The new FIFA regulations governing the profession of player agent come into force on Monday. We explain the why and how of the reform, and its possible effects on the next transfer markets.
Why reform the profession?
The new version adopted in December in Doha by the FIFA Council must be “a decisive step […] in the establishment of a fairer and more transparent transfer system in football”, according to the terms used by the authority. In other words: the sector is an unnamed bazaar that must be regulated at all costs. “The current system is so opaque”agrees Jean-François Brocard, associate research professor at the Center for Sports Law and Economics (CDES) of Limoges.
He cites in particular the agent registration system. “It doesn’t work at all. Today, (except in France, where the sector is much more regulated than elsewhere) anyone can become an agent. In Spain, you can register on a site in five minutes and become an agent the next day. It is necessarily quite complicated then because there are people who are not necessarily benevolent, and also a lot of friends of players who know nothing about the market or the rules and who are a bit lawless. Without concealing the «concurrence terrible» between agents, much criticized: “it’s a bit like whoever promises the player the most”, summarizes Jean-François Brocard. The new measures must therefore allow “to establish minimum standards to govern the function of agent and the services provided to customers”as FIFA wishes.
What will change?
Three things. First, the reintroduction of a compulsory license, supposed to remedy the lack of regulation governing the profession of agent since the abolition of licenses by Fifa in 2015. Since that date, only certain federations still control their skills and their activity, as in France where they must pass an exam and where their accounts can be submitted since 2017 to the DNCG, the financial policeman of football.
The cap on commissions, another measure included in the reform, must respond to the other recurring criticism against agents: their remuneration, mainly indexed to the amount of transfers rather than to the players’ salaries, encouraging them to push for a change of club . Fifa intends to put an end to this system with a ceiling on commissions set between 3% and 6% of the annual salary (compared to 10% so far), if the agent represents the player and/or the purchasing club, and at 10 % on transfer fees if he represents the selling club.
Another induced point: the ban on multiple representation, «pour reasons of conflicts of interest, and for reasons of adequacy between the work rendered and the remuneration”, explains Jean-François Brocard. It develops : “You do the job once, but you get paid all over the place. You are supposed to represent the player, but you are paid by the club and then ultimately paid by the player as well. It’s not normal.”
A long-awaited measure given the current situation. The International Center for Sports Studies (CIES) in Neuchâtel (Switzerland), already warned in 2018 about “a bottom rung Wild West situation”, with fierce competition between intermediaries, “and a high level of concentration in the most lucrative segments”controlled by a handful of star agents.
What impact on the world of football and the next transfer window?
Agents being among the main protagonists during transfer periods, and when we know that over the 2022 summer window (between June 1 and September 1) the amount spent on international transfers among men stood at 5 billion dollars (4.76 billion euros), according to figures from Fifa, what about the potential effects caused by the overhaul of the profession on the football market?
As the reform is not effective before October 2023 (a transition period has been put in place), the next summer transfer window will not yet be affected. For the following, according to Jean-François Brocart, the regulations should not “not change much” at the macro level. If not cause a slight increase in the number of transfers. “Since the money will be made mainly via (allowances for) transfers, the agents will have every interest in multiplying the transfers since it is on this operation that they will take 10%”, analyzes the economist.
Rest, “It will change more individual situations, agents who do not meet the conditions to have a license tomorrow. They are going to have to change jobs.”. Jean-François Brocard anticipates this subject “a lot of legal discussions” to come because the agents “were not involved in the exchanges at all”even though they are directly concerned. “There is a risk of seeing complaints lodged with European courts.”