“Fifa will not exist in 10 years’ time,” predicted Mino Raiola at the World Football Summit in November. Best known for representing Erling Haaland, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Matthijs de Ligt, the 53-year-old was responding in typically bombastic fashion to confirmation a fortnight earlier that football’s governing body was pressing ahead with a raft of controversial new regulations for agents.
Perhaps the most contentious is Fifa’s intention to introduce a cap that would limit agents of the selling club to 10% of the transfer fee, and agents of the buying club to 3% of the fee. The regulations, scheduled to take effect in January 2022 having entered a third and final “consultation process” in November that is continuing, would also force agents to become licensed and undergo an exam conducted by Fifa, and make all transactions public, allowing supporters to see how much agents are paid on deals.
The reforms must be voted on by Fifa’s council but, with the president, Gianni Infantino, having made no secret of his desire for tougher regulations, Raiola and a number of leading agents are preparing for the potential battle.
Il Football Forum, stabilito in 2019, is described on its website as an “international movement of football agents and players” and has Raiola as president, with Jorge Mendes, Jonathan Barnett and the German agent Roger Wittmann – whose Rogon agency lists clients including Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and Chelsea’s Tiémoué Bakayoko – as vice-presidents.
As well as providing “a forum where all participants may contribute to identify, implement and develop the best professional practice of football agency”, TFF’s end-of-year statement says it was “founded as a response to the growing threat to the rights of its members”, and mentions as examples the EFL’s failed attempt to introduce salary caps in Leagues One and Two and the row about using players’ image rights in the bestselling video game Fifa 21.
But the most stinging criticism is reserved for Fifa, with the statement claiming its new rules “will threaten a player’s protection”. “These regulations are about power and that is clearly what Fifa wants,” Raiola said. “The Football Forum will be taking the fight to Fifa next year as well as standing up for players’ rights and ensuring that these shocking salary caps are dropped as a matter of urgency; 2021 will be a big year for us.”
Asked whether the TFF had been founded as a direct response to Fifa’s proposed regulations, Barnett told the Guardian: “I would say 70% o 80% it was formed because of that but since we got together talking there are lots of other things that have come up that we feel that we can help with. It’s coming together nicely at the moment. We want to help and bring all agents and players together for the common good. We want to help agents who are less fortunate than us. That’s our main thing. And if there are smaller countries who need our help to fight Fifa, we will put the money there. We’ll underwrite it all.”
Agents can join TFF as an ordinary member – the highest tier available – with a €750 admission fee and annual fees of €7,500. They will get two seats on the TFF board and “may be granted a preferential treatment compared to the other categories of agents members (eg discounts or free admission, first‑rows seats, invitation to exclusives [sic] lunch or dinners and or other VIP treatment) for events organised by TFF”.
The lowest rung of entry – “members with observer status” – enables agents to join for free and “participate in the meetings of the members and … receive regular updates on the activities of TFF”. This membership is for a maximum of three years, after which the agent has to enter a paid-tier membership or lose their membership.
Barnett, whose ICM Stellar Sports group represents Gareth Bale and many other Premier League players, refused to confirm how many agents had signed up but said “it’s quite substantial”, including “lots of agents’ associations from various countries who have joined us and they come as a group”. He said locating TFF’s offices in Zurich – less than 10 minutes’ drive from Fifa’s headquarters – had not been intended as an antagonistic move. “It wasn’t meant to be near Fifa, because who wants to go near Fifa?"
A TFF pitch sent to agents, seen by the Guardian, describes the intended regulations as “an existential threat to agents and their work. The whole project is based on untenable and ungrounded assumptions which have been repeatedly used by Fifa for discrediting agents. TFF is fully engaged in the fight against such regulations and is taking any necessary step – including starting legal proceedings – to protect the interests, the professionalism and the rights of agents and, as a consequence, of players.”
In una dichiarazione, a Fifa spokesperson said new rules concerning agents had been drawn up after “a very robust consultation process … with 23 different football stakeholders, including key player agent organisations” and that feedback from the latest consultation process “may result in changes to the draft regulations”.
“The need for a stricter regulatory framework came as a response to a series of worrying trends that have affected the transfer market in recent years,” the spokesperson added. “In particular, Fifa has observed a growing number of abusive practices, widespread conflicts of interests, and a market driven by speculation rather than solidarity and redistribution across the football pyramid. The regulations seek to address these issues by introducing basic service standards to the relationship between a football agent and their client, and reinforce the duty of loyalty that exists in all types of agent-client relationships.”
Barnett, asked whether Fifa should be worried about TFF, disse: “Yes, but if they behave properly they don’t have to be worried. The truth is we’re not little kids – we have sufficient funds to put everything in proper order. If Fifa insist on doing what they are insisting on doing at the moment, obviously there’s going to be a lot of litigation flying around.
“The caps are only one part [of the regulations] that everyone seems to be focusing on. These rules have been written by people who have no idea what an agent does. They have no idea other than what people speculate about agents. When they say it’s to help players they are talking out of their backsides. There certainly aren’t any of my players who would rather be represented by Fifa than by us.
"It’s absolutely scandalous that without proper consultation they can write rules that they think will be legal. We’ve got some of the best QCs in England and the best lawyers in Europe so I hope it doesn’t come to it. But if it does, so be it.”