Full reverse: this is the maneuver that the International Football Federation (Fifa) applied to execute on Saturday, October 22 by ratifying, during its council meeting in New Zealand, the new regulations for players’ agents. The reform is in fact the exact opposite of that decided in April 2015, when FIFA abolished the international agent license introduced in the mid-1990s, but many countries in Africa, South America and Europe (Spain and Portugal in particular), unlike France, were unable to impose.
Problem: this deregulation has resulted in total chaos in the player transfer sector. Many players have entered an effervescent market. “Agents, licensed or not, recruiters, lawyers, more or less recommendable intermediaries… A catastrophic system has been put in place supporting huge commissions, retrocommissions and other all-out abuses”sums up Jean-François Brocard, researcher in sports economics at the Center for Sports Law and Economics (CDES) at the University of Limoges.
Drifts all over the place
When we know that transfers generated 5.2 billion euros in compensation last summer, a record figure after the relative drop recorded during the transfer windows disrupted by the Covid, we understand that appetites are whetted. Especially since, for ten years, agents or similar have been eating an ever larger part of the cake: “From 6.1% in 2012 to 9.9% in 2022”notes the latest FIFA report on the subject. “For my part, I consider that the sector is even criminogenic”says Michael Terrien, assistant professor of sports economics at the University of Lausanne.
Fifa was quick to see the fire, opening a consultation process to find the parade as early as 2017. But the pandemic, in particular, delayed the reform, now finally voted and to come into force from November 16, 2022 It provides for the reinstatement of the license, “which should all the same make it possible to partially purify the marketwelcomes Jean-François Brocard. Fifa seeks above all to increase the transparency of the system, in particular financial, through the creation of a clearing house through which all transactions will have to pass. »
In addition to this imperative, Fifa hopes to limit the amount of commissions, which, in certain rare but striking cases, could reach almost 40% of the amount of a transfer. The new regulations thus provide for a ceiling of 10% maximum on the commission on transfers when the agent is remunerated by the selling club. If the agent is mandated by a player, his commission is then set at a maximum of 3% of the player’s gross annual salary. In the same vein, Fifa also prohibits the “triple representation” which allowed certain agents to make learned arrangements by representing the player, the selling club and the buying club at the same time.
The weakness of controls
Still, this desire for sanitation comes up against a few principles of reality. “Agents crystallize criticism, but all football players participate in the systempoint Jean-François Brocard. The clubs are largely jointly responsible for the excesses, and the players are often irresponsible, surrounding themselves very badly. What happens if the actors don’t play along? Will Fifa really have the ability to control and sanction? » Mickael Terrien strongly doubts it: “In 2015, Fifa was already unable to impose its rule, and I don’t see how it would be much stronger today. This reform, in my cosmetic sense, will not be really effective. »
Sports historian and author of a History of sports agents in FranceStanislas Frenkiel is just as skeptical: “A club will always find tricks to get what they want. For example, if the commission is limited to 10%, he will offer a disguised contract to the agent. Or to work in the security of the club, or even to join the organization chart. Everything will be done to get the desired player. » This is already the case. In club accounts, the heading “other expenses” is sometimes used to hide disguised commissions.
“Fifa’s weakness is, as often, to represent members who are not all interested in this regulation”breathes Jean-François Brocard. “No doubt things would move more if some big transfer players, like the English Premier League, really pushed hard to clean things up.concludes Mickael Terrien. But for now, they don’t really take it seriously. »
Better reward training clubs
FIFA is counting on the new clearing house to regulate transactions to better ensure payments related to training compensation. During the transfer of a player, the club having ensured his training (at least during three years after his 15 years) can touch a part of the amount of the transfer. For the transfer window last summer, 70 million euros were donated to training clubs. Fifa, however, estimates that around 405 million euros should swell their portfolios each year.