Views on the football market from a top agent: An interview with Erkut Sögüt – agent for Mesut Ozil

Published 17 October 2019 By: Manan Agrawal

Erkut Sogul

Recently, football lawyer Daniel Geey and football agent Erkut Sögüt attended Mumbai to help teach The Football Business Certificate, educating current and future leaders about best practices of the global football industry. While there, Daniel and Erkut kindly agreed to answer some questions for me on topical issues in football. In this interview, I asked Erkut for his opinions on the following questions:

  • What exactly is the role of a football agent?

  • What is your view on regulation of intermediaries in football?

  • What regulations would you want to see come into effect?

  • What role does social media play in your job?

  • What are some of the most memorable deals that you have been part of?

  • What do you feel needs to change to help improve the situation and make sure that such scapegoating (re Mesut Ozil case) never happens again?

  • How do you deal with player safety off the pitch in light of the Sead Kolasinac attempted car robbery incident?

  • What impact will Brexit have for you?

Click here to see my related interview with leading football lawyer, Daniel Geey.

What exactly is the role of a football agent? 

I would say that there are two kinds of agents. One is where the agent is a deal broker who brings the parties together. The other kind of agent works 24/7 next to the player, looking after his media, his interviews, commercial deals, social work, literally everything that a player may need. Some agents, like me, try to do both. I have some players for whom I do the 24/7, 360-degree management and I have some cases where I broker deals with other agents.

What is your view on regulation of intermediaries in football?

The regulations right now are not good enough to regulate the world of agents. Since 2015, which is when FIFA gave up the job, it has been up to each country to regulate agents. This has led to an unregulated chaos, making it especially difficult for agents working on a cross border deals as every country now has its own rules. Some countries require you to write an exam, for example, in France. So you may be brokering a deal in the summer and they may ask you to write the exam and get registered for you to do the deal but the exam is held in December. You are then forced to partner with a local agent in that country and share your commission. We need better regulations, especially on the education side. I am a big advocator for educating agents and I want agents to be regulated in a transparent way, in an educated way. For example, agents should be required to pass an exam to work as an agent. It is good for themselves, good for their clients and also good for football in general.

Are there any specific regulations that you would want to see come into effect?

One of the most important things, as I said, is to have an exam. It should be more difficult to enter the business than it is right now. It shouldn’t be enough to just register and pay a fee. Also, a background check on criminal records should be carried out prior to being registered as an agent. It should also be more transparent. This means that if I represent a player, this should be open information for anyone in the business and anyone could log onto a portal at FIFA to see who is representing a certain player, since often there is a lot of confusion regarding who the agent is. Having it centralized, everyone would know who to contact and whether the representation contract is legal, etc.

You have written the only book on how to become a football agent & you have also travelled widely to educate people on the future of football. What drives you to travel all around the world to educate people?

I think by sharing my theoretical and practical knowledge, I grow. I am a teacher and that is my background. I am a professor at different universities, I love teaching, I love developing people and seeing them get better. Furthermore, I want to have good partners in the business. I realise that I have to educate my own partners with whom I can work with in different countries. I need to see them, I need to teach them, I need to mentor them and, in future, I might to deals with them in these countries. Lot of people are scared about sharing knowledge and are very cautious about that. I am totally opposite to that. If someone is confident in themselves then they will share their knowledge with others. It’s very important to educate others and to give them a chance to be successful.

What role does social media play in your job? 

Social media plays a very big role nowadays. The social media of a player is like his very own media channel. In the past, players did not have a channel to get out and in touch with the fans and so the clubs were the only ones who had direct access to media. Now, with social media, players do not need traditional media anymore since they essentially have their own media and they can do whatever they wish to on such channels. Social media gives players a voice. If you have lots of followers spread out across the world which are growing in number, that means that your power is growing as well. Social media is a very powerful tool and it is very important to use it for a good cause and to be a good example as a player, do charitable things and show that you can rise to the fore and do something good and inspire others to do it as well.

What are some of the most memorable deals that you have been part of? They could be memorable for the right or wrong reasons.

I have been involved in so many memorable transfers, each one is memorable in its own way. Even if the money involved is less than others, it is always nice to finalise a transfer. One of the best moments as an agent is when I do a deal for a young player to sign his first professional contract. To see that feeling in the eyes of the player and the family after the contract is signed is amazing. With a bigger player, it is not really the same, even if the transfer is bigger. These players are already professional and earn a lot of money but for me, the most memorable deals are the ones where you can help a young player make it as a professional and this feeling pushes me to do more.

One of your major clients, Mesut Ozil, has been in the news a lot over the last couple of years. His series of posts on Twitter announcing his retirement in the wake of Germany’s exit finally shone the light on the discrimination existing in the game. What do you feel needs to change to help improve the situation and make sure this never happens again? Is there any chance left for us to watch Mesut weave his magic in a Germany shirt again?

I would say that never say never in football. Obviously, the decision to retire from the German national team was his and we as his team respect it and stand behind his decision. It is very unlikely to be honest, but you never know. Unfortunately, racism is not only a German phenomenon, it exists in various countries in the world. It is fast growing and is very scary. I think, in that moment, a lot of people used Mesut’s picture with the President to display their racism. It was not about the picture; it was that it was finally time for them to bring out their racism which was there for years and years and that picture helped them release that aggression. Mesut has been meeting with the President for the last 10-years, but no one has a problem with that and it suddenly developed into a massive issue. The picture was just an excuse to be racist. Racism is a huge issue which has permeated to the core of the society, not just in Germany but in many countries in Europe.

How can we work together to counter this issue, both in sport as well as society in general?

Education. Education is always the answer to these things. Education, as early as possible. There are several campaigns which bring football players together and state ‘Say No to Racism’ but I do not think that they are enough. Racism is a problem which starts from the schools, in the society where you need to educate people and change the mindset of people. Football is a good tool to counter racism and it does a lot of work. I will give you an example. After France won the World Cup, Trevor Noah said that Africa won the World Cup. The French ambassador wrote him a letter to say that Africa did not win the World Cup and France did. All these players are French citizens and are not Africans. This is, unfortunately, the mindset of the European people, not just German. Why can they not be both African and French at the same time? Why can people not be Turkish and German at the same time? It is, in fact, a good thing and very enriching to have a blend of two cultures. Why is it a negative thing for Trevor Noah to say that Africa won the World Cup? These are kids with African roots coming to France and winning the World Cup for France. Yes, they are French, but they are also African. Similarly, people can be Turkish but also German. They can be both and do not have to choose between them.

Mesut was again in the news for the horrific robbery attempt of his car along with Sead Kolasinac forcing both of them to miss the start of the season. How difficult is it to deal with such a situation? 

Football is one thing and the life of the player is another thing. The health and security of the player is paramount. In such situations, they require mental and psychological support and to come back soon to football, which they did and now everything is fine. It became a bigger thing than it really was because that video came out. If that video would have not been out, no one would ever know about it. It is the media attention which exacerbated the entire situation. I think I read a report recently which stated that knife related robberies grew in London 300% or 500% over the past few years and is a growing concern in London. Even though these were not organised criminals, it was still scary. I think that London needs more policemen.

Since you have brought up the lack of policemen and looking at you being a Turkish-German living in London, what is your view on the impending Brexit and what it means for you personally and the entire football industry in the UK?

I think no one really knows what will happen, including the politicians, considering the uncertainty surrounding the entire situation. However, I think football will continue to have its own rules and they will find a way to create different rules for football for transfers of players to go the same way that they do now. At the moment, England is separated from the world for transfers anyway since there are certain requirements for international players to come and play in England - like they have to play a certain number of minutes for their national teams. So, it is already quite restricted for a footballer to come play in England and how much more restrictive can it get? The Premier League is a big product and they would want to continue selling it worldwide. Even if Brexit happens and has a negative impact, I think they will find ways to change rules for football to keep it going without any effect. Brexit is not really a factor in an agent’s mind when considering bringing a player to England. Right now, Norway and Switzerland are not part of the EU but the rules of football under EU still apply to them and I think that might be the same with England.

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Author

Manan Agrawal

Manan Agrawal

Naik Naik & Co., Mumbai

Manangraduated from Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai and currently works at Naik Naik & Co., Mumbai in the Media and Entertainment Non Litigation team.

He holds a keen interest in sports law and has been selected as a Mentee in the inaugral LawInSport Mentorship Scheme, being mentored by the CEO of LawInSport, Sean Cottrell.