As football politics becomes increasingly fragmented between FIFA, UEFA and the clubs, one group is often ignored – the players.
Few know England’s players better than Marlon Fleischman, who in the past mentored national team captain Harry Kane and continues to advise Reece James on matters on the pitch.
His agency, Unique Sports Group, has some of the best next-generation youngsters in Aston Villa’s Jacob Ramsey and Everton’s Anthony Gordon. Villa’s Cameron Archer – ‘the next Jermain Defoe’ – and Manchester City’s Tommy Doyle – ‘an incredible football brain’ – are also clients.
With England set to face the United States at the World Cup, Fleischmann, 41, is trying to change perceptions of football agencies in the UK and looks to the sophisticated models being applied to US sport and entertainment.
“Maybe US companies are seen as more professional and credible,” says Fleischman standard sport.
“But we’re seeing a maturity in the industry here in the UK, we’ve changed the way we serve our customers, we’re a 360 [degree] Management agency instead of just football negotiations.
“Providing this level of professionalism will eventually allow us to be seated at the table for broader discussions affecting sport.”
The USG director knows there’s still some work to do before players and agencies have that seat, but he’s hoping that day will come.
He adds: “We are in a young industry. Sports representation has not been around for hundreds of years like other professions, and we understand that the general public will never have sympathy for agents.
“Ultimately, in the eyes of the fans, we are the bad guys, especially when we transfer your favorite player to another club.
“Players will always need protection and guidance, especially in the face of outside influences. We may see them coming on the horizon, but we have no control over them, whether it’s political changes, changes in league rules or the strategic direction of clubs. For example, policies like Brexit, which have had a profound impact on us.
“Suddenly our young players cannot go abroad until they are 18 or older and older players count as non-EU players. Those lost years of development in a different setup could affect them. We can only adapt.”
Fleischmann notes: “I think so [Brexit] Opportunities cost us and for us, opportunities for our customers are what we trade with. When the door closes it limits options and British clubs find the market much more expensive.
“In the future we would like to say we could sit down at the table to offer advice on regulations from a player/agent’s perspective, but we don’t. The players and agents have no say. We just watch and listen.
“The market will always adapt. Post-Brexit there is a surge in academy transfers between the best of youth. There never were so many and now they are widespread. Everyone is trying to find that elite talent or diamond in the rough [in non-league].
“The problem remains that at the top level of the first team, 60 percent of transfers involve foreign talent. So the odds aren’t getting any easier for the elite British players.”
NFL and NBA players earn more miles than Premier League players.
USG have expanded into Germany in response to a real problem for young English talent, with the ‘Jadon Sancho-Jude Bellingham’ route seen as an alternative option for academy stars.
Meanwhile, Chelsea’s new Boehly-Clearlake owners have spoken publicly about doubling their earnings, which could lead to further transfer spending.
Similarly, Manchester United and Liverpool are up for sale, with buyers likely to jump in with the same goals.
Fleischman agrees that English football has failed to maximize revenue but expects there will be a renewed battle between owners and players over where the money is going.
“Premier League clubs will only grow in terms of revenue,” he continues. “I think players will always benefit when more money comes into play.
“Why do players have agents? Because the players need protection as stars of the show. The next TV deal everyone is watching, future media rights and the growth of the sport in other territories. All of this will boost Premier League club revenue models.
“NFL and NBA players make more miles than Premier League players, even though Premier League viewership is higher globally. As clubs expand, grow and get bigger financially, then the stars of the show should demand their fair share.”
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Football is currently heavily influenced by economic forces, with American money buying up clubs and consolidating agencies into super agencies.
Two major teams have now emerged in English football, with most players being looked after by US agencies CAA Sports and Wasserman.
Unique Sports Group is the alternative as they are the UK’s leading independent agency and the fourth largest football agency in Europe with £880m player value on their books, according to Transfermarkt.
With American money pouring into clubs and agencies, Unique’s directors have so far resisted attempts to buy their business.
“Our door is open, but we are determined and focused on where we want to be and we are not a company that needs outside investment to get results,” he adds.
In Fleischman’s own career, he tells a story of how he drove from London to Preston and stood in the pouring rain for two hours to speak to a player he wanted to represent, only to be avoided. A few months later he would sign this player.
With this tenacity he tries to improve the conditions for the footballers he represents.