How football agencies are pushing to have their say on the future of the game as players eye a better slice

How football agencies are pushing to have their say on the future of the game as players eye a better slice

As football politics becomes ever more fractured between FIFA, UEFA and the clubs, one group is often ignored - the players.

Few people know England’s players better than Marlon Fleischman who managed national team captain Harry Kane in the past and who continues to advise Reece James for on-pitch matters.

His agency Unique Sports Group have some of the best youngsters from the next generation with the likes of Aston Villa’s Jacob Ramsey and Everton’s Anthony Gordon in their stable. Villa’s Cameron Archer - “the next Jermain Defoe” - and Manchester City’s Tommy Doyle - “an unbelievable football brain” - are also clients.

With England about to face the United States at the World Cup, Fleischmann, 41, is trying to change the perception of football agencies in the UK and looks towards the sophisticated models applied in US sports and entertainment.

“Maybe US firms are seen as more professional and credible,” Fleischman tells Standard Sport.

“But we are seeing a maturity in the industry here in the UK, we’ve changed the way we service our clients, we are a 360 [degree] management agency now rather than solely football negotiation.

“Delivering that professionalism will eventually allow us a seat at the table on wider discussions affecting the sport.”

The USG director knows that there is some way to go until players and agencies have that seat, but he hopes that day will come.

He adds: “We’re in a young industry. Sports representation hasn’t been around for hundreds of years like other professions and we understand that the general public will never have sympathy for agents.

“Ultimately in the eyes of the fans we’re the bad guys, especially if we move your favourite player on to another club.

Marlon Fleischman (left) with Reece James (Unique Sports Group)
Marlon Fleischman (left) with Reece James (Unique Sports Group)

“Players will always need protection and guidance, especially with outside influences, we can maybe see them coming on the horizon but we’re not in control of them whether that’s political changes, league rule changes or the strategic direction of clubs. For example politics like Brexit, that had a profound impact on us.

“Suddenly our young players can’t go abroad until they are 18 or over and senior players count as a non-EU players. Those lost years of development within a different setup could affect them. All we can do is adapt.”

Fleischmann notes: “I think it [Brexit] cost us opportunities and for us, opportunities for our clients are what we trade on. When the door shuts, that limits opportunities and the UK clubs find the market much more expensive.

“In the future we would love to say we could have a seat at the table to give advice on regulations from a player/agent perspective, but we don’t. The players and agents don’t get a say in it. We just watch and listen.

“The market will always adjust. Post-Brexit there’s a rise in academy transfers between the best at the youth level. There never were that many and now they are common. Everyone is trying to find that elite talent or the rough diamond [in non-league].

“The problem persists that at the top first-team level, 60 per cent of transfers involve overseas talent. So the odds don’t get any easier for the elite UK players.”

NFL and NBA players are making miles more than Premier League players.

USG have expanded into Germany as a response to a real problem for young, English talent with the ‘Jadon Sancho-Jude Bellingham’ pathway seen as an alternative option for academy stars.

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s new Boehly-Clearlake owners have spoken publicly about doubling their revenues which could lead to further transfer spending.

Similarly, Manchester United and Liverpool are up for sale with buyers likely to come in with the same aims.

Fleischman agrees that English football has failed to maximise its earnings but expects there to be a renewed battle between owners and players about where the money goes.

“The Premier League clubs will only grow in terms of revenue,” he continues. “I think players will always benefit when more money comes into the game.

“Why do players have agents? Because the players, as stars of the show, need protection. The next TV deal, which everyone is looking at, future media rights and growth of the sport in other territories. It will all increase the revenue models of Premier League clubs.

“NFL and NBA players are making miles more than Premier League players despite the audience figures being higher globally for the Premier League. If the clubs expand, grow and become financially bigger, then the stars of the show should ask for their fair share.”

FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar | Best Images and Moments

Germany players pose with their hands covering their mouths as they line up for the team photos prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at Khalifa International Stadium (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Germany players pose with their hands covering their mouths as they line up for the team photos prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at Khalifa International Stadium (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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Costa Rica’s Jewison Bennette is tackled by Spain’s Rodri oduring the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match at Al Thumama Stadium (Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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England’s Jude Bellingham celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match v Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)
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England’s Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling throw a rubber toy during a training session at Al Wakrah Stadium (The FA via Getty Images)
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Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo during training (AFP via Getty Images)
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Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari scores their second goal past Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez (Hannah McKay/Reuters)
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Wales’ Gareth Bale celebrates scoring their equaliser v USA (REUTERS)
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A Cameroon fan waits for the start of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G l match v Switzerland (AFP via Getty Images)
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Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari celebrates scoring their second goal v Argentina (REUTERS)
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Argentina Lionel Messi shows dejection during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match v Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium (Getty Images)

Football is currently being profoundly impacted by economic forces with American money buying up clubs and consolidating agencies into super-agencies.

A big two have now emerged across English football with the majority of players under US-owned agencies CAA Sports and Wasserman.

Unique Sports Group is the alternative, being the UK’s leading independent agency and fourth biggest football agency in Europe with £880million worth of player value on its books, according to Transfermarkt.

With an influx of American money coming into clubs and agencies, Unique’s directors have so far resisted approaches to buy their business.

“Our door is open but we’re fixed and focused on where we want to be and we’re not a company that needs outside investment to deliver results,” he adds.

In Fleischman’s own career, he tells a story of how he drove from London to Preston and stood in the pouring rain for two hours to speak to a player he wanted to represent, only to be shunned. A few months later, he would sign up that player.

It is with that tenacity that he tries to improve conditions for the footballers that he represents.