Commentary

Joshua Kimmich deal shows what soccer needs least -- players' agents

Bayern Munich and Germany's central midfielder Joshua Kimmich  extended his contract with the club this week until June 2025. There's nothing too remarkable about that news. Bayern Munich is the kind of successful club where starting players are happy to spend their peak years racking up trophies. The interesting thing about Kimmich, however, is that he negotiated the contract extension without the help of an agent, or any kind of intermediary at all.

Kimmich, 26, explained that the last time he'd signed a contract with Bayern -- through an agent -- he came away with a "less than perfect feeling" about the deal. A lot of details about his new contract had been leaked to the outside world, and he said that many other players had experienced the same thing. He hinted that promises were made that hadn't been kept. This time, he wanted to be in control, and to be sitting there in person during contract talks. "This time it was important to me that I sign with a good feeling," he said, "and that was 100 percent the case."

Kimmich didn't mention what the rest of us are already thinking about -- namely, that he also saved paying the agent a fat commission. The transaction raises again the pertinent question of what agents are actually good for, other than leaching eye-watering quantities of cash out of the game that could be much better invested elsewhere.

An agent might argue in return that they would have negotiated a much better deal for Kimmich, and that even taking into account the commission, the player would be better off. For clients younger and less experienced than Kimmich, the agent might continue, the role of negotiator is absolutely crucial to prevent naive players being exploited by unscrupulous team owners.

Nonetheless, as Kimmich is 100 percent happy with his deal, it has to be concluded that deals without agents are indeed a possibility. People sell properties to each other without a real estate agent, and can save themselves a lot of money without the middleman. A cynic might even claim that the only role of an agent is to barge into a deal, push prices up, and enrich themselves in the process.

A property agent who had sold my family a house when my kids were very small rang me up a few years later to inquire if I was interested in buying a bigger place now that my children were growing up. No thanks, I said, the property you sold us was just fine. Nice try, though. In similar vein, agents will prod their players into thinking about a move, dangling the prospect of a bigger club and higher wages. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with elevated ambitions, of course. Until the move doesn't work out because it was fuelled by the agent's greed, not the player's best interests.

FIFA announced last year that it is legislating to make agents' roles much more transparent and more closely regulated in 2022, with plans to cap the amount they can earn to six percent on a transfer, and to three percent of a player's salary. Agents, needless to say, are not so keen. In 2019, according to the AP,  they creamed a total of $653 million off the top of the game, in a transfer market worth $8 billion. In the dollar-crossed eyes of an intermediary, the mother of all transfers remains Paul Pogba's $125 million move from Juventus to Manchester United in 2016, from which agent Mino Raiola trousered a cool $32 million, before taking further fees off the buying club and the player. All that cash for doing... what, exactly?

It goes without saying that such vast sums of cash would better serve many other areas of the game, where the list of needs never changes: new and improved fields and facilities in developing countries; better support for women's soccer; youth development; the education of coaches, and so on. As always when superfluous, parasitic fat-cats increase their wealth, it's the bottom end that suffers. There is no need for Mino Raiola to suck that much money out of the game, it benefits no one in soccer at all.

I'd love for other players to follow Kimmich's example as we usher in an era of less avaricious post-pandemic salary goals. FIFA could go a step further on its (welcome) regulation measures next year and ban agents altogether, while working with the players' union FIFPro to employ advisors and negotiators on fixed salaries. These officials could sit in on all transfer and contract talks, while serving as a job creation scheme for former agents. Who would pay for all that? The players themselves, via union fees, using some of the cash they're no longer forced to pay their 'indispensable' agents.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there's been a lot of talk in Europe about how to rationalize clubs’ debt-ridden, insolvency-causing financial mismanagement. The first, the quickest and the least painful measure would be simple -- cut the agent out of the deal.

12 comments about "Joshua Kimmich deal shows what soccer needs least -- players' agents".
  1. cony konstin, August 24, 2021 at 12:33 p.m.

    More money should go to the clubs who help start these players off when they first start playing so these clubs could utilize these funds to help more kids play. 

  2. Ben Myers, August 24, 2021 at 1:03 p.m.

    The heart of the matter here is the question of which comes first, the player's interests and well-being or the pocketbook of the agent?  I have to assume that Kimmich is a bright and intelligent young man, quite capable of thinking for himself in an egoless manner, judging by his selfless play. Sadly, many players are insecure with large egos to be stroked by an agent, with the possibility that the player will end up well-paid in a squad unable to improve or take advantage of his talents. 

    Poster boy for a career not meeting his potential due to with seemingly unsuitable moves is Gareth Bale, a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth between Tottenham and Real Madrid, managed by the most powerful agent, Jonathan Barnett.

    It is surely in the best interests of all professional clubs to invest in the futures of their players by educating them in the ways and means of the soccer world.  Sure, the clubs have a vested interest in wanting to keep salaries down, but over the long term a player smarter and more knowledgeable player is in their own interests as well.

    As Messi's career arc has shown, there is nothing wrong with having a smart, loving and caring family member at your side as formal agent or simply as an advisor.

  3. James Madison, August 24, 2021 at 2:14 p.m.

    This is an area in which soccer clubs and players would be well advised to look to American professional league practices.

  4. Clint Brewer, August 24, 2021 at 4:35 p.m.

    Fairly ironic that Mr. Plenderleith uses a literary AGENT in his profession as an author. The North Literary Agency is listed right there on his Twitter bio. This is an inastute commentary that demonstrates a lack of understanding about the business side of the game. Makes me question the money I just put down for this subscription.

  5. Ian Plenderleith replied, August 25, 2021 at 12:42 a.m.

    Hi Clint - very well observed. I would love to live in a world where literary agents were superfluous - in fact, two of my three book deals I negotiated without one. In my life I've had five literary agents, who have collectively negotiated one successful book deal. I could write another book on the subject alone...

    My understanding of the business side of the game is as follows - in Europe, thanks to the Champions League, there's way too much money wasted at the top, spread among over-compensated players and their agents. This benefits neither the clubs at the top (see Barcelona's debt of €1.3 billion from splashing out on players' salaries), nor the multiple clubs at the bottom on the brink of insolvency or going bankrupt. There needs to be a wholesacle re-think of soccer's business model in Europe, and although abolishing agents is not the whole answer, it would make for a good start.

  6. Bob Ashpole, August 24, 2021 at 7:34 p.m.

    I have been an attorney for 40 years and negotiated more agreements than I can count. Typically no one gets everything they want, but it is very important for the agent to be a good communicator both with his principal and management. As an attorney I have a code of professional ethics that I must comply with and clients may make complaints to the bar association which will be investigated. Good communications won't make a principal less disappointed, but they will understand exactly why the result happened. 

    While some people can successfully negotiate a contract extension without an agent, in my experience they are rare. Some people simply need someone to speak for them and explain the situation and process to them. That is not even going into the problems and misunderstandings that can arise even when both parties are negotiating in good faith. 

  7. Kam Siu, August 24, 2021 at 8:45 p.m.

    That's a pretty naive blanket statement.  Are we suppose to pretend that clubs go into negotiations with the player's interest at heart and left their lawyers completely out of it?  

  8. Ben Myers replied, August 25, 2021 at 4:19 p.m.

    The real question remains who represents the player's interests?  The club?  Nope.  The agent?  Nope.  Then who?

  9. humble 1, August 25, 2021 at 10:23 a.m.

    Great story but is an example of an exception rather than the rule.  Most players need agents.  Period.  They play soccer, they do not understand contracts, and neither do their families or friends.  An exceptional few do not, or use family members.  The agents came about because of clubs abuse of players.  Look to the case of Harry Kane using his brother and signing a 6 year contract when he really wanted to move on as a case in point of how the family messes up.  Another recent one was Sergio Ramos who uses his brother, and the two of them allowed an offer from RM to play another year at his same salary expire.  Another offer was not extended and he plays for PSG for half the wages of the RM offer, so they say.  Beware, of exception to the rule, being touted as the new rule or the way things should be.  Cheers! 

  10. Sean Guillory replied, August 25, 2021 at 6:03 p.m.

    Great insights.  Making policy on exceptions is never a good way to do business.  My wife and I have a small business for real estate and we tried to do things "on our own".  Found out very quickly a real estate agent who can concentrate on the more specific details was vitally important.   Now we are involved and read our contracts before we sign and trust our agent but doing it ourselves was not tenable and commercially hurtful.

  11. Grant Goodwin, August 25, 2021 at 6:37 p.m.

    Lots to think about here, but a professional agent can certainly be a help and (what seems like quite often in Europe) a hindrance.  James M above is (i believe) right about using the American athletes' system of utilizing an agent which is the player pays the agent fees.  This would cut down on a ton of abuse especially from Fat Slobs like Mino Raiola who hold up deals for their cut.  
    -" Proper"Professional agents are a lot like other professionals such as REALTORS, CPAs, and investment professionals.  Sure you can do it on your own, but they professional's expertise usually comes in handy.  Someone reference Bale's contract...talk about a great deal that the agent put together for Bale.  I doubt he could of secured that on his own. 

  12. R2 Dad, August 26, 2021 at 12:40 p.m.

    Agent fees have spiraled out of control in recent years, as inflation has blown up compensation. Real Estate agents typically split a 6% commission. On a "starter" million dollar house in NY/CA, that's $60K. Not long ago, back when normal homes were $200,000, that 6% was only $12K, enough to get decent service from a real estate professional. Same thing on the sports side. An agent negotiating contracts for new professionals aren't making a killing--it's the Minos of the sports world that are distorting the economics. I think a sliding scale could be used effectively, but agents/arbitragers will find a way around rules.

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