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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 February 2019

Like top-flight footballers, we should all get other people to manage our careers for us

Feel like your working life is floundering in the lower leagues? Perhaps an agent could change your fortunes

Barcelona's new forward Kevin-Prince Boateng arriving for his official presentation at Camp Nou. AFP
Barcelona's new forward Kevin-Prince Boateng arriving for his official presentation at Camp Nou. AFP

Professional footballers occupy a rarefied plane of existence, far away from the problems and concerns of normal human life. So distant is the space they inhabit that it seems futile to look to their lives for strategies that we might implement in our own.

After all, what useful lessons could we possibly learn from people who are paid millions a year to kick a ball about for 90 minutes once a week? Take Mesut Ozil for example. This month, the German Arsenal midfielder signed a new £350,000 (Dh1.7 million) a week contract, but has only made 14 Premier League appearances in the past six months. Not bad work, if you can get it.

Lacking the necessary funds to buy Range Rovers, move to Monaco or launch our own sportswear lines, it would seem that there are few ways that most of us can live up to their example. However, there is one thing that even the most unathletic could learn from professional sports people: we should all get other people to manage our careers for us.

The start of this month saw the mid-season winter window for player transfers close all over the European leagues. The January mid-season transfer window is traditionally when teams desperate to shore up ragged squads or salvage lacklustre seasons hit the market. For agents, it’s a time to make bales of commission while a lucrative sun shines.

Agents are the lubricants that make the wheels of international club football turn. They transform budding talents into stars, and those stars into multi-millionaires. Basically, they manage careers in truly remarkable ways.

Consider just three of the many transfers that have taken place over the last few weeks.

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Marouane Fellaini was leaving Manchester United to join China’s Shandong Luneng. This signing will surely be the Belgian player’s swansong. But what a swansong it will be. According to some reports he will take home $12m (Dh44m) a year for the next three years. That will make him one of the highest-paid footballers in the world. Pretty good for a midfielder who was always seen as a bit of an oddball at Man U, and managed just 12 goals and 2 assists in the last five-and-a-half seasons.

Then there’s Ryan Babel who has just joined Premier League strugglers Fulham from the Istanbul side Besiktas. Babel is no stranger to the premiership. The Dutch winger signed for Liverpool in 2007, but after shining briefly, his career floundered. In December 2015, he was languishing in the reserves at Al Ain, in the UAE’s Arabian Gulf League. But since then, he has enjoyed a career renaissance.

Then we come to perhaps the most eye-catching of all the January transfers: that of Kevin Prince Boateng. The 31-year-old’s move, on loan, to Barcelona makes very little sense at face value. Barcelona is, arguably, the greatest club in world football. Boateng, meanwhile, has played for 10 clubs in the last 11 years. His career has taken him everywhere from Portsmouth to AC Milan, Eintracht Frankfurt, Las Palmas in Spain and the northern Italian side Sassuolo. At no point during all these travels has Boateng scored more than 10 goals in a season. For Barcelona, it is an inexpensive punt on a potentially useful player. For Boateng, it is a chance of a lifetime.

In all the above cases, agents have played a vital role in securing contracts that will earn these men genuine fortunes in the latter stages of their careers. And football is not the only arena in which this is the case. Boxing, basketball, baseball and American football are all prime examples of sports in which agents play a pivotal role – so much so that the Hollywood movie Jerry Maguire has now become a pop-cultural touchstone.

Agents are true game-changers, leveraging personal relationships and insider knowledge to gain the best deals for their clients. Outside of a few specialist companies catering to high-flying professionals, such services are not available to people who work regular jobs. However, they should be. The last time most of us receive any formal career guidance is at school or university – a point when we generally have little practical experience of work or the world at large. Imagine how useful it would be to have a tough-talking negotiator on your team when you really know what you want to achieve in your working life.

Left to their own devices, it is unlikely that the vast majority of professional athletes would make a fraction of the money they do. Instead, they would probably be like the rest of us, trudging along in the lower leagues, updating whatever their equivalent of LinkedIn is, hoping that someone out there notices their painstakingly drafted CV, track record and “diverse portfolio of skills”.

Sidin Vadukut is an Indian author and historian, who lives in London

Updated: February 10, 2019 12:54 PM

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