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Ben Hayes - Charlton Athletic programme

Do agents meet a need?


Intermediaries are never popular in any market.   They increase transaction costs for buyers and sellers. Estate agents always come near the bottom of any popularity poll for occupations, although their position in the market is being eroded by new technology.

The standard case against football agents runs like this: they are greedy (i.e., they are profit maximisers); they unsettle players so that they can make money on a deal; they suggest through the media that more clubs are interested in a player than is actually the case; they inflate the cost of buying players and the wages they are paid.   In short, they are seen as responsible for many of the evils of the modern game.

There is, of course, something in all these criticisms.   However, attempts to operate without agents have generally not succeeded.  That may be because it is very difficult to buy a player of any quality without going through an agent.  

Nevertheless, there is a case that they help to make an inefficient market operate more efficiently, which is why intermediaries exist, despite decades of distrust of the 'middle man'.   Simon Kuper and Peter Wise pursued this theme in the Weekend edition of the Financial Times by profiling Portugal's Jorge Mendes.   They wrote, 'The dapper Portuguese, though unknown to most fans, is now probably football's most powerful agent.'

This summer he was involved in transfers worth more than €250m.   His clients' market value tops €500m.   He handles coaches as well as players, facilitating José Mourinho's initial move to Chelsea from Porto.   He has had a big impact on the Portuguese league, using Portugal as an entry point for South American players.   Kuper and Wise argue that 'Thanks partly to Mr Mendes, two clubs from the small impoverished country, Benfica and Porto, rank in Europe's top 11.'

Thier verdict is that he is ''the invisible hand of the transfer market ... The story of his rise reveals the power of agents in an inefficient, relationship-based but increasingly lucrative transfer market.'   This summer Europe's five top leagues spent a record £1.8m on transfers.

It is the wealth sloshing around in football that makes agents powerful and rich.   They are effect as much as they are cause.   They aren't going to go away any time soon.