Exclusive: A fascinating insight from a well-established football agent on the truths of deadline day
In order to gain a thorough insight into what REALLY happens on the most anticipated day of the transfer market, we spoke to Nick Robinson, founder and managing director of the sports agency International Sporting Consulting (ISC).
ISC works with over 70 footballers across Europe and has negotiated UK transfers in recent seasons including Sofiane Boufal (Southampton – a club transfer record at the time), Famara Diedhiou (Bristol City – another club transfer record), Neeskens Kebano (Fulham), Jamal Blackman (Chelsea and Leeds), and Yeni Ngbakoto (QPR, now Guingamp).
Nick has been in the business for just over 10 years and has seen it all. Here's his take on how the last few hours could pan out, and the life of an agent at the busiest time of the year...
TALK US THROUGH YOUR AVERAGE DAY AS A FOOTBALL AGENT IN THE TRANSFER MARKET?
“It varies, depending on the time of the window. First of all, it’s making sure your players are happy and everything is going well for them.
“Pre-season is an interesting time because players get a sense of whether they are getting picked and what the manager’s plans are and if he favours them.
“Often if there is a new manager in, it’s a very fluid couple of months, you can quickly see if a player is a part of the manager’s plans or not.
“Then, you may need to act accordingly - the player might want you to, or it might be a mutual decision between club and player and beneficial for both parties, for the player to move on.
“You’re also speaking with clubs to find out what they are looking for in the market, what their plans are and keeping an eye on any transfer activity.
“A lot of clubs have a list of target players, for example 10 centre-backs, and they’ll work their way down attempting to sign their preferred choice.
"The first one might be too expensive, the second one might have been sold during the time they were negotiating for their first choice, in the third one the clubs could agree terms but the player doesn’t agree personal terms, fourth one actually looks like it is progressing but then another club makes a better offer for the player and he’s off the market.
“They can get to the fifth option, and get quite far down with that then the parent club sees one of their own players injured or sell another centre-back and suddenly decide that they can’t sell both of their centre-backs, so suddenly he is not for sale anymore either.
"In this sense the market is very transitional during the window."
HOW DOES YOUR ROLE DIFFER ON DEADLINE DAY?
“The overseas transfers, if you haven’t been quite far down the line before deadline day - it’s probably not going to happen as there are an extra layer of variables to deal with.
"Some UK transfers can start quite late in the window but happen very quickly. Ideally, you need irons in the fire by that stage.
“It’s very rare that you make a call on deadline day and propose a player for the first time and they get signed.
"Similarly, if a club reaches out to you and enquires about your player and you haven’t already spoken to them then you’re not doing your job properly.
"Deadline day is about predicting and reacting to a quickly moving market place."
CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THE FORMALITIES OF HOW EACH DEAL COMES ABOUT I.E AGREEING CONTRACTS ETC?
“Each one is different. Clubs have got to agree a transfer fee between them, but you can be involved in that element too. Certainly in terms of the international transfers when there is a language barrier.
“The overseas clubs will sometimes ask you to negotiate on their behalf or give you guidance on what they’re willing to pay and over how long, etc.
“If a fee is agreed, you then take over and do the personal terms of the player.
“Being an agent is about representing the best interests of your client, be that a player or a club.
"If you can do a job that your client is happy with and you do it professionally and ethically then you can finish the window knowing you have done a good job.
"It is tough to do every time but there are deals where everyone walks away happy.”
HOW DIFFICULT CAN IT BE TO AGREE PERSONAL TERMS?
“I wouldn’t say it is a case of being difficult. It is about matching up the valuation with the expectation, which comes from experience.
"It comes about from the club knowing that you know a player's market value, you knowing the players that the club can afford and getting a deal that is good for your client within the framework of how that particular club operates.
“If you know the market well, it is a relatively quick conversation to find out the player’s expectation and what the club can pay.
"If they are way off, both parties know that it is not going to happen at this stage, so then obviously you can walk away without wasting too much time.
“That does happen. It happens every window, particularly with international players. Because of Financial Fair Play - we have seen a lot in the Championship - clubs are having to sell players to buy someone else or even do it to not fall foul of the £39million over three years that they can lose.
“Sometimes explaining that to overseas players is challenging. The perception is that because the club has a wealthy owner they can pay the players whatever they want, but often these owners are not able to invest all the money they want into the club because of the FFP regulations.”
IN SUMMARY, IS BEING A FOOTBALL AGENT AS GLAMOROUS AS IT IS MADE OUT TO BE?
“It depends on what the perception is. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of times where you are stuck on a motorway in a traffic jam, on a train, at a training ground or you are glued to your phone sending messages or travelling to meet players.
“But on the flip side, there are times where because of the nature of the industry and the people you are dealing with, you do find yourself in circumstances that would be considered extraordinary.
“I get a lot of enquiries every month from people wanting to be football agents. I give lectures at Loughborough University explaining what it entails to educate aspiring agents about the realities of the job - it is hard work. People just tend to focus on the 1% or 2% headline-grabbing deals - but you can do that in any industry.
“However, there are many agents that are not operating on that kind of platform. When you get it right, of course it can be lucrative - like in any industry. But there are times when you put in a lot of effort and the transfer doesn’t happen.
“Because there are so many parties to a deal and so many pieces that need to fit together, you can put up to a year’s worth of effort for a deal then not to happen. Similarly, one can happen relatively quickly.
“People focus on the headlines rather than the 90% of the time that is spent putting in the hard work to build a client base and foster relationships and learn the trade.
“It is tough for up-and-coming agents who are struggling to sign their first academy players. There is very little money in it, it’s a highly competitive marketplace, and they are constantly driving to games, trying to sign academy players only for a bigger agency to beat them to it or even sign the player up once their first representation contract expires.
“It can be successful and working at it for 10+ years then the rewards are there for sure. The misconception is that it’s a get rich quick scenario, which is extremely rare.”