by Massimo Franchi

A tsunami of frightening proportions is about to hit again on the hill of Zurich where the FIFA Headquarters is located. This time there will be no arrests and handcuffs for a dozen members of the former Executive Committee (as happened in 2015, for a serious corruption, on “input” from none other than the FBI) but the war unleashed by the agents of players from all over the world against the president of the supreme international football body promises to be very hard right now. To the reconfirmed Italian-Valais leader Gianni Infantino, who with his Lebanese wife Leena Al Ashqar and their 4 daughters is divided between the residence of Zug (a town on the shores of Lake Zurich where you pay less taxes than in the other Swiss cantons) and that of Doha, will not be enough the youthful experience as lawyer specialized in sports law to curb the wave of lawsuits that he will receive from now to the first of October when the new regulation on football agents is scheduled to entry fully into force.

A legal battle that in some ways recalls that of 1995 when UEFA was then forced to abolish the constraint by sensationally losing the case promoted by the Belgian midfielder Jean-Marc Bosman assisted by the illustrious lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont of Liège. The famous and revolutionary Bosman Sentence. Only then, the free movement of players operating in nations and clubs of the EU area was defined, while in this case it is the prosecutors from all over the planet who, sometimes united in consortia and sometimes at a single level, rebel against the new FIFA “diktat” to impose a strict cap on their commissions (from 3 to 5% based on the salary of the client) as well as the intimation of other limitations such as the prohibition of the so-called “multiple representations”,  that is to assist the seller and the buyer at the same time, which would drastically reduce its earnings.

“Our interests are not adequately defended and in the new regulation there are articles to promote a set of principles and rules of law that violate those of free competition – thunders Emanuel Calçada, secretary general of ANAF, the national association of Portuguese “futebol” agents -. It is an obscure law in this sense, it is severed from business practices that have existed for many years, nor does it reflect them. Rules completely transient and obtuse. As well as the deadlines for receiving commissions indexed to the period of the contractual constraint. We are outraged against all this and will react firmly at all level with legal actions to the limit, to the end. I mean from the TAS in Lausanne to the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg.”

ANAF has already launched a series of consultations at the highest levels with the best international experts in legal matters, requesting an exhaustive opinion of the highest competence from the Italian Competition Authority. “We go into action convinced that through this combination of legal actions – continues Calçada – we will achieve the most important thing that is to restore the legislation and that there is justice and correspondence between the practical reality of the legislator and the rules, which in this way does not happen”.

The new regulation (called “FIFA Football Agent Regulations”) was approved by the International Federation Council on December 16 on the eve of the 2022 World Cup final in Doha, Qatar. And on January 9, the process for obtaining new licenses from agents began. The main reasons that led the International Football Association to adopt the new regulation are the “abusive and excessive conduct of football agents”, avoiding the “speculative market” and “conflicts of interest” as well as supporting the “reinforcement of the protection of players with the establishment of a fairer and more transparent transfer system”.

The dean of international prosecutors, the Englishman Jonathan Barnett, 73, founder and president of the powerful ICM Stellar Sports, had “tout court” fiery words against FIFA. “They don’t even have any idea what topic they’re talking about. Making a law and regulating everything is right, too bad that in Zurich they know nothing about our world, and we do not want this new protocol to be decided by criminals. We will take them to court.  The truth is that agents are not against the law, but we are the only ones who can really have the right and authority to speak with knowledge of the facts in relation to this business.”

“We vehemently fight this regulation,” Barnett continued. “I don’t think anyone from FIFA has ever walked into an agency to try to figure out what it is and how it works. They know nothing about our world, it is absurd that they consider themselves experts in our field. Every time everybody brings up the agents, they talk about the need for legislation. As far as I know, there are senior FIFA executives who have gone to jail or club directors who have been found guilty of crimes. So, we don’t have to be ashamed. We have already sent a letter to three FIFA members announcing legal action. It will be a long lawsuit, which can cost millions of euros. But we want to go ahead and prove that what FIFA is doing is illegal. Otherwise, you will see in the coming seasons how many problems the players will have, especially those of the minor leagues.”

Barnett in 2019 founded “The Football Forum” together with the late Mino Raiola of One de Monte-Carlo, the Portuguese Jorge Mendes (leader of the Gestifute of Porto) and the German Roger Wittmann (Rogon Sportmanagement). An alliance that unites 4 of the most powerful prosecutors in the world whose purpose is “first and foremost” to protect not only assisted footballers, but also and above all the image and rights of sports agents as a category in relations with the institutions of the state and sports systems, as well as the full legal recognition of the professional figure by promoting a complete and congenial regulation. In this first four years of life, dozens of national associations starting with our IAFA (“Italian Association of Football Agents) have joined the TFF (“The Football Forum)”. After Raiola’s death on April 30, 2022, his partner and closest collaborator Rafaela Pimenta, a Brazilian lawyer who inherited the empire, was confirmed in the role of (combative) executive vice-president of the international movement of agents who in the meantime moved from the original London headquarters to settle in none other than Zurich, in Bellerivestrasse,  on the lake, just over 5 kilometers from the hillside of FIFA. Infantino’s enemies are at the gates…

“About four years ago – says Rafaela Pimenta – Mino and I along with other agents were invited by FIFA to a meeting to discuss the new regulations that concern us. They asked us for “feedback” on this protocol, but we were surprised because they didn’t want to discuss it, just show it to us. But we didn’t like it because everything was already done, everything decided. It was a trap. At that moment Mino and I left annoyed and even then, our answer was categorical: “See you in court”. Now we are in the moment of implementation of the legislation, we are preparing to fight in court. We must all fight together, because this is a real abuse that will also weigh on the players. A new licensing system and a new register? Yes, but who should decide how and when? Who takes responsibility for removing the license or not? We, and not them, must decide who will judge the exams to enter or not to the profession. You have to understand what an agent really is. Otherwise in the end you risk having only lawyers to represent the players, and they don’t want this.”

In full harmony with “The Football Forum” there is also the EFAA (“European Football Agents Association”) which brings together over a thousand agents in the Old Continent. The president is the Dutch Rob Jansen, the “deputy” the Milanese Giovanni Branchini. As the longest-running association of agents, the European Football Agents Association rejects FIFA’s upcoming regulations and the regulatory process as a whole. FIFA has invited individual agents to visit its headquarters for a “consultation” as it continues to ignore requests from larger associations to meet in an official capacity. FIFA has once again deceived the football world into believing it is the savior of the industry, using agents as scapegoats for its political mission. They choose to create an unjustified 3% as the maximum rate that will destroy the careers of thousands of small agents around the world and so FIFA can make headlines the next day. The EFAA has always supported issues such as the restoration of a licensing system, accreditation and continuous professional development, greater protection for minor players, arbitration and transparency. Yet we will not be taken aback by a body that claims to be competent to regulate our profession, when that same body must be explained how even a simple transfer agreement works and what an agent actually does to broker an agreement. We will remain open to consultation, as always, but only if officially».

In general, however, the regulation of FIFA (although to be reviewed deeply) does not entirely displease the Forum, whose final mission could even be another, that is to bring these multinationals of agents, mediators and representatives into that world of commercial agreements and television rights that in tax havens enliven the flows of money of the new financial football in the hands of investment funds. A future, who knows, inevitable of football.