As someone who keeps a keen eye on the world of intellectual property infringements, scams and frauds, and how we can all play our part in avoiding them, I read with interest an excellent piece written by Joey D’Urso in The Athletic this week about an increasing trend in fake agents defrauding players.
D’Urso’s story focuses on a Step 4 player in the Non-League game who was approached by an individual through his Instagram page. The individual claimed he was an agent and could secure trials for the player at a professional club, suggesting that it would be easier to arrange at an overseas club. The two continued their conversations in private before the “agent” told the player that Belenenses SAD, who play in the Portuguese Primeira League, wanted to take him on a week’s trial in Lisbon.
As you can imagine, the thought of playing against the likes of Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Porto in some of Europe’s best stadiums, on professional terms, was hugely exciting for the player who was used to playing in front of crowds of a few hundred and he jumped at the opportunity being offered to him. The agent sent across an agreement for the player to sign to get the wheels in motion. However, there was one outstanding item that needed to be sorted – the payment of a deposit of around £900 to the agent, which would be refunded on the second day of the trial.
Such an opportunity was too good to miss and so the player borrowed the cash from a friend and sent it to the agent. At first he heard nothing and then he was blocked by the individual on Instagram when he tried to follow up on progress. It is fair to say that the player will never see that cash again or that there was ever an offer of a trial from the Portuguese team.
FIFAPro, the worldwide organisation for professional players, recognise the case as part of a growing problem in the global game and have cited similar cases from Australia to Paraguay and many countries in between. The modus operandi always seems to be contact through social media and from individuals who appear to be based in Slovakia.
Whilst in this case the player suffered only moderate financial damage, there is a much wider problem that still exists in the global game related to human trafficking. An article in Inside World Football earlier this month encapsulated the issues caused by criminal gangs operating in many regions of Africa who look to recruit players for cash:
“Sport inadvertently creates a perfect storm for organised crime syndicates or opportunists, to infiltrate, defraud and exploit the young people, in a global market where there are significant gaps in sports governance, education, and supply chain monitoring for talent identification and recruitment. This exposes youth, who placed their trust in unregulated sports clubs or unscrupulous agents, to the imminent threats of trafficking or smuggling.”
Football often claims to operate outside the realms of normal business activity, with the insane amounts of money that flows at the top of the global game making it a very lucrative market for fraudsters to try to exploit. The aspirational pull of the professional game is one that seduces players especially those just starting off in their careers or playing at a level where they may not get spotted by professional clubs and fraudsters will naturally try to take advantage of that, as we have seen in the case highlighted by Joey D’Urso.
Football agents have had a bad rep in the past and the growing number of scams that see players defrauded does not help their case, but these are still few and far between thankfully. Fake agents exist not only in other sports but in the entertainment business, but when it starts to hit close to home there is a need for caution and warnings for all players. Any solicitation which looks too good to be true should be verified with the authorities such as national football governing bodies or FIFAPro themselves. Even asking for references of other players an agent has worked with previous could sound alarm bells if none are forthcoming.