Why agents are a necessary evil in football

They may be the most hated people in the sport but the beautiful game would be poorer without them.

Meryl D'Souza August 9, 2016

About £20 million. That’s the rumoured commission Paul Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, will get from the Frenchman’s world-record transfer fee to the tune of £89 million to Manchester United – a club he left back in 2012 for a mere £800,000. 

Pogba is a talented midfielder who can run for days, dribble past an army of players and score from outrageous distances – they don’t call him #Pogboom for nothing. But you have to wonder if he’s really worth the money being spent on him. Especially when you consider his below par Euro 2016 campaign. Wouldn’t someone like Antoine Griezmann make more sense?

Thing is, for all his talent and remarkable outings this past season, Griezmann doesn’t have a super agent to turn him into a brand. Like every other job on the planet, in football, possessing talent is not enough, you need to know how to sell yourself. And if you can’t do that, you need to hire an agent capable of doing that for you.

Raiola is this year’s super agent with three of his biggest clients now at Manchester United: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pogba.

Most people within the game will tell you that agents are a bane to the sport. They’ll paint agents as sellswords with little to no honour. It’s not like that. Of course agents look for better deals for their clients and themselves – they’re paid to do just that. But to say that’s all they do is doing them a disservice.

Agents deal with far more behind the scenes than we realise. The trade-off for their hefty sums is dealing with players on a daily basis. Remember that most footballers are just kids making decisions, and kids don’t generally make the best decisions.

Agents act as parental figures who control their client’s finances, ensure they get to the best clubs with big paycheques and retire with a large enough pot so that they don’t end up like these broke ex-sportsmen

Seems easy doesn’t it? Except it’s not. Most players start off as prodigies. Many come from difficult childhoods and give up on education to pursue a career that throws ridiculous amounts of money at them. Agents keep these young players in check to make sure they don’t burn through that dough.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is the damage control. An established agent who wrote The Secret Agent: Inside the World of the Football Agent, told The Telegraph:

“Players are red-blooded young men who like a night out on the town, often with women involved. They get drunk and get laid. That’s not a problem as long as it happens behind closed doors and it’s consensual. But there are a fair number of girls who see a window of opportunity when they get a footballer to shag them. They can cry foul (it happens sometimes), threaten to call a paper (it happens often), or even threaten to tell the player’s missus (unusual but not unheard of).”

We’re not saying agents are guardian angels, far from it. We’re just saying that they’re not the devils that everyone else will have you believe. Think of them as members from the Suicide Squad: they’re villains with a heart. The nature of their job is such that they have no choice but to be shrewd in an industry more cut throat than a shave at Sweeney Todd's.

But there are the dark arts of the agent world that many lovers of the game disapprove of. Like talking to players under contract at the behest of other clubs. Sir Alex Ferguson more than insinuated as much in 2012 when Pogba moved to Juventus saying, “Pogba signed for Juventus a long time ago as far as we’re aware”.

It doesn't stop there. They pay off players’ parents, relatives, managers and even directors if needed to get a player to move. We saw that with Neymar’s transfer to Barcelona. 

That’s not the only known case mind you. Peter Harrison, Rivaldo and Andy Carroll’s former agent, admitted to offering financial inducements to young players and their parents to keep them under his wing. The FIFA-licensed agent also came clean about brokering Lucas Neil’s transfer to West Ham instead of Liverpool only because he would earn a commission of £900,000 while the player banked £72,000-a-week. 

Of course agents also make their money by first turning their biggest clients into brands and then shuffling them across the best clubs in Europe. The biggest of them all is Jorge Mendes – the man who had Cristiano Ronaldo take on best man duties at his wedding and was gifted a Greek Island by the Portuguese winger.

Mendes is no average football agent. Widely considered to be the man who runs football off the pitch, his client list boasts Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho, Angel Di Maria and many more. But being widely respected doesn’t mean he’s squeaky clean.

It is however, probably, a symptom of how much money he's made. Among countless millions over the years, Jorge earned about a third of the £9 million Manchester United paid for Bebe – a player Ferguson had not even seen play. Aside from the commission he made from the transfers of Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and Tiago Mendes to Chelsea in 2004, Mendes earned a cool £2.5 million from Chelsea for a slew of services including ensuring his millionaire players turned up for training on time. He’s earned so much off that wheeling and dealing that today, Mendes could well own AC Milan

Many think of agents as unnecessary commodities that suck millions of pounds out of the game each year at the expense of the sport. But in reality, the sport relies on them to keep the system working efficiently; they are a necessary evil.

If it wasn’t for them, clubs would – and have in the past – take advantage of young players by paying them well below the market rate. Without agents, clubs would leave players for broke. 

Good agents like Mendes and Raiola strip off the bells and whistles of emotion and ultimately find a way to fill their pockets while getting the best deal for their clients. And that means the best deal for the fans too.