Becoming Agents of Change

Evolving Player Representation for the Greater Good

In 2017, Spielerrat became the first player agency to take the 1% pledge and last week were part of a coalition of 13 football agencies to unite behind a project powered by Common Goal - helping support some of Germany’s most vulnerable people during COVID-19 and beyond. Back in March, Thorsten Wirth, Co-Founder of Spielerrat, an agency that manages top tier football professionals like Serge Gnabry, Kai Havertz and Per Mertesacker, shared his thoughts on how player agencies can contribute to a vision of football as a force for good.

By Thorsten Wirth

For professional footballers at the top of their game, life is 100% football. Also for us, as a player agency. It is easy to become trapped within the bubble of this football world.

At Spielerrat, our work has always been about more than the love of the sport. It has gone beyond what footballers are generally deemed to be, applauded for and the duration of their careers on the pitch.

One of our main aims is to achieve long-term success with the athletes we manage before, during and after their careers. We seek to create better people both on and off the pitch.

A player’s performance consists of a set of physical capabilities and skills: the speed at which they can run, how hard they can shoot, how fast they can turn, how high they can jump to take a header.

These hard skills are important, but they aren’t effective in isolation. They are influenced by other factors: how is it going at home right now, do you feel good, are you in harmony with yourself.

At the basis of everything is personal development. You can run, shoot, jump as fast, hard, high as you like, but if you are constantly questioning yourself, then you won’t be able to perform on the pitch.

Thorsten Wirth (second from left) alongside the Spielerrat team. Photo: Spielerrat.

The modern day world of football is not a place that generally promotes personal development and self-reflection. The day-to-day reality of a player is strongly shaped by social media, and status symbols. It is also about a certain lifestyle.

As an agency, it is our responsibility to fill this gap, to hold up the mirror for our players and prompt them to regularly take a moment to reflect.

From the moment a player embarks on his professional career at the age of 14 or 15, he is surrounded by an entourage that takes care of every aspect of his life so that he can focus all of his efforts on the game.

These young people have never looked for an apartment, have never written a CV, they have never even had to think about which driving school to go to. I cannot blame any young player for that, they are sometimes simply a product of the environment they grow up in as a top talent.

And the reality is as well, that sometimes players simply do not have the chance to manage their normal life.

We are part of this system, but it is also our job to enable players to regain their self-sufficiency and take on responsibility. For us it is of paramount importance that we manage to offer players something meaningful – a wider purpose – in addition to all of the football-related issues they deal with day in day out.

Kai Havertz is represented by Spielerrat. Photo: Spielerrat.

Having only a single focus is precarious. The moment a player gets injured or something throws them off course, the foundation of their life crumbles and they are left standing at a gaping precipice.

The same goes for the end of a playing career. If you can then say to yourself, ‘I have two or three other things in my life and that I am proud of’, then that has a significant effect on a player’s personal development and on their overall mind set.

When we first heard about Common Goal through Juan Mata’s public appeal, we immediately saw how well it matched what we were trying to achieve. It was a construct, a platform, that we would never have been able to instigate ourselves. We were keen to get involved with our players but also as an agency.

Our first point of contact with Common Goal was through Serge Gnabry. “I want to do something, I want to give back and I want to do it through football,” he said.

But he didn’t stop there: He also wanted to somehow reflect his African roots, as well as doing something in the area of his home-town Stuttgart. Those were his wishes. Very specific. And rather complex, you might say.

We connected the dots – ‘Hey, what about Common Goal!’ – and, together, ticked all of those boxes. As well as enabling Serge to make an impact with one percent of his salary in a highly personalised way, he would also have the opportunity for visits to the people and programmes he was supporting.

Serge’s commitment to Common Goal came in the very early stages of the movement, when its focus was still solely on players.

When it slowly began to expand including the first coaches and managers, we thought, ‘It can be about more than players and trainers. It should be the whole industry: clubs, associations, sponsors. What about an agency?’ 

First and foremost, you can’t approach a player as an agency, tell them about Common Goal and encourage them to get involved if you’re not a part of it yourself. It’s a question of credibility, it’s about leading by example.

Common Goal member Serge Gnabry is also represented by Spielerrat. Photo: Spielerrat.

I think that if you conducted a survey on the street asking people what they thought about player agents, it is likely that 80% of the responses would not be particularly positive.

‘They are driven by profit’, ‘They are selfish’, ‘They are damaging football’ are frequent comments. In my opinion, the negative sides of our business are overly discussed in public, while the many good aspects hardly ever feature.

Through Common Goal, we would like to come as a positive surprise. Perhaps people will start to say ‘Look at what this and other agencies are doing, perhaps they’re not so selfish after all and also want to do their bit.’

Who knows, maybe football will have its own financial crisis and this economic powerhouse will fall to pieces one day.

Over the next 5-10 years, however, I foresee the football industry continuing to experience economic growth, rendering discussions surrounding the industry’s revenues ever more pertinent. How do we justify exponential transfer sums, television broadcast revenues, agency fees?

These aren’t easy matters to resolve and I believe that there isn’t a simple yes or no answer. As a response, I sincerely hope that all of us working within this football system and making a good living from it, can offer up credibility and trustworthiness.

We can show that yes, a lot of money is being moved around, but we are being pro-active and using our position to give back.

Currently, there are 3 or 4 agencies involved in Common Goal, including ourselves. That we are not more is something for which I hold us accountable. Though we may be rivals in this business, we are all part of the same system.

So, when we meet on the side lines of the pitch, we can speak to each other as colleagues and see how we can shape a better future together, enthuse others about important initiatives like Common Goal and motivate them to get involved.

If we speak to each other and more and more players, coaches and agents get involved, we can lead by example and embed 1% giving into our work.

Eventually, it will become the norm and – in ten years time – the world will be a better place. Both on and off the pitch.

This article first appeared in the Football4Good Magazine: March 2020 - Read the full article by clicking here.