World Football Summit Addresses Key Issues Across Football’s Business

Mino Raiola and Jonathan Barnett, two of world football’s most successful agents joined a panel at WFS Live titled ‘Setting the Record straight: Understanding Football Agents Like Never Before’, moderated by Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio.



The pair have come together to form The Football Forum, an international movement of football agents and players with the aim of developing a high standard of professional practice and deliver the best employment-related standards for players.


During the panel, several topics were discussed which featured Raiola, Barnett and The Football Forum Director Daniele Boccucci with the main talking point emerging around that of salary caps.


Raiola and Barnett each had strong views as they argued against this idea. “This cap would be going back 75 years ago in economically Russian communist times, it is not of this world anymore,” Raiola stated.


He continued: “Why should we do a cap when clubs earn more money than a normal company? Real Madrid and Barcelona last year almost made a billion. Do we ask them to cap? Do we ask them to say the tickets are too high? Or the shirt rights are too high and you cannot sell the shirt for 100 million?


“[Agents] are only there to be part of the industry that the players created by their talent. If there’s a salary cap for players then there should be a salary cap for actors, for journalists, for doctors, for artists. How can you cap a talent?”


Barnett picked up the baton, adding: “Why should there be a salary cap? People go to football to watch great players, so they deserve the money. Everything else around football is incidental. If you don’t have great players then you don’t have a game.


“I’m vehemently against it, not because I’m an agent but because I don’t believe in salary caps for anything. When you go to do a deal with a club, its run by chief executives and very successful businessmen and nobody forces them to pay one penny more than they want to. It’s a fallacy. So, they’re paying what they think is the right money.”


Boccucci added: “With salary caps for players and with new agent’s regulations that someone is threatening to issue, we think it would be really detrimental for football. This is simply not good for football.”


For The Football Forum, one goal is to have dialogue with FIFA and to work with world football’s governing body to set the rules together. Barnett stated: “FIFA have come out with rules about agents. Not one member of the FIFA hierarchy has ever set foot in an agent’s office. Not one of them really knows what an agent does. How can they make rules? We agree there have to be rules.


“We are quite prepared to sit down with FIFA and help to write the rules. They have never wanted to do that. They just want to impose a set of rules on us.”


One final issue related to FIFA that has angered Barnett and Raiola recently has to do with image rights and the use of players’ names and images in the FIFA21 video game by EA Sports. Gareth Bale – a Barnett client – and Zlatan Ibrahimović – a Raiola client – have spoken about this on social media with the hashtag #TimeToInvestigate.


On this, Barnett, said: “The image rights belong to the player. It’s their image. It’s for them to sell and it’s for them to have, nobody else. It’s simple. There’s nothing to discuss. A player owns his own image rights or sells them. They’re not taken from him. That’s illegal and that’s it.”


Continuing with the current issues around football, WFS Live saw industry leaders reflect on the growing trend of US investors venturing into European football, not only purchasing stakes in clubs but also in a wider range of sports businesses.


In recent years, there has been increased investment in European football from American investors, who now hold major stakes in one fifth of the 60 clubs competing in the top divisions of England, Italy and France as well as in some of the continent’s smaller leagues.


The various explanations for this were outlined during a panel titled ‘Global Investment in football: Widening the perspective of the industry’.


The panel, which was supported by Portas Consulting, saw moderator Brando Hanna Y Navarré (CEO, Goalnomics) discuss this question with four expert guests: Patrick Massey (Partner, Portas Consulting), Chip Bowers (President, Elevate Sports Ventures), Jordan Gardner (Chairman and Co-Owner, FC Helsingør) and Brett Johnson (Co-Chairman, Phoenix Rising FC).


Expressing his view, Gardner, said: “We’re kind of seeing a second wave, after 10 to 15 years ago Americans would come in and buy clubs in the English Premier League and maybe it was more of a vanity project. Now, I think you’re seeing much more sophisticated investment.”


He went on to outline some of the reasons for this investment in European football: “I think there’s a lot of different reasons. Certainly, entry points into European football are much lower than into North America. Franchise valuations in the four major US sports and, in addition, MLS are just getting to the point where they’re outpricing a lot of potential investors.


“There are also opportunities to use best practice from North America and to professionalise a lot of these clubs in a way that can add a lot of value from a financial perspective. Something else is the attractiveness of the media rights.”


Phoenix Rising FC Co-Chairman Brett Johnson told the WFS Live audience: “I believe that there’s so much synergy. And, it doesn’t have to be the City Football Group model. It can take a lot of different forms.”


Gardner, added: “Obviously the City Football Group model is on a huge global scale, and there’s geopolitical reasons that they do what they do, but I do think multi club ownership strategy is an emerging trend in this industry and I think it’s important,” going on to point out that this strategy will become increasingly more useful as new FIFA rules limit the number of players that one club can put out on loan. Having multiple clubs under the same umbrella to officially transfer players between them can solve this.


On the final day of the conference LaLiga President Javier Tebas was one of two keynote speakers to close the official Conference Programme with an in-depth Q&A session with WFS host David Garrido.


Tebas reflected on the journey that LaLiga has been through since Covid-19 forced to pause all major sport competitions in March, and shared insight into the strategy and the logistics that enabled Spain’s top tier to resume and finish successfully.


He said that thanks to the long-term strategy established by the league seven years ago, focused on strengthening each and every club, LaLiga will be the most reinforced of all European competitions coming out of the pandemic from a financial perspective.


LaLiga President also shared his plans for the future in terms of allowing fans back into the stadiums by the beginning of January or February 2021 at around 20 – 30 percent of their capacity.


“In some regions of Spain such as the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands or even Madrid, I think we could already have a percentage of fans back in venues. The Spanish Government wants to do this in the whole country at the same time, but this is something we need to discuss because it’s going to be impossible. We can’t have all stadiums closed just because some regions have more infections than others,” he said.


Tebas also addressed some hot topics, like the Spanish Government’s recent decision to ban clubs from signing sponsorship deals with betting companies, a decision that doesn’t come in the best of times for Spanish clubs. “I think it wasn’t the time to do this, even though it was the Government’s will, and I also think that this should be regulated but not banned,” he said.


In the second of the final closing discussion, Fatma Samoura, the first ever women to be appointed Secretary General of FIFA in 2016, shared insight into the fascinating journey she’s gone through since being appointed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, in what she described as a game-changing decision taken by a “football visionary”, and discussed some of the most significant changes that football’s governing body has experienced under his leadership.


In a Q&A session conducted by South African sports broadcaster Carol Tshabalala, Mrs. Samoura discussed FIFA’s “ground-breaking” Covid-19 Relief Plan, which according to her “has allowed some normality to come back to football”, and elaborated on the main pillars of FIFA’s vision for 2020-30.


This panel brought to an end the fifth and final day of the second edition of WFS LIVE, a digital conference that over the past week has brought together 150 speakers and over 2,000 attendees from across the globe.


An in-depth round up of WFS Live will be available in the next issue of fcbusiness out at the end of December.