Football agents who can spot talent and 'sell' their proteges to big European clubs can and do earn fortunes for the players as well as themselves. Some professionally registered African agents have unearthed great stars from the continent but the industry is now reeling from a swarm of unregistered 'agents' who con aspiring young players and their parents with dreams of glory they cannot deliver. But faced with this problem, Fifa, to everyone's surprise, has opted for less regulation rather than tighter policing. Report by Leslie Gordon Goffe.
Football is a business, not a game, to the thousands of Africans who have set up shop as sports agents intent on getting a piece of the $30obn global soccer industry by signing footballers they believe will become big name, big money players in the big football leagues in Europe.
With an agent taking a commission of as much as 10% of a player's transfer contract, salary, and any endorsements or other business deals, discovering and signing a footballer who goes on later to become a superstar like Cameroonian Samuel Eto'o--who was at one time the world's highest-paid player with a salary of $27111 a year--could make a lucky agent millions.
"This is a big business, and everybody wants a part of it," says Ralph Nkomo, a Zimbabwe-born, South Africa-based football agent who has represented some of the best-known names in African football. His clients include players such as Zimbabwean Benjani Mwaruwari, a top goal-scorer who has played for Manchester City, and Beninese midfielder , who plays for West Bromwich Albion in England.
Nkomo owns and operates his own player agency and management company in South Africa, Ralph Sports International. For many years he worked as the chief scout in Africa for England's Portsmouth football club, and reckons during this time he helped arrange more than $100m in transfers involving African players.
"When you have a big player you can tell a team to 'show me the money', like Jerry Maguire in that film," says Nkomo, referring to the sports agent played by Tom Cruise in the Hollywood film Jerry Maguire.
"But, if you bring a team a player who is not up to it, they will not call you back again. It takes skill to be a good deal maker, skill."
Working as a football agent really does take skill, Nkomo says. It takes skill brokering and negotiating employment contracts and securing endorsement and other investment opportunities, he says. And it takes yet more skill, Nkomo says, for an agent to keep current and up to date on finance, business management and risk analysis in an ever-changing sports marketplace.
A lucrative business
There is money in it too. Nkomo's business has bought him a nice house in a good neigh-bourhood and several luxury cars...