Among all type of professionals working in the football world, one of the less known, more misunderstood and less described – if not from a very superficial point of view – is the football agent. We are talking about a critical role of the Beautiful Game, able with his daily work to have a direct or indirect impact in the future of a player, a club and sometimes even a league.

Indeed, agents and agencies take care of a footballer’s sports career and, in certain situations, also of several aspects of his private life outside of the pitch. Their first and main goal will always be serving the interests of their clients. Even though, the agents’ business is often judged according to anything but professional criteria, influenced, in the people’s perception, by the role they have in the players’ transfer market.

So, after talking with UC Sampdoria’s Fabio Papagni about the head scout profession – you can find his interview here – for the second episode of Wyscout Talks we decided to visit one of the biggest and most influential football agencies in Europe. Our journey brought us to Lisbon, among the narrow streets of Alfama, the stands of the Estádio da Luz, ending up at Almada – a little town separated from Lisbon by the Ponte 25 de Abril, similar to the Golden Gate Bridge – where ProEleven headquarters are.

 

It’s all about trust

The first place where we meet Vítor Gonçalves, who manages ProEleven alongside his brother Carlos, is just the perfect example of delivering a flawless presentation and attitude towards their guests: the Skybox at the Estádio da Luz is one of the many they have across Europe and Portugal.

But the glorious buffet and the four rows of reserved seats for the guests are not just a comfortable place where watching the game – it takes just a few minutes with Vítor and his team to understand how inside the Skybox the activity is hectic. Vítor entertains his guests – one of them is a client that plays in Turkey – he speaks on the phone and watches the match, where Benfica is playing the Europa League round-of-sixteen against Galatasaray. Building relationships based on trust, strengthen them, and consolidate them through time is not an easy job and – quoting Vítor Gonçalves’ words – “trust, in our line of work, is everything.”

“We’ve been working in this line of work for 19 years and it took time for us to build relationships based on trust. But it can only take seconds to break them. It’s crucial to have a daily, direct and honest dialogue with our clients and partners. To us, networking is about talking with everyone: our clients, clubs, other agents. Football today is global, everybody knows each other. That’s why is so important to build long-standing relationships based on mutual trust.”

 

Beginnings

Trust, we understood it in a few minutes, is a key element in the ProEleven team, that has grown fast over the last years and wants to become even bigger and more important. As confirmed by Vítor himself, talking about the birth and development of the Portuguese agency’s family (team is a reductive term).

“This journey began in the year 2000 with my brother, Carlos Gonçalves, that took his license and founded the agency on his own. We’ve reached this level thanks to our hard work and persistence, surrounding ourselves with talented and skilful people, that now is our team. But everything started with Carlos and his will to follow his dream.”

This dream has now become a solid and affirmed reality, and activity with a thousand facets, mostly unknown to football fans. Managing a football agency involves challenges, risks, uncertainties and – if you work well – massive satisfaction.

 

ProEleven today

The next day, we move to Almada, where ProEleven has its headquarters. It’s one of the three offices that the agency has in Portugal – two in the Lisbon area and one up north, near Porto – where over 30 people work on a daily basis. The importance of the team within ProEleven is highlighted further when we sit to talk with Vítor Gonçalves once again.

“You can’t compare the work that a team can do to what a single agent can do. As a team, we have different personalities and skills and we’re able to reach a number of clients that would be impossible for a single individual; we create a synergy. For instance, only for the transfer market, we have 9 persons, that we call coordinators, that manages 42 countries. That would be impossible for a lone agent.”

After all, as Vítor himself tells us, competition has become ferocious in the last years – in Portugal, 25 agents have become almost 200 – and the “only the strong survive” motto has become more current than ever. Small agents can survive for a couple of years but eventually, if they don’t manage to succeed, they will disappear. “I think that in the future”, says Vítor, “only agencies will exist.”

Clear goals

Even though the agents business is a job with thousands of facets, their main goal is very straight and clear. “Our only duty is towards our clients”, Vítor tells us. “We must know what they want all the time, in every moment of their career. And we have to help them achieve their goals.” This means dealing with very different personalities, each one with its need and hopes for the future.

“Every player is unique in his own way and then, depending on the stage of his career, he will have very different needs. The same player may want something at 20 and then a completely different thing at 31 or 32. We have to understand their need and help them constantly. Then, of course, we have to give them advice based on our experience but players must understand that every choice they will make will entails some risks.”

Footballers’ future is at stake, so as agents’ one. Thanks to its professionalism, reliability and perseverance, ProEleven secured a prominent spot in today’s football world, and it’s ready to level up the game even more. “Today, 95% of our clients have been recruited in Portugal and we want to increase the percentage of players recruited abroad. We’re planning to open new offices in other countries to reach, within the next five years, a client list of 400 players, being present in more than 40 countries worldwide.”

 

Working internationally

Anyhow, ProEleven is already a global agency, extending his reach way beyond the Portugues borders. This, of course, entails personal and professional challenges for agents. We talked with Vasco Casquilho who, among other things, manages the American market, especially the MLS, to understand which are the main ones.

“Of course, this is firstly a personal challenge because travelling this much means you have less time to spend with your family”, Vasco tells us. “Then, there’s the business aspect. Football is such a global business that on the same day you can find yourself dealing with the Japanese in the morning and with the Americans in the afternoon. We’re talking about different languages, different cultures, a different way of doing business and interpreting football.” Of course, the importance of trustable relationships is even more critical when it comes to international business.

“The most important part of the challenge has to be creating solid relationships and you can’t do that by sitting in your office. You have to travel, meet people, be there for them. Especially when you’re exploring a new market and you don’t know anyone, you have to go there several times, to meet people and create relationships. It’s something the requires time, money and great dedication. The final goal is to be a phone call away to make something happen.”

Technology

In helping them to keep up with modern global football there’s technology, that allows them to scout, monitor and compares performances of clients – actual and potential – and clubs. We asked Óscar Botelho, Profile Analyst at ProEleven, to tell us how they manage this activity.

“First of all, let me say that, as I always tell my friends, Wyscout for me is the Eighth Wonder of the World, without which I couldn’t do my job. Here at ProEleven, we have, and we look for players all over the world and it’s incredible to watch them with just a few clicks. We also have to look for players for the clubs we work with, for our partners and to recommend them to our coaches. We must check their skills, especially during the transfer market, when someone asks us for a player in a determinate position and with determinate skills. For all this, we use Wyscout.”

Scouting is crucial within a football management agency, just like taking advantage of stats and advanced metrics, as confirmed by João Bastos, ProEleven’s Data Scientist. “Nowadays, using data is fundamental and ProEleven makes no exception”, he says. “In the last years we made a huge step ahead in integrating stats within our daily work and today we use them in many different ways. Firstly, we use them to monitor the performances of our players, sharing reports with them about their games and their numbers, always put into the right perspective. We also use statistics with our clients that ask us for a specific player, using them to find the ideal profiles and to compare them with other players of the league where the clubs play in. That’s why we also make predictive analysis, with the goal to statistically anticipate how a player will improve in a new league, and how he will fit in it.”

Technology also means media and social media, an aspect of the Game that a big agency like ProEleven can’t ignore. Our last chat is with Jean-Paul Lares, Communication Director, who tells us how “you have to acknowledge the importance that media and media outlets have today in football. We often have to defuse some rumours about possible transfers, as we want to have the maximum confidentiality in the relationships with our clients.”

 

What can’t really be considered as a secret is ProEleven’s will to assert itself as one of the most important agencies in the world, and everything we have seen in the days spent with the team makes us believe that they could really make it happen. For sure, we learned a lot about what it means to be a football agent, about the challenges this job entails, that are way more than simply participating in the transfer market.
As you have seen, there’s a lot more at stake.

Watch the complete interview here!