Life is all about cycles. People grow up and move homes. We change schools, friends, partners and careers. Business is much the same and what I’ve found is that some of the principles with which I founded Max Eppel Soccer Agency LLC (“MESA”) have changed and some of my original clients have moved on. One thing has remained constant though. I will never shift in my understanding that to be an effective Agent, I must always act in my clients’ best interests. However, this raises the question “what exactly are my clients’ best interests?”
It’s my view that they change over time. Sometimes the best advice one can offer a player is that he should sit tight, remain professional, work hard in training and take his chance when it comes. Other players need very little input and others still require constant attention, all of which is perfectly acceptable. However, there comes a time when the best advice to offer is that we have reached the end of the road.
I must say that when I started MESA, I did not envisage myself having to give this piece of advice too often because it means, to some degree or another, that our original plan has not come to pass. That plan is to build a successful career in the professional soccer ranks. In an industry that has a 99% failure rate—for every professional soccer player currently playing, there are some 20,000 who do not make the grade—the numbers are against us from the outset. This should not act as a deterrent. If you want this badly enough, then pursue it with all your vim and vigour and expect your Agent to do likewise.
Fortunately, I have not had to say those words to too many clients. Perhaps 2 or 3 times over the last 3 years, which I feel is a pretty good rate, based on the above figures. But when it becomes apparent that we are really at the end of the road—that all options have been exhausted or the relationship has deteriorated to such an extent that to continue to enforce the Representation Contract, whether from the player or from my point of view, is unproductive at best and detrimental to both parties at worst—then there is nothing to do except shake hands like gentlemen, where possible, and move on without any hard feelings.
It is important to bear in mind when reading this article that I make an emotional investment in my clients as well as, of course, a professional one. I get to know them as people because if the chemistry is right between us then the working relationship will flourish. If I find them objectionable, or indeed they find me to be so, then the chances of it working are severely diminished. If they look good on paper, then I will watch them in at least 3 full games, preferably live (but if that is not possible, then on DVD). I will speak with the player at length on the phone (and his parents if that’s necessary) and will also conduct my own due diligence such as speaking with other Agents, coaches and scouts about the player. Then the work begins.
Of course, just because I see something I like in the player and this is in turn corroborated by external sources, it does not mean that he will make it. I will prepare a professional CV (resume), ensure his DVD library is up-to-date and obtain written references to send out with his marketing package. This is all time-consuming and there is a certain amount of financial outlay involved. I will then speak to clubs on his behalf and arrange trials. This entire process can sometimes happen very quickly, but is more likely to take a few months to enable me to ensure this is a player worth investing in.
What has been especially revealing is that some players who I had earmarked as being sensible young men with an appreciation of just how much dedication it takes to play professionally have shown themselves to be quite the opposite. Patience also seems to be a lost art these days. There is also a sense of entitlement with a lot of the younger players, which makes it harder to work with them if things don’t go according to plan immediately.
For me, if the player shows himself to be unwilling or unable to do what it takes to seize the opportunities I create for him, then my desire to work for him rapidly dissipates. And by the same token, the risk to my relationships with clubs which are painstakingly cultivated to ensure I can do my job for those selfsame clients increases exponentially.
So, what exactly happens when the only thing left to do is to walk away? When does it seem that the needs of the clients are best served by calling it a day? Generally speaking, I only operate under exclusive Representation Contracts—meaning that the player cannot approach other Agents and they cannot approach him for the term of the contract. If I send a player on several trials and the feedback I receive from the coaches is negative, then that’s a sign that it’s time to talk. Just because I was unable to secure the next stage of his career through my efforts does not necessarily mean that another Agent and another set of circumstances will not see that same player shine. To deny him that chance due to the terms of the contract would be unfair and selfish on my behalf.
Other circumstances can be where the player simply fails to take the negative feedback into account (fitness and attitude are the 2 main ones) and consistently performs to the same poor standards, without getting in shape in between trials or really questioning himself as to what he could do better next time and taking action to ensure it does not happen again. Chances are few and far between and they must be grasped. Additionally, I am simply not prepared to jeopardise my business relationships through players performing badly.
Here is another crucial question. Has there been a time when it’s because of my actions that things go wrong? Over the last 3 years and with the clients I’m thinking about for this article, I can honestly say that that has not been the case. To say that it will remain so is totally hubristic and tempting fate, but so far it has not been so. Of course, these players may beg to differ…!
To conclude, and put it simply, the time to move on is when the end of the road has been reached and there is no definitive set of circumstances to which I can point to indicate when exactly one crosses this threshold. Accepting that it’s not possible to help everyone and that I may not, in fact, be the best person to progress a particular player’s career is just a part of the job. Change is inevitable and the cycle begins anew when new players seek me out for representation.
Max Eppel is the Owner/Manager of Max Eppel Soccer Agency LLC, based in Newport Beach, CA & London, UK. He is a Players’ Agent Licensed by The FA (England) as well as being an English-qualified lawyer. For more information please visit www.maxeppelsocceragency.com.