A Necessary Evil? Agents and Thai Football
Agents often have a seedy reputation as hatching, matching and dispatching a player for their financial advantage. A happy, settled player decreases an agent’s income, whilst a constantly restless one produces two moments of agent happiness: the match and dispatch.
In Thailand I’m surprised by how few top players are represented. They often seek advice from their parents (one of the strengths of closer knit, extended Thai families) but is that enough now Thai clubs make inroads into the lucrative, high profile AFC competitions? Players need specialist, impartial advice but are often not encouraged to seek it by clubs determined to control all aspects of their employees’ pulling power.
At Thai trial games and friendlies there’s a noticeable increase in would be agents, many of them without a FIFA licence. Talking to some at the recent Terro kit launch, they are worryingly unregulated and unobserved by the FAT. Whilst they appeared to have the players’ best interest at heart, a gut instinct response to the character of an agent is not enough to judge a career defining decision. Wayne Rooney’s agent Paul Stretford admitted that, when he first represented the 17-year-old Wunderkid, he hadn’t explained to him, or to his father, what documents were being signed or what their effects would be. That he remains Rooney’s agent and takes 20% of his charges’ income shows the West is by no means perfect in this regard.
Thailand needs agent databases supported by impartial advice for all players from a respected, former playing, member of the FAT. The best representation can be endorsed by them whilst, like a dubious doctor, charlatans can be struck off. In the uninspiringly titled but important sixty six page booklet Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players agents are described, perhaps ominously, as Third Party Influence with only one stipulation:
No club shall enter into a contract that enables any other party to that contract or any third party to acquire the ability to influence employment and transfer related matters, its independence, its policies or the performance of its teams.
Negotiations used to be a simple to and froing of wages, cars and houses. Now the sticking point is often players’ image rights. This hasn’t happened here yet, but the media profile of players like Leesaw, Mika and Mui are high and rising. Often working for large multinational club sponsors, they give their time freely to people who may profit from it without rewarding them. A regular Thai national player was recently given an agent’s business card. He immediately, apologetically, gave it to his club president and that was that: he may have missed out on lucrative opportunities to enhance his career and maximise his profile. In England, the unrepresented days of the past involved young, often poorly educated players in contract negotiations with hardened businessmen armed with a strategy of, “please sir, can I have some more?”
Many argue things have swung too far the other way with agents trumpeting the Bosman Rule so players already on long term, lucrative contracts can renegotiate in a fit of pique if someone else dares to get paid more than them ( take a bow Mister Rooney.) The Bosman ruling has lost some of its power over the seventeen years since it was passed down, but it was a seismic pinch point for the relationship between players, agents and clubs. The case banned restrictions on foreign European Union members within the national leagues and allowed players in the EU to move freely to another club at the end of contracts. The hugely lucrative Bosman transfers like Edgar Davids in 1996 and Steve McManaman in 1999 camouflage the fact that Belgian player Jean Marc Bosman was refused a transfer to French side Dunkerque and his wages were reduced. Prior to the Bosman ruling, professional clubs in Europe (other than Spain and France) could stop players joining another club even if their contracts had expired. After it, star players became brand names and used the ruling to command conditions according to their market value when their contracts expired as well as at the beginning.
So what should a good agent be doing? Marketing their players and carefully placing them with products that will help to promote their career ( good luck to a Chula player’s agent placing his player next to a Big Bang or promoting the glamour of Mcdonalds for national team players) and communicate with the club hierarchy whilst maximising income for their player. Good agents also handle public relations issues for their clients (often shorthand for spin doctoring early morning nightclub misunderstandings) and, in large sports agencies like IMG, they help with investment, filing taxes or, as Gary Neville disapprovingly wrote, buying washing machines. Done well it is a thankless task as players groomed in a golden cage demand the latest trinkets to show they are loved whilst they and the clubs assume you’re scamming them and constantly test the limits of your patience. A kindergarten teacher with six feet tall children, they always play well and everybody loves them. They toddle off for their afternoon nap whilst you continue to hit the phones tracking down that pair of white boots they simply must have. If you don’t find them it means you don’t love him and he’ll scream and scream until he’s sick. Jerry McGuire turned up to eleven.
Where there is money there will always be agents. I know of two players in a top TPL team pulling in over 1 million Baht a month so, like bees to the money pot, they will be pursued. Thai football needs to accept agents, legislate for them and make them pay for a license to pimp money so they have an investment in developing the game; no representation without taxation.