Playing top-level football may be a highly competitive market to break into, but so is looking after players of such a standard.
Nevertheless, figures published in April by the FA showed that between February 2016 and the end of January 2017, the Premier League spent a combined £220 million on agents’ fees, making it a potentially lucrative industry.
The path to becoming a football agent is not, however, clear, but one man is now trying to change that.
“I realised from the last 10 years that I've been in the business how difficult it is to go into a certain football club because someone is standing in front of the door,” Dr Erkut Sogut tells Goal in his London-based office.
The Turkish-German agent and lawyer represents a plethora of top-class European talent, from Mesut Ozil to Ilkay Gundogan and Shkodran Mustafi to Trabzonspor talent Yusuf Yazici.
Sogut’s path to becoming an agent encapsulates all the qualities he mentions in new book titled ‘How to Become a Football Agent: The Guide’, written with his business partners Jack and Charlie Pentol-Levy.
Hard-work, patience, dedication and persistence to knock on the right doors until they open are the story of Sogut’s journey, while the book itself touches on different aspects of the industry, such as working with sporting directors and managers to discussing the pathways on how to enter a traditionally closed business.
“It gives a good overview about the general business and how to break through in the business,” says Sogut.
“There a lot of ways to get into the business but they have to learn to see how it works. That’s why the book is not very difficult to read.
“After every chapter we have an expert opinion, which makes things even easier for readers to understand. In one chapter there’s Pere Guardiola saying something, the other chapter Ilhan Gundogan, the agent and uncle of Ilkay Gundogan saying something, then my mentor Harun Aslan is saying something about how to work with coaches.
“In another chapter, you will find Jorg Neubauer discussing the history of agents, how it developed. It’s really interesting for someone who is outside the business and wants to get a first overview.”
The staggering fees that representatives can recoup is one of the reasons why the perception of agents among many supporters remains largely negative, but Sogut suggests that dodgy dealings inside football clubs are mostly down to people working for clubs who facilitate those bad practices.
“I realised more and more it’s not about the agents. It’s about the guys inside the clubs who allow these agents to get in and out as they’re running a club,” he said.
“The problem is not the agents, there will be bad agents who are not good for their clients, but really dodgy stuff is coming from the clubs. Because the clubs just allow it.
“That’s why I want educated people thinking long term. Even people inside the clubs will change. The guys will change in the next five to 10 years so more educated people who really want to do a good job can come in.”
‘How to Become a Football Agent: The Guide’ also touches on investing in life after football. A good agent will seek financial advisers, an accountant and help their clients maintain a similar level of financial freedom once they retire from the game. Sogut’s Family and Football agency represents a multi-stranded company which focuses on keeping family members of the players ‘inside’.
“There are agents who just do deals and disappear and there are agents who really look after their clients with everything. That’s why I separate these two categories of agents. Either you’re just a deal broker who leaves the player to one side and only appears when there is a contract renewal or deal to be done.
“Or you do what we do. That’s why we have fewer clients and work directly with the families together. That’s why we call ourselves 'Family and Football'. Every family member is involved. We work directly with the family members. We have very few players and they are all quality players.
“That’s why we can give them a really good service with everything. We can focus on them. I don’t believe in an agency with 100 players. How can you give them the services? It’s impossible. It’s just a factory. That’s why we can have time for our clients to find ways and investments to make money after their career. We don’t just leave it to any wealth management and say go and have a meeting.
“You have to imagine the family is looking after the boy their whole life from the birth, bringing him to the training ground every day and then when he turns 17, suddenly from the left-hand side an agent is coming in saying: ‘I’ll do the deal,’ taking 100 per cent commission and the family is still reliant on the player. They have to ask the son for money.
“I don't think that is really fair in my opinion. I think some family members realise that. That’s why we have a lot of family members today acting as agents and that's only going to increase. They realised they can do it by themselves. They can work with agents together, with a lawyer together and I think that’s what will happen in the future.”
Sogut says the aim of his book and lecturing at universities around the world is to increase the number of educated people who are entering the industry - and he believes it is only a matter of time before the latter have a bigger influence in the business.
“Personally I want more educated people in the business, more transparency in the business, I want more that clubs are working with the right agents. I want more education for agents, an exam for agents.
"Tomorrow anyone can become an agent but there is no education or knowledge and that’s the danger for that business as well.
“A good idea could be an exam or educational programme controlled either by the football federations or by FIFA itself that gives some education for someone who wants to get into the business. What I believe is in the future we will have many more lawyers and educated people with backgrounds in university who will run the business.”