This is a very apropos question for any aspiring soccer Agents because if it’s not handled correctly then you may find the majority of your working year is taken up doing next to nothing. Gone are the days when deals could be done all year round. With the advent of the Transfer Windows came a whole new way of doing business for clubs, players, and Agents alike.
For those readers who are unaware as to the meaning of the phrase “Transfer Window” it means the periods in the calendar year when clubs are permitted to buy and sell players (registration period). Prior to the 2002-03 season when the system was made mandatory by FIFA (soccer’s world governing body), it was possible to pick up the phone at any time and get deals done. The regulations governing this area can be found in Article 6 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (2008) which is essential knowledge for any Agent. This article is not meant to be a study of these Regulations but rather to provide practical advice for those thinking about setting up as an Agent, or fellow Agents already in business, and are wondering, just as I did, what to do with all the potential spare time and thereby possible minimization of earnings for what can be almost two thirds of the year.
I will only focus on the US Transfer Windows during this article. These dates are set as being the 15th January – 15th April for the primary window and the 15th June – 15th August for the secondary (mid-season) window.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer, and it sounds very simple, is to be sure to take a break when the Transfer Window slams shut. Working days during the Transfer Window can be extremely long, wearisome, and weekends are rarely breaks as there’s always something to do. This can run for an extended period of time (see my last article), so it’s vital to refresh oneself and recharge. Mistakes are made when one is exhausted and whilst it takes a long time to build up strong relationships it only takes one error of judgment through tiredness to undo all the hard work. Such balance is not always easy to attain, but I would say it is crucial.
In reality, there are a myriad of possibilities open with which to grow one’s business and I presume each Agent will approach this issue from many different angles. I will deal with the two most obvious outlets which are scouting and marketing.
I have found that as the advances with technology come to the fore, that actual scouting, especially in such a global game, can become an under-used tool in the Agent’s job description. However, there is no substitute, in my opinion, for jumping in the car (or on an airplane) and traveling to watch a promising young player. DVD’s or web video links only tell a part of the story; for example, it is rare to get a DVD that shows the movement of the player off the ball, his tracking back, marking, fitness and intelligence. This can only really be achieved by watching the player live. It also ensures that when a Head Coach or Director of Soccer asks questions about the player following initial interest one is far better placed to answer them and hence can not only come across as being more professional but also display a level of knowledge with one’s clients that helps to set one apart from the competition.
One of the main reasons I chose to set up Max Eppel Soccer Agency LLC (“MESA”) in California is because it is one of the sunshine states which thereby permits soccer virtually all year round, so the opportunities to take in games are maximized. In my local area, there are several universities, such as UCLA and UCI, with strong soccer programs. As well as the universities, there are numerous youth clubs which have produced professional players – the Irvine Strikers, for example. I don’t have a set limit geographically, as I feel it’s important to go where the talent is playing. If that means long hours on the road or connecting flights in remote airports then so be it.
I have also developed a network of scouts, coaches, directors, and other Agents all over the US and various parts of the world who will call or email me with recommendations. This is especially important when dealing with 3rd world countries wherein players will sadly say virtually anything in order to escape their plight. There is the famous horror story about an Agent being contacted by a player who sent him a Resume and DVD which seemed to confirm he was a current international player for his country and hence highly marketable. The Agent paid for his air-fare and prepared a letter of invitation which he duly filed at the embassy and set up some trials at various clubs. When the player arrived at the airport he had 1 leg. Literally. Whether this story is true or not, the point is that it is vital to do one’s due diligence on players before taking any action on their file. I have learned to rely on my network to undertake that sort of research and I will never pay for air-fare or accommodation for any clients (this is fairly standard practice amongst soccer Agents and I understand that this is divergent to what happens with the big 4 American sports wherein Agents are expected to make significant outlay on the behalf of their clients).
Scouting has several benefits, not least of which it allows one to stay focused on some of the primary goals of the business, which are unearthing new talent thereby growing the business, and acting as a conduit for their career aspirations.
Another crucial aspect to the business is ensuring that the company is constantly being exposed to new clubs or that existing relationships are being consolidated. I will take them in order. Creating new contacts is vital to the business as it grows. Soccer is a small world and most people know each other, so it’s important to get the name out and about in as many different ways as possible. In my opinion, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings with people. It’s been my experience that most clubs, be they American or foreign, are usually open to meeting with Agents in some capacity. They stand to benefit from access to a new source of players as well as the commercial and soccer contacts which I offer as part of my European/global network. However, just because the meeting seems to go well doesn’t mean that anything will come from it immediately, but the first ditch has been dug and the relationship has been established on firm foundations. Traveling to see the clubs and meet with the Head Coaches and/or Technical Directors can be costly and time-consuming but has proven well worth it on more than one occasion for me because the flow gets reversed.
Regarding consolidating existing relationships, this is another matter altogether and there is no set formula in my experience. For example, some Head Coaches/Technical Directors find that Agents talk too much (surely not?!) when speaking with them so clearly the approach here is to back off, be concise, and show them that you’re to the point whilst still accomplishing one’s own goals and thereby meeting the client’s needs. Others may appreciate a closer contact and a more relaxed atmosphere when dealing with them. Each situation is different and requires some time and attention to build up the rapport.
In all, there is still plenty to do outside of the Transfer Windows even if the only focuses are marketing and scouting. The truth is there are any number of possibilities and the above is not meant as an exhaustive list but a guide and some shared experiences which I hope are informative and helpful.
Max Eppel is a soccer Players’ Agent Licensed by The FA (England). He owns and manages his own California-based company, Max Eppel Soccer Agency LLC. For more information please visit www.maxeppelsocceragency.com.