Football transfers: What are the agents' roles?

Grey Whitebloom
Jorge Mendes is one of the world's super agents with clients including Jose Mourinho - and formerly Cristiano Ronaldo.
Jorge Mendes is one of the world's super agents with clients including Jose Mourinho - and formerly Cristiano Ronaldo. / JACK TAYLOR/GettyImages

When Gianluca Vialli joined Juventus for a world record fee of £12.5m in 1992, Sampdoria's striker didn't have an agent. In fact, Vialli tasked Paolo Mantovani, the owner of the club he was leaving, with negotiating his pay packet at Juve.

Three decades on, there's scarcely a deal for a fraction of that sum which gets brokered without the presence of (at least one) player representative - let alone a world record fee.

But what is the exact role of these mysterious figures, lurking in the shadows with a phone permanently glued to their ear?

What does a football agent do?

The role of a football agent is all-encompassing. Since Cristiano Ronaldo hired Jorge Mendes in 2002, he admitted that the former nightclub owner was "like a father to me". "I consider him a friend, or more than that: he's become part of my family," Ronaldo explained.

As well as a familial presence, an agent usually takes care of all the off-field details that can distract or confuse a player focused on their game. The role of an agent includes everything from contract negotiations to sponsorships, press relations and even managing their player's social media account.

Whether operating out of an agency with a group of representatives or as an independent party, agents have to sniff out the talented players that want to hitch their wagon to.

How much does a football agent earn?

As compensation for this myriad of responsibilities agents can earn exorbitant fees - although, this is directly related to the amount commanded by the players. Agents earn a commission - somewhere between 1% and 10% typically - for sums such as the transfer fee of their player.

Sports Management Worldwide estimated that an agent could earn up to £321,600 a year from one Premier League player.

In December 2022, FIFA revealed that clubs paid intermediaries upwards of $622.8m (£516.7m) across the calendar year, an increase of 24.3% compared to 2021. At the start of 2023, the world's governing body for football revealed plans to cap agents' commission at 3% for any transfer over $200,000 (£168,166) and 5% for deals under $200,000.

Understandably, some of the game's leading agents - who stand to lose vast sums going forwards with the rule changes - are opposed to FIFA's amendments.

Leading football agents

As mentioned above, Jorge Mendes was Ronaldo's agent for two decades. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner heads a glittering list of clients at Mendes' Gestifute agency which includes Manchester City's Bernardo Silva, Atletico Madrid loanee Joao Felix and Roma manager Jose Mourinho.

Jonathan Barnett is a particularly strident opponent of FIFA's new commission rules, threatening legal action against the governing body in the past. The British agent founded ICM Stellar which represents the likes of Jack Grealish, Eduardo Camavinga and Kalvin Phillips.

Mino Raiola tragically passed away at the age of 54 in April 2022, leaving his sprawling stable of A-list clients to Rafaela Pimenta. The "most important person in football that nobody knows" is in charge of the affairs of stars including Erling Haaland, Matthijs de Ligt and Marco Verratti.