Reece Land: what it’s really like to be a football agent
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked what I actually do as a football agent. I’m well aware that we don’t always have the best reputation. There’s some sort of perception that we work underground, or that we work like the mafia to control football – that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s an insight into what being a football agent actually means, based on my experience of representing over 80 female players through Next Gen Sport Solutions.
We represent players, we don’t move them
With Sarah Ewens, Kathleen McGovern and Emma Craig
I think there are lots of people that believe that we, as agents, dictate a player’s career. That we phone them up towards the end of the season and tell them where they’ll be playing next season. In fact, that never happens. The player always has full control of their career as that’s the business model that I’ve created at NGS. For the most part, transfers are instigated because a player is out of contract, a player themselves wants to move, or the club initiates a move.
To complete a transfer you need three parties: a buying club, a selling club and a player. We represent the player in that triangle. The player tells us what they want, and we make it happen if we can. When clubs initiate transfers, they’ll either approach the selling club directly, or phone the relevant governing body and ask who the player’s agent is. We talk to the buying club about the player they want: would they be interested in a move? How long have they got left on their contract? Would they relocate? How much money are they looking for? Do they have a family? If so would their children need to be reschooled?
Once a deal is possible, we’ll then try to join all of the dots. We represent players during contract negotiations, making sure that the contract they sign is not only the best deal financially, but will also stand up in court if anything goes wrong and is tax efficient.
We don’t have to know everything about contracts – we have lawyers, tax advisers and other specialists we work with on that – but we do have to master the art of negotiating. I think that’s what separates the good agents from the best agents; how well they can negotiate the best deals. A lot of the time, the best deal means getting the most money, but often it can depend on the personal circumstances of the player and what matters most to them.
We don’t just represent players during contract negotiations, but we’re there when they need us at other points in the season. A lot of an agent’s work is dispute resolution. It may be that a player has fallen out with a teammate, had a disagreement with a manager or broken up with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes we have to step in and let the club know that there are other issues going on around football which may mean the player needs different treatment.
We’re often a sounding board for players
With twins Rio and Steffi Hardy after they won a league title with Apollon Ladies
Building relationships is a key part of what we do. At NGS we try to speak to our players at least every two weeks if possible. It may not be a phone call every time – it might just be a text that isn’t even football related. It’s important to make sure our relationships with players are as strong as they can be.
The better we know a player, the better service we can provide them. Often, players that have worked with us for a while will build up not only a business relationship but also a friendship with their agent. They’ll then come to us for advice on two fronts. They’ll ask for a professional opinion and a personal opinion about a move.
From a professional point of view, we might say it’s a good career move and the money on offer shouldn’t be refused. From a personal opinion, though, we might say it doesn’t make sense. Maybe a player has a young family, or a very well paid job with good career prospects and our personal opinion might be to not chase the one-year professional contract on offer. Either way, the player will always make the final decision.
One thing we always advise is a focus on development. There’s hardly any money in women’s football at present, but we believe if players focus on their development the financial reward will naturally follow. If, in three years time, £60,000 a year becomes a realistic salary for a female footballer, we want our players to have worked hard and put themselves in the best possible position to achieve a contract of that value.
For us, building relationships extends beyond just the player and to their families, partners and friends. We’re big on a family environment where not only the players can come to us, but those close to them can too. We believe that if we can keep everyone surrounding the player happy, the player will be happy as well. And if a player’s happy they’re going to play better on a Sunday.
We know the industry inside out
With Fran Alonso the night he was confirmed as Celtic manager
In order to get the best deals for our players we need to know all we can about women’s football. We do a lot of due diligence. Before a transfer window starts we meet clubs, find out about their infrastructure, their principles and their finances – in women’s football a club’s wage budget can tell you a lot about where they’ll finish in the league. We then meet the manager and find out about their philosophy and the kind of players they’ll want to recruit. We want to know as much as we can about all the parties involved in a deal so we can ensure we make the best match.
Sometimes we work on behalf of clubs. Because of the due diligence that we’ve done with the club and the manager, we know how they’re going to play and what their philosophies are going to be for the upcoming season. A club could, for example, phone us and let us know they’re looking for a left back. If the club’s manager wants to play a high pressing game, we therefore know they’re looking for a really attacking left back and can suggest the most suitable of our players.
Matching principles and philosophies is important: if we recommend Lionel Messi to go and play for Sam Allardyce he wouldn’t benefit from a development point of view. If we recommend that he signs for Pep Guardiola, he might have to take less money, but their similar principles mean the deal will be better for his development.
As well as we know and understand the industry, we know and understand our players even better. Each of our players will be watched at least six times a season, usually by a network of scouts across the country. Every good agent should have a network of scouts that are on the same wavelength as them. Sometimes an agent makes a judgement based on the recommendation of a scout, so the trust needs to be there.
We want players that represent us too
I flew over to Cyprus to sign Caitlin Hayes after she stood out in a match that I was watching. She’s now at Lewes.
As much as we want to represent players to the best of our ability, we want players that represent us well and align with our ethos. We want players that are fully committed to being the best they can be. In a couple of cases we’ve had to sack players due to something they’ve done again that doesn’t align with our ethos or show commitment to their career. In other cases, we haven’t signed players because we’ve seen or been made aware of something that shows they aren’t as committed as they say they are to the game. In that sense, football can be quite a cut throat industry.
A player’s motivations are also important. I look at players now, female and male, and I’d say that only a quarter of them genuinely want to be footballers. There’s a huge increase in the number of players wanting to be celebrities rather than footballers. It’s a bit sad sometimes: I see so many talented young footballers who could go on to represent their country but are more focused on wanting to be famous. We’ve even had initial meetings with players who’ve said, word for word: ‘I don’t care what league I’m in or what team I play for, I just want to be verified on social media and be famous’. We obviously didn’t sign those players.
I think some of the celebrity culture coming into the women’s game is coming from the representatives in some cases. For example, I know of some agents that will offer discounts off VIP tickets for the O2 arena and they are signing players because of these benefits. Sometimes when I look at some of our so-called ‘competitors’, it’s easy to tell they’re more interested in being famous themselves than helping to develop their clients’ careers. I’m embarrassed for these agents because of some of the things they’re doing, but the scary thing is they’re signing and representing players because players are buying into this celebrity dream.
If that’s what a player wants, that’s fine, it’s just important to match the player’s aspirations and beliefs with those of the agent. That way, you’ll work best together.
If a player wants to be looked after and develop their football career, then at least they have a team of specialists to turn to – whether that be at Next Gen Sport Solutions or another company that, like us, really believes in women’s football.