THE BLOG

A Necessary Evil?

30/01/2014 17:06 GMT | Updated 01/04/2014 10:59 BST

The end of the January transfer window is now in sight.

As we approach the final straight, players and clubs the world over are gearing up for a full throttle, frantic finish - but, ultimately, it is the football agents and advisers who are in the driving seat.

They are currently enjoying an ever-increasing amount of influence and power - and in my opinion, that is a development which must be curtailed, for the good of the game.

I don't have a problem with the use of agents, per se.

The fact is that, with some of the ludicrous amounts of money flowing around in recent years, they have become a necessary evil of modern football.

But it is certainly an industry which must be strictly regulated and reviewed - in order to ensure that we are not allowing unscrupulous individuals to pull the strings of a sport increasingly dictated by ego and finances.

A shift of focus by many top clubs onto emerging, elite talent, means that some young players are being hounded by agents and advisers at the age of just 13 and 14 years old - and how are they to know for sure that the person promising them the world really has their best interests at heart?

For what it's worth, Fifa has already admitted that the current system is flawed.

It has been regulating the activity of agents in some form since 1991, and, statistics would suggest, not doing it well enough.

In fact, in 2009, it was revealed that approximately 70% of all transfers worldwide were being conducted through unlicensed agents - and it is quickly becoming a pandemic, spiralling out of all control.

There is no doubt that it is a real, dark underbelly of the game, and the governing body desperately needs to take action.

However, in true Fifa style, it has announced that it is considering scrapping the licensing exam all together - in essence, deregulating the industry even further.

Of course, it is being billed by their spokesperson as, simply, a 'shift in emphasis'.

In my opinion, it is more a shrugging admission by Fifa that it has created a monster - and rather than trying to tame it, it is simply opening the front door and ushering it outside to reap havoc.

The bottom line is that the only way for Fifa, and in turn, each of its member football associations, to truly get a grip on an ever-slippery transfer process is to implement strict, transparent and rigid guidelines around the use of third parties in football.

Recently, I have been speaking to owners of football clubs across the continent, and there has certainly been a noticeable and conscious movement away from agents in recent years.

As someone who has been involved in the game for over two decades, I have witnessed that growing apprehension first hand - and it is not surprising.

For some time, agents have been forging a negative reputation for themselves - stirring up speculation, turning players' heads, and often, demanding unreasonable compensation for doing so.

I must point out that there are some excellent advisers and agents currently operating in football, who work tirelessly to ensure that their dealings are transparent and above board.

I am sure that they, too, would welcome stricter guidelines and regulation in the industry.

In fact, the Association of Football Agents has already been lobbying new English FA chairman Greg Dyke in the hope of challenging Fifa's idea - which, alarmingly, received an overwhelming endorsement when it was outlined at their annual Congress meeting in Mauritius last May.

It is clear to see why football has a history of attracting unscrupulous individuals looking to make a quick buck.

Ex-Netherlands coach Rinus Michels, the brainchild behind 'total football', once said, "Football is business - and business is business."

Five years ago, Fifa reported that the average commission paid by clubs to agents for an international transfer was around 28% of the value of the transaction.

It signifies a money train gaining momentum. A quite ridiculous amount of cash being taken out of the game. For what?

As we have seen so often in the frantic final throes of the transfer window, once a player has set his heart on a move, there is very little that his current club can do about it.

Similarly, there is very little that his next club needs to do.

With his employers held to ransom, and the stark possibility of them having a highly-paid, miserable player on the books for the next six months, the transfer is likely to happen one way or the other - with or without the involvement of an agent.

If the player wishes to personally pay an agent to undertake the negotiating process for him, then that is of course his right.

However, I don't understand why his new club should be expected to foot the bill for that service.

Furthermore, there is not even a payment standard or set of guidelines for the agent or club to adhere to - and that means that agents are in a real position of power, able to up the financial ante as the desperation of transfer deadline day approaches.

FIFA needs to implement a tiered, rigid cap on agent fees - simply put, a percentage of the transfer value. This would in turn encourage transparency, which is surely of benefit to all parties involved during transfer dealings.

Until now, the process to become a licensed agent in England has consisted of a single exam.

As tough as that test may be, it is certainly not a stringent enough process, and there is currently no safeguard against several unlicensed or unscrupulous individuals working under one licence.

Just last week, I read about the emergence of the first female, Asian agent, Shehneela Ahmed - and in my opinion, that is certainly a development which is long overdue.

Ahmed is by trade a Solicitor - and I feel that we should be looking to the likes of her, and other reputable and qualified legal professionals, to conduct the necessary negotiations and paperwork for transfer dealings.

It is of course a reform which will have massive consequences on the football agents industry, and as such it will not be popular - but it is a necessity if football is to weed out the good from the bad, and take back control of the wheel.

Until then, agents will always be seen as the scourge of our game.