cut they receive after a multi-million pound transfer: many were outraged by the estimated £20m earned by Jorge Mendes following Cristiano Ronaldo's £96m transfer to Juventus.
The sub-report proposes restrictions on remuneration in the form of a cap and further analyses the arguments behind why this might be an option worth putting into practice.
On the face of it, a wage cap feels inherently wrong, as many feel that the value of a service should be calculated based on whatever a client is willing to pay, so the market dictates the costs. Furthermore, remuneration is rarely a random figure. There is a tried and trusted method by which agent remuneration is calculated: a percentage of the player's overall salary if representing a player; and a percentage of the transfer fee if representing the club.
However these valid points are somewhat countered in circumstances where an agent is seen to profit excessively from a deal, when representing both club and player. Dual representation causes many professionals to cry foul about conflict of interests and they are right to do so. It is incredibly unusual for a sector to allow dual representation, when there is clear financial incentive to work against the best interests of one of the clients. A key argument in favour of a remuneration cap is that it will go some way to mitigate the risks of such potential conflicts of interest.
Naturally, there are numerous other advantages and disadvantages listed by the sub-report in respect of a remuneration cap, but the most compelling disadvantage (other than the market dictating costs, touched upon above) is that the need for a restriction may not be as great as suggested. Arguably, it is only the media's portrayal of a select few agents, taking huge commissions, that influences public perception of a market where such caps are necessary. So any regulations introducing a cap would be based on these few exceptions rather than the usual business rule and could therefore and at best, be misguided. Of course, an appropriately considered restriction would only effect these incredibly high value exceptions, but this would by definition depend on the approach taken, most likely by FIFA, when drafting the details of the regulations.
Whilst this article has focused on the idea of a remuneration cap, the sub-report considers a number of other approaches that may equally turn opinion in favour of the remuneration received by agents: disclosure, consent, greater education, or even a complete removal of dual representation. That said and assuming a remuneration cap was adopted, the sub-report stresses that the scrupulous calculation of any restriction would be pivotal to the success of such approach. And if a cap is not adopted, the sub-report warns darkly that FIFA must establish another mechanism by which fees can be seen to be demonstrably fair. Otherwise, it is highly likely that agents will likely forever be considered "a necessary evil" and that cannot, surely, be in the wider interests of the game.