You are currently agent to Franceso Ruberto at OFC Pirin Blagoevgrad. How are you enjoying the role of player agent and do you believe that the role has changed in recent years?
I come from a very different background. I was in commodities, metals and mining for 15 years, and I decided to change direction about five years ago and got into football through a weird turn of events. To be honest, I really had no idea what this business and industry was like, and for a women who was not a player herself, I felt that I had so much stacked against me.
When I first got involved in football, I really did not know what I had in front of me, but the challenges started to come hard and fast, and I saw how difficult it was to sign players. The challenge to me was, “what could I do differently and how could I come into the market and gain the trust of the players and the clubs having not been someone from the industry, not to mention having arrived late in the game.”
Through the years of working, what I have found to be the most satisfactory is being able to work in the special niche way that we do now, where we can offer different solutions and do things in differently. For example, we specialize somewhat in finding solutions for players who are in problematic situations.
Francesco Ruberto was one of those players. He had played in the Swiss Super League for a while and had lost he place at FC Thun. He was without a club, and despite his good qualities, language versatility and good character, he still had a tough time finding a good club. I feel it’s our jobs as agents to bring success to the hardest cases. We must continue to work on a very human level with our clients. It has been a so satisfying to specialize in players who are very talented but who have also gone off track and need to relaunch themselves in the market.
With respect to the role changing, I think is has always been and will be a difficult job. To be honest, the clubs seem to be fed up with the overwhelming agents pounding and coming at them with excess of digital messages, Whatsapp’s coming at them in an aimless way just hoping that a player will land. I think in order to be successful in today’s market, one has to try and step inside the clubs as much as possible and understand and work from their prospective, in other words, doing it the other way round : working with the clubs and understanding what they need, why and where their problems lie and how to resolve them through bringing the right player in.
This isn’t an easy task and requires diligence and homework and insight. It is not about pushing what one has, it is really about understanding if you can bring what the club needs. I know it sounds obvious, but most agents work randomly without much intention behind it.
You mentioned professional clubs. With your experience coming from outside have there been any clubs in particular that have impressed you or have there been any particular league setups that have also impressed you in terms of professionalism and the way they conduct themselves?
Absolutely and I have to say that every club is its own world and has its own dynamic and its own set of people who work in the building. I have worked in different leagues in England and obviously in Switzerland, Spain and the MLS among many places.
I have to say that they are a few clubs that really stick out, and they stick out because they are helpful, to efficient, excellent with communication and just solid professionals. In Switzerland I would definitely point out FC St. Gallen, because I think they work very responsibly, and they are also very clear in their communication and don’t string people along. A “yes” is a “yes” and a “no” is a “no”.
This kind of rapport is what football agents crave, but we do not always get. In England, I really like Norwich City and I have enjoyed working with them. I have also had a good experience with Brighton & Hove Albion and Middlesbrough F.C. Leeds United are also a nice club. In the MLS I really like New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire. In Spain Alaves are a good club to work with as well as Espanyol. Clubs do vary and I can certainly also name several clubs that are difficult to work with!
I do like West Bromwich Albion. Many of the clubs change in terms of relegation and the people and the management change too, but these are the clubs that stick out in my mind. I have had a good relationship at Chelsea FC and Marina Granovskaia. I find her very correct and very professional. She is also very conscientious about responding to her emails which I really appreciate, because I know she is very busy and it is also nice to deal with another women in the industry. I respect her a lot.
Have you dealt with any particular managers through the years that have made a good impression. Are there managers at different levels that have shown particular faith in one of your clients or helped to go that extra mile to get the deal over the line?
Daniel Farke at Norwich City made a really big impression on me. I found this gentleman to be really intelligent, insightful, very human, engaging and entertaining to speak with. He also is full of lots of ideas. I like his approach; he is progressive and has a really open way of approaching how he wants to run the club together with the management of Norwich City and I rate him very highly.
Phil Parkinson is another manager that I like a lot. He is very honest and open. He is also reachable, many managers are not. Darren Moore who is currently at Doncaster Rovers. He is a really lovely guy and good to work with. I did have a meeting once with Tony Pulis and he was ok. The deal did not go through, but he was clear on his ideas.
It is difficult with managers because they have so much going on, so much on their plate and everyone wants a piece of them. I am just grateful when I actually get time with them to find out what is going on, and I appreciate when they give me the time because they are constantly hounded from people by all directions all the time.
We are currently in the midst of a transfer window which closes on 5th October. As a football agent may I ask your prediction of how the transfer window will look in future. Do you see any trends coming which may change the market. Do you have a prediction as to how the transfer market will develop in future?
I think it is true that this year has been very telling for the industry, mostly because of COVID-19 but also the fact that I think many of the parts of the industry in terms of the financial angle were getting out of control in terms of prices of transfers being paid by teams particularly in the top leagues. COVID-19 is a clear and very sobering experience for everybody on a global level. It has really forced other clubs to examine what is really going on.
The cutbacks which came and the financial constraints which followed as a result I think have been a hard -hitting reality where clubs have had to be creative to see how they move forward. I think in general there has been price pressure down even before COVID-19 especially in the English Championship and also on wages – it was something which was going to happen naturally.
COVID-19 just accelerated it. Going forward, I think the industry is going to take a more conservative approach and I have even seen in the current transfer window many clubs are going for free transfers and loans and they are not playing the prices they were before. The excess overflow of players in the market has made it a buyers’ market for sure. It is really in the clubs’ hands as they have a lot to choose from. They do not have to pay such high prices anymore, and this will create a certain sense of competitiveness going forward. Also with Brexit around the corner, that this could really open up things in terms of the English clubs taking more risks in foreign markets such as South America. There is more and more recruitment done on the basis of data and artificial intelligence finding interesting kids across the world which otherwise they would not be scouted. I would expect that there is going to be more diversity, but perhaps we are going to see lower numbers at least in the middle tier, not necessarily in the absolute top range of the male clubs.
I do think that the financial realities will ring true. We have already seen this with the salary caps in League One as well as in foreign leagues who do not drive on TV money such as Switzerland for example. The clubs rise and fall over time with ticket sales and sponsorship and being privately owned, so now they have had to completely reinvent themselves and things are not happening. One has to be very creative. I think the managers are going to have to be even more creative than ever now, and they will have to find ways to create sharp squads with less money.
Finally Stephanie, You are a football agent with a lot of experience worldwide in terms of players and managers, is there anything in particular that you would like to achieve as an agent in future, do you have any personal goals or ambitions?
I am currently working on a project at the moment which has been a little brainchild of mine for the last couple of years.
I am trying to develop more player movement between Argentina and England. I am half Argentine myself and Spanish is a native language of mine. I believe it will be a really exciting opportunity to try and develop this and create a situation where the clubs have the confidence, inside information and the knowhow to identify a person of trust as someone like myself or my team at Asmantra to be able to create this cultural bridge between these two markets.
There is so much curiosity and interest on the British side, and there is such a hotbed of talent in Argentina. It presents many good opportunities and many interesting and creative deals to be done.
There is also an incredible amount of hunger on behalf of the player to join these leagues. Fortunately, there is big interest to be able to start to do things differently in the UK.
You have, for example, clubs like Brighton & Hove Albion and Graham Potter who is an excellent case in point from a manager who does like to look for these gems and wants to play creative, exciting football. Alexis Mac Allister signing was a great pioneer in this type of thinking, because of Brighton & Hove Albion’s ownership and risk-taking approach. I think they are the perfect club to take him on and it is my wish that we can develop this and that I can be a point of trust, knowledge and authority to develop these projects. My passion is really building projects rather than just moving players; this is something I would like to develop for my company and myself.