Oscar winner Julia Roberts and England footballer James Maddison may seem unlikely ‘teammates’.
But the top talent watchers in the United States are increasingly getting involved in the football agency business – bringing together actors and athletes under one roof.
The work of football agents remains a mystery to most, but their raison d’être is obvious – in June, the Football Association revealed Premier League clubs had paid agents £ 263.3million in the year from February 1, 2019.
With these huge sums of money come increased surveillance and important questions.
For example, around the role of Jorge Mendes in the defender of the Republic of Ireland Matt Doherty’s move from Wolves to Tottenham for £ 15million in August. Mendes is Doherty’s agent. And the agent of the managers of the two clubs – Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo. The owners of Wolves Fosun, meanwhile, have a 20% stake in the world-renowned Gestifute agency of Mendes.
In 2018, the Football League investigated Mendes’ relationship with wolves and said so complied with their regulations.
Elsewhere in the industry, however, there are widespread allegations of malpractice.
Fifa, the world’s sport governing body, has vowed to step in and regulate – saying it wants to “eliminate or at least reduce abusive and excessive practices” in football.
“We are aiming for a balanced and reasonable regulatory system, instead of the law of the jungle currently in place, with widespread conflicts of interest and exorbitant ‘commissions’ earned left and right,” he said. .
Given this description, US agencies dealing with the world’s biggest movie stars – with their own corporate image to protect – might want to avoid what appears to be a Wild West environment.
The truth is, they are not.
Last year, the Creative Artists Agency bought Base Soccer, marrying organizations that look after the careers of Hollywood star Roberts, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho, among others, as well as Leicester forward Maddison.
On October 8, another US talent agency – ICM Partners – bought Stellar in an even larger multi-million dollar deal.
The ICM looks after the careers of stars such as Samuel L Jackson and Ellen DeGeneres. Stellar – Jonathan Barnett’s agency – negotiated Gareth Bale’s return to Tottenham of Real Madrid.
“We are very familiar with the negativity towards [football] agents, ”says Chris Silbermann, ICM Managing Director.
“I understand the perception and I understand that people see agents making a lot of money and some in sports complaining. It’s a tough business but I’m comfortable with the reputation of the people I deal with. . “
Rather than the stereotypical view of agents simply pushing clients into the transfers they benefit from, Silbermann says the reality of organizations like his offering is very different.
“We understand the power of fame and what to do with it,” says Silbermann. “The natural extension is to work with the athletes because they are global icons like they never have been in the past.
“Agencies that represent large-scale global icons do not exist anywhere else. We can open doors.”
Silbermann never met Bale. Barnett will continue to provide football expertise and guide the careers of other Welshman and Stellar clients, including Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish and Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
“My job is to make sure that a player retires with enough money to know if he continues to work, it’s because he wants to, not because he has to,” says Barnett. .
“We’re spending a fortune helping these guys get to where they need to be. We have a full team of social media people because we don’t want them to go and do it alone.”
Barnett said he would not engage in some of the tactics employed by rival agencies in an attempt to get a better deal for their clients, but argues that “as long as it’s legal and ethical, it’s fine.”
He believes there are issues the industry needs to address and is particularly unhappy with the number of players currently being supported by relatives.
Barnett was also frustrated with Fifa’s approach. In January, he joined Mendes and Mino Raiola – who represents Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba – at an agents conference to discuss the situation.
About Mendes, he says: “He did a fantastic job for Wolves, and in other areas he did it brilliantly too.”
So far, there have been no discussions on the reform. On Thursday, Fifa presented its proposals, among which the commission capped at 3% of a player’s salary.
Barnett is not impressed. He believes Fifa is trying to get positive publicity by unfairly hitting an easy target, and unless they change their approach, a court case is looming.
“I would love for me and a few agents to sit face to face with Fifa with a blank sheet of paper,” he said. “I’m sure we can do something really spectacular that would help everyone.”