A common complaint brought forward against football in the modern era is the overt commercialization of the game. Although less evident in smaller leagues around the world where there is less money to be made, the larger European leagues have been completely transformed in the past 20 years thanks to the influx of millionaire and billionaire owners who view the clubs they buy as fun toys or numbers in a portfolio. Most fans, especially those coming from a long family tradition of fandom, openly pine for the return of the glory days where the game felt more ‘pure’ – even though many of these fans were either not born or too young to remember them.
If you ignore all the players, coaching staff, owners, and fans, there’s still one very prominent group that has no desire to go back to the old days anytime soon. The influx of money into the game has created a merchant class in soccer – agents. Modern agents represent both players and managers, and they’re largely responsible for brokering transfers between clubs, managing contract negotiations, and handling all the paperwork involved as the intermediary between players and club management. Some agents have also gotten obscenely rich thanks to all the money floating around the game these days.
Generally speaking, agents get a small percentage cut of their players’ contracts. The precise amount will vary wildly from agent to agent, but that isn’t their only source of revenue. When agents are involved in brokering transfers between clubs, they tend to get a pretty significant amount of cash as well. Sure, we may be only talking about 3-5%, but 3-5% of $50 million is still $1.5 – $2.5 million – all for a few weeks of work. Few agents make that kind of money, but the men on this list all have superstar clients who command those kinds of prices, and all that wealth has trickled down to make these agents wealthy and powerful beyond their wildest dreams.
#10 Barry Silkman
Although not strictly a player agent, Barry Silkman has made his name and his fortune as a master broker for transfers between top clubs. After a 16-year playing career in which he was mildly successful, Silkman attempted to turn management into his new day job. When that fell through he found his calling in acting as an agent in the 90s, and he hasn’t stopped yet. With clients such as David Villa, Demba Ba and young Ravel Morrison, Silkman’s ever-growing portfolio of star players means the 61-year-old will be around for the foreseeable future.
#9 Cezary Kucharski
Most agents tend to stick to their native countries to draw most of their talent from, which makes perfect sense. Naturally their network of contacts is larger and deeper in their home countries. Cezary Kucharski is the biggest agent in his native Poland, and he’s made his name attracting some of the top Polish talent to his brand in recent years. He has world-class Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski under contract, as well as Dortmund winger Jakub Blaszcykowski. Kucharski was a player himself as recently as 2007, but now the 42-year-old prefers to sit back and let others handle the on-field work while he takes care of the paperwork in the back – getting considerably richer in the process.
#8 Jerome Anderson
England’s most famous agent has spent a career representing some of the biggest names to ever play in the English Premier League. A banker by trade, Anderson made the transition into player representation just before agents became the powerful merchant-class they are today in the game. Initially he made his name thanks to the talent he brought to Arsenal at the turn of the 21st century; Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Ian Wright, all were brought to Arsenal thanks to Anderson’s help. These days he’s more closely associated with Manchester City, but represents a wide array of players including John Obi Mikel, Axel Witsel and Kieran Gibbs.
#7 Tim Hager
Although not widely known throughout the footballing world, Hager’s current portfolio of young talent means that he’ll have plenty of business for the forseeable future. Hager’s clients are primarily French, young, and full of potential. Yann M’Vila, Mamadou Sakho, and Antoine Griezmann are all immensely talented and only have room to improve, and all three play for the French national team. Griezmann recently completed a high profile transfer to Spanish champions Atlético Madrid, a deal that certainly gave Hager a nice little payday.
#6 Pini Zahavi
Pini Zahavi is best known for being one of the men largely responsible for the initial influx of talent to Chelsea when Roman Abramovich purchased the London club in 2003. Zahavi was actively involved both in the purchase of the club and of negotiationg contracts for all the star players that it would sign in the initial 2-year period after the purchase. In the process Zahavi became a member of Abramovich’s inner circle and fabulously wealthy. A transfer specialist, he’s renowned for his wide network of contacts and for being one of the first truly ‘superstar’ agents in the business. He currently represents players such as Carlos Tevez and Rio Ferdinand.
#5 Mino Raiola
Mino Raiola specializes in building his players into brands unto themselves, then shuffling them about Europe for massive transfer fees – making him very wealthy in the process. No player epitomizes this more than his crown jewel, Zlatan Ibrahimovich. Zlatan has moved from elite club to elite club, all for large transfer fees, until now where he seems to have finally settled as Paris Saint-Germain. Raiola also represents teammate Edinson Cavani, EPL stars Mario Balotelli and Etienne Capoue, and the young and talented Paul Pogba.
#4 Jonathan Barnett
Barnett is a man of many talents and represents athletes across the sports spectrum (including British-Canadian boxing legend Lennox Lewis). After being involved in a notorious ‘tapping-up’ affair with his client Ashley Cole in 2005 – where he and Cole were discovered illegally negotiating with Chelsea without the consent of Cole’s parent club Arsenal – he retreated from the spotlight, but has remained very much in the business. He represents Wojciech Szczesny, Joe Hart, Ashley Cole, Darren Bent, and some Welshman named Gareth Bale. Bale’s $145 million+ transfer to Real Madrid by itself made Barnett enough money to last him for the next few years.
#3 Pere Guardiola
It must help to have family members that are legendary players and managers, especially in an industry so reliant on networking like the agent business. Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola’s brother Pere Guardiola is an established agent in his own right, representing talent such as Hector Bellerin, Jon Toral, and Isaac Cuenca. Now, those may not be superstar names, but he also represents a certain Uruguayan named Luis Suarez who just completed a $130 million transfer to Barcelona. Guardiola almost certainly made off like a bandit with a portion of those transfer fees, maybe finally giving him a leg up on Pep in whatever sibling rivalry the two may have.
#2 Paul Stretford
Stretford took a chance taking on a 16-year-old Englishman and going all in on his career. Fortunately that 16-year-old turned out to be Wayne Rooney – one of the most marketable players in the world – and Stretford’s professional life has been sunshine and roses ever since. Stretford was instrumental in bringing Rooney to United, and he’s been a key factor in negotiations to keep him there that have come up every few years. Stretford also represents superstar coaches Harry Redknapp and Roberto Mancini.
#1 Jorge Mendes
In the world of football agents, one stands tall amongst the rest. Jorge Mendes is one of the most influential figures in the history of the game, and he’s never even set foot on a pitch as a player or manager. The Portuguese agent developed a vice-grip on talent in his native Portugal, overseeing practically all of the major talent that enters and leaves the country. The names of his clients are a who’s who in the footballing world; Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, José Mourinho, Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, and many more. Mendes is the most sought after agent in the world for both players and clubs, and with good reason; he has control of some of the game’s elite-tier talent, including his crown jewel Cristiano Ronaldo. Whenever there’s a lucrative bit of business to be done – especially if it involves Portugal in any way – Mendes will have his fingers in it.