Over the last two decades, we have seen transfer fees for football players reach new heights, with records generally being consistently broken, year-on-year.
With that, of course, another factor comes into play that many people do not think about, which is the fees that agents get paid. In itself, this can be convoluted depending on how each agent works, especially if they are independent.
According to a recent survey that was published in March 2023, it was revealed that clubs in the Premier League paid £318.2 million on agent fees between January 2022 and February 2023. This was a significant increase on the previous year, with £272.6 million paid in agent fees.
Manchester City topped the list during that period, paying £51.6 million, with Chelsea coming in second in the midst of Todd Boehly taking over the club during the summer of 2022. Meanwhile, Liverpool came next, paying £33.69 million, while Manchester United rounded off the top four with an outlay of £24.73 million.
Agent fees in football have, for years, always been a hotly contested topic, with this often being seen as a particularly sought-after job, though significantly competitive.
Despite this, there is no direct route into the industry; some study sports law, which leads them to an agency and then (in a few cases) into a self-employed capacity. Meanwhile, some work their way into the industry the hard way, building up connections, often befriending a network of young talent, while others are friends or family members who act on a footballer’s behalf solely with one client. One thing that is mandatory, however, is that FIFA requires agents to take specific exams, though, even then, there is no guarantee of work.
How Have Agent Fees Evolved Over The Years?
One common trend that we have seen throughout most of the last two decades is that agent clubs have more or less consistently spent more on agent fees, year-on-year.
What may not come as a surprise, is that the decade following their takeover, Manchester City more or less, topped the list for most spent on agent fees every year, though there were a number of occasions when Chelsea surpassed them by a minor (in comparison) amount.
Indeed, during that period between 2008 and 2018, it was City who marginally spent more than the London club – the former spending £131.09 million compared to their rival’s £126.67 million.
While Liverpool were next with an outlay of £116.56 million, it was interesting that there was then a considerable gulf between the top three spending clubs. It was followed by Manchester United outlaying £85.17 million, Tottenham with £69.26 million, while Arsenal shelled out £64.21 million.
An agent’s role in football transfers has certainly become more and more pivotal over the last couple of decades and, indeed, they appear to have a considerable amount of power when it comes to the influence that they hold over their clients. Football clubs know that the relationships that they have with agents can have a great deal of influence on their clients’ futures.
The best agents usually have the best players under their purview and, as a result, can effectively write their own cheque when it comes the fee. It is also not uncommon for them to be paid three times (by the selling club, buying club and their actual client), and as a result, just one deal can set them up financially for life.
Club Spend On Agent Fees of the Premier League ‘Big 6’ (Numbers in £Millions)
|‘Big 6’ Premier League Clubs||17/18||16/17||15/16||14/15||13/14||12/13||11/12||10/11||09/10||08/09|
Total Spend On Agent Fees Of The ‘Big 6’ Clubs (08/09 – 17/18)
|Club||Total Spend (08/09 – 17/18)|
Have Agent Fees Reflected Success?
During the 2008-09 season there was considerable disparity between the ‘big six’ clubs when it came to the outlay on agent fees. Perhaps not surprisingly, City spent the most recording an expenditure of £12.87 million.
Following their takeover that summer, they spent big on notable signings, one of which included Brazilian forward Robinho from Real Madrid for £32.5 million. His agent, fellow Brazilian, Wagner Ribeiro (one of the most well-respected agents in South America), is understood to have taken a cut of £4.2 million from this deal.
The club’s overall outlay that year was approximately £137 million, meaning that overall, City spent just over 10 per cent of this on agent fees. They finished 10th that season.
Perhaps one of the most illuminating facts follows. Manchester United had an outlay of £1.52 million on agent fees, notably bringing in forward Dimitar Berbatov for £30.75 million from Tottenham – the same day City signed Robinho (summer deadline day), with the Bulgarian rejecting their fierce rivals hours earlier. Berbatov went on to score 11 goals in the Premier League in the season that followed, helping his new club to win the title. Not a bad return.
City would have to wait until the 2011/12 season until they won silverware (Premier League title), spending nearly £80 million, approximately half of which included blockbuster signing Sergio Aguero, during that summer and £10.54 million in agent fees. Interestingly, Robinho had left the a year prior to the Argentine’s arrival.
During the 2015/16 season, Leicester City spent £940,000 on agent fees, shrewd negotiating, after a transfer outlay of £43.5 million that saw them bring in N’Golo Kante, Shinji Okazaki and Robert Huth, among others.
In that same season, Manchester United paid agents £10.02 million (the highest in the country), with a transfer expenditure of approximately £135 million (most notably £55 million on Anthony Martial).
The club finished fifth, failing to qualify for the Champions League, while Leicester upset the odds, even to the point of creating history, sensationally winning the Premier League title, at an incredible price of 5000/1 – an anomoly that hasn’t been repeated since – indeed, second-placed Arsenal finished 10 points behind them.
When It Goes Right Over Time
Manager Jurgen Klopp took over Liverpool in October 2015. There was little he could that season, but implement stability as he recovered the club guiding them to eighth in the league. His appointment was painstakingly planned using the famous Moneyball model with a belief that there, in time, would be a significant return on investment.
During the 2016/17 season, the club spent £13.79 million on agent fees, spending £70 million, notably on Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum, finishing fourth to qualify for the Champions League. The following summer (2017/18), the club spent £26.79 million on agent fees, plus just over £150 million on signings that included Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah. Champions League runners-up and a fourth-placed Premier League finish.
Between February 2018 and Janaury 2019, meanwhile Liverpool topped the Premier League charts for agent fees, with a total of £43,795,863 spent, following an outlay of £160 million spend on four major players that included Naby Keita, Fabinho, Alisson Becker and Xherdan Shaqiri. It translated into the club finishing second in the Premier League and winning the Champions League.
This trend continued for the following season, as they topped the list for agent spend again among Premier League clubs (£30.3 million). However, this translated into a much-coveted Premier League title.
During his tenure, Klopp has more than justified the outlay as Liverpool boss, having won every trophy at least once, outlining that the model FSG committed to was ultimately business savvy in terms of success.
Who Are The Highest Earning Football Agents?
Over the last decade or so, there have been one or two names that have always been in the news, with these essentially considered to be the power brokers in the game and who have a significant amount of influence over their clients, in addition to being able to drive up the price of players.
Below we explore who these are, the players that they represent and the total fees that they have amassed over the years.
Perhaps not a name you expecting, Barnett exceeds the notable (Jorge) Mendes and Pini Zhavi in terms of commissions and deal values negotiated (data as of summer 2022), while he prefers to keep out of the spotlight.
The English agent notably has a core group of British players who he represents. He was the key mastermind behind Gareth Bale’s lucrative move from Tottenham to Real Madrid in 2013 – a fee which broke Cristiano Ronaldo’s world record fee, four years previously (from Manchester United to Real Madrid). Also, he helped to broker the £100 million move for Jack Grealish when he moved to Manchester City from Aston Villa in 2021.
- Agency: ICM Stellar Group
- Key Clients: Gareth Bale (retired), Jack Grealish, Jordan Pickford, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Saul Niguez
- Total Value Of Contracts Negotiated: £1.2 billion
- Commissions: £121.2 million
Arguably one of the most well-known football agents, especially based on his clientele which includes (Cristiano) Ronaldo. Recognised in the game as a ‘super agent’, Mendes is one of the most influential figures in the game. The Portuguese agent is known for having mainly latin-based clients on his books.
- Agency: Gestifute International
- Key Clients: Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Angel Di Maria, David De Gea, Thiago Silva, Jose Mourinho
- Total Value Of Contracts Negotiated: £626.6 million
- Commissions: £62.8 million
Carmine ‘Mino’ Raiola
Another name that is effectively synonymous with the world of football, Raiola, until his death in April 2022 was always in the media and is known for some of the most lucrative transfers in the world of football, that includes Paul Pogba’s high profile move back to Manchester United from Juventus.
- Agency: Mino Raiola
- Key Clients: Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Blaise Matuidi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Maxwell, Romelu Lukaku, Mario Balotelli
- Total Value Of Contracts Negotiated: £621 million
- Commissions: £62.1 million
The German football agent effectively has a monopoly on the Bundesliga and the vast majority of his clients are associated wit the country’s top league. He has over 70 clients on his books and continues to be one of the most active agents in the game.
- Agency: Sports Total
- Key Clients: Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos, Benedikt Howedes, Sidney Sam, Omer Toprak, Gonzalo Castro, Josip Drmic
- Total Value Of Contracts Negotiated: £307 million
- Commissions: £30.7 million
With well in excess of 100 players on his books, Spanish agent Otin is a key figure in La Liga, though his reach spreads across Europe’s major leagues. Operating out of Madrid, Otin is still well-renowned in the game.
- Agency: Bahia International
- Key Clients: Vitolo, Fernando Torres, Javi Martinez, Jesus Navas, Pedro, Raul Garcia, Nacho Monreal
- Total Value Of Contracts Negotiated: £191 million
- Commissions: £19.2 million
Agent Fee & Earnings Comparison
|Agent||Total Value Of Contracts||Commissions|
|Jonathan Barnett||£1.2 billion||£121.2 million|
|Jorge Mendes||£626.6 million||£62.8 million|
|Mino Raiola||£621 million||£62.1 million|
|Volker Struth||£307 million||£30.7 million|
|Jose Otin||£191 million||£19.2 million|
What Does The Future Hold For Agents In The Game?
What these figures indicate is that football is still very much a global commodity and one of the most lucrative in the world. Transfer records year-on-year keep being broken, often (certainly recently), two or three times in the same transfer window.
Now, with the emergence of the Saudi Pro League, there are many signs that there will be even more money that is associated with the game, as highlighted by the big four clubs spending hundreds of millions without even batting an eyelid.
For football’s super agents and even those who are starting to emerge, the potential to make considerable fees from future deals is huge, especially when factoring in that most agents often take around a 10 percent fee of every transfer deal that is negotiated.
As a result, we could see clubs spending substantially more on agents fees over the next few years, while this may impact Premier League clubs as well, as they compete to keep up with the spending power of those clubs in Saudi Arabia. Watch this space.