There is a lot of mystery surrounding agents, after all what do they actually do apart from sit there and get given a pay cheque, this has all been a mystery until now.
Riad Djellab is determined to change these stereotypes, and start to make a change to what people think of him and his profession and to shine light on and reveal what the mysteries the job involves.
Djellab isn’t your typical agent from an accounting or legal background but that isn’t what sets him out from the others, to him, his clients are more than just customers, they are family.
He has a passion for the game that other agents lack, after all Riad knows what it is like to be a player and need someone representing him and looking out for him.
In his youth, Djellab was optimistic about the opportunity to succeed as a professional, with high hopes stemming from his time at league two outfit, Crawley Town.
However, a serious knee injury turned optimism to obliteration, side-lining the hopeful prospect for a significant period, hampering his chances of playing football at a high level.
With such a devastating injury at a key stage in a budding athlete’s career, the resulting effects hampered his progress detrimentally and left him with the solemn assessment of weighing up his options.
Fortunately for Djellab, there was light at the end of the tunnel as the opportunity was presented to complete a week’s work with his agent and learn the profession from there.
With the passion for football still burning in Djellab’s heart he knew after just a week with the agency that it was the right fit for him with his work ethic and love for the game, he put everything into it and took the leap of faith and started working at a sports management agency.
Djellab was successful in hitting the ground running with the agency after signing Eastbourne Borough player Ayman Gharbaoui, a talented young athlete and a long-time friend of Djellab.
This proved to be the perfect way for Djellab to get his foot in the door as Gharbaoui set the precedent of how Djellab would treat his clients, and despite already being a friend of his, Djellab maintained a professional approach throughout his career, making sure he has the same connection and care with every client.
Djellab’s line of work is competitive and highly challenging, and to succeed in the cutthroat business it is paramount that “You need to be likeable, and have good communication skills.”
Djellab also stressed how key connections are “It's easier when you when, you know, someone came into the game is now the powerful agent is one of the hardest things ever. If you don't know anyone, if you don't know a player is very hot or if you've never played to a top level.”
Despite hitting the ground running the job isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. “You never stop working. It's not a nine to five if a player or a club rings you at midnight, you're going to answer your phone in your best friend.”
“There's no routine. You wake up, you do this but obviously I like to structure my days. Tuesdays are match day so I’m going make sure I’m going to watch match whether it's one of my clients or whether it's scouting for a future client.
“Say your players playing the other end of the country, you've got to drive there, watch the game. Take the player out somewhere, maybe a restaurant, help builds a relationship.”
Djellab cannot afford the luxury to attend every one of his client’s games, however it is a priority to show an interest and maintain a positive relationship. “I will drop him a message asking how the game was, if he’s scored message him will done it’s the little things which help build the relationship like that.”
Over the past year everyone has suffered dramatic changes in their life with the coronavirus pandemic causing mass disruption across the globe, and it is no different for football agents such as Djellab.
With professional football clubs having to shut their stadiums until recently, it has been impossible for Djellab to go watch some of his clients play, however he has still been able to attend his semi pro client’s games.
The inability to attend professional fixtures has not affected Djellab’s work too heavily, however the impact on his clients has been damaging, and has taken its toll on the agent.
“Before Covid, clubs would give out three-year contracts maybe even four-year contract, but now we're starting to see one-year deals.”
Many people believe footballers are living the dream and should be grateful for the opportunity they have; it is undeniable that Covid has had a dramatic effect on their livelihood.
One-year contracts, one year at a club, one year settling in to a city then after a year having to move house, move their children’s schools, move away from the life they have built.
This is without mentioning the worry they have about their clubs staying afloat, with the risk of their clubs going bankrupt at any given opportunity due to the lack of fans and financial hardships an unwanted proposition.
In tough times like this, Djellab is committed to doing the best for his clients, with some clubs unwilling to negotiate keeping the clients in the loop of what is going on is key no matter how far they are away.
“I do a lot of work in Algeria and France it is hard to stay in contact at times but WhatsApp is good, you just have to know how to communicate so you keep everyone talking to everyone.”
Despite agents having a shielded life it is clear that certain managers can be very difficult with agents.
Djellab has had certain obstacles to overcome with an owner of one un-named club refusing to sign one of his clients purely because he is the agent, with no clear motive for this it does make you wonder why owners show this level of disrespect.
“I don’t know why this happened. I wasn’t taking much commission. The owner knows who he is, I’m not going to say who he is but he is known for controlling players and if the player doesn’t have an agent, he can control him very easily.”
Certain owners & managers have reputations of manipulating players and cutting their deals with the famous story of Peter Crouch and Gerry Francis claiming he doesn’t speak to agents in trying to convince him to come to QPR.
After the deal had be completed Francis called up Crouch’s agent, proceeding to laugh about how gullible Crouch was to fall for this.
The question is, was he gullible or was just he just a young and vulnerable football player with a vulture of manager ready to take advantage and exploit this?
“People say agents are ruining the game but football club owners are not stupid often they are multi-millionaires who have completed many contracts.
“So, imagine a 17-year-old player signing his first official contract, he’s obviously across the table from these people with no experience, the player is going to get taken advantage of.”
In spite of being mistreated Djellab works hard to work with owners & managers instead of against them which is clear that certain ‘super-agent’s do.
“If the manager has won the game message him congratulating him if the they’ve lost the game don’t go near him wait for him to win a game.” Djellab joked.
With Crawley and internet sensation manager John Yems being top of a list of managers you wouldn’t want to talk to after a heavy defeat, Djellab has very good familiarity with the club and Yems.
“He’s actually a really nice guy. I think the way he plays suits a certain style of footballer, I know the club and owners very well they are nice people.”
Behind the scenes on transfers
A common myth is that the transfer window is the Christmas for agents, the busiest time of year where all the money and all the deals are made.
“The transfer window is busy but before the transfer window the business starts, I am calling clubs all year building relationships seeing if they are interested in making signings, so when the transfer window comes the foundations are already in place.”
“After the transfer window shuts these calls don’t stop you are ringing ahead for the next transfer window. With most deals being mostly completed before the transfer window.”
Despite what we all have believed for so long that the transfer window unleashes a circus like merry-go-round in the world of football it has now become clear that all the transfer window is mainly for is dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.
There are lots examples in football of clubs getting in trouble and being accused of tapping up player’s one of the most notable example is an accusation towards Jose Mourinho while in charge of Chelsea during his first spell he was accused of illegally contacting Ashley Cole prior to Chelsea signing him from Arsenal.
“I’m not going to say tapping up doesn’t happen, personally I haven’t been involved in it but it does happen it’s part of the game you can’t stop it.”
In 2016 the FA put a crackdown operation in to try and stop tapping up from going on.
Around the same sort of time finical fair play was introduced into football changing the way clubs can operate in transfers no longer could they just unsustainable invest money from this point on they would have to balance the books.
Despite this coming as an attack on the income of agents and how they can conduct themselves in the footballing world Djellab’s thoughts on it are very surprising once again distinguishing his love and passion for the game.
“I think finical fair play is needed, it is a bit all over the place at the moment, it needs to be adjusted but it is definitely needed for the protection of clubs.”
All football fans know the buzz of refreshing twitter & watching Sky Sport News the excitement and lust about your team getting a deal over the line but every fan is clueless what actually is happening in the meeting rooms.
“A lot of work goes on behind the scenes I’d say but it all depends on the club and who the player is.”
“If you’ve got an experienced professional the deal is normally quite easy, but if you have a young player it can be more complicated.”
“Some deals I can complete in just a day other transfers can take me up to six months to complete.”
Dr Chester Karrass created the most successful negotiating seminar in America one quote he preaches by is “In business as in life, you don’t get what you deserve you get what you negotiate.” But just how true is this when it comes to football.
“The best position is when the clubs are ringing you because you have the leverage, if you are ringing the club’s it takes a lot longer because they have the leverage”
With transfers being a large part of what agents do, they don’t just exclusively operate in transfers, the pre-Madonna’s known as modern day footballers may go to their agent with any sort of problem.
“If they need an electrician, I get an electrician to their house. Some of the stuff I could tell you and you’d think I was there mum or something.”
This is the package an agent must give if he wants to succeed, they must treat their clients like family, and care for them as their own.
“The contracts are the main part of the job but me as an agent I do everything, I’m looking out for them on and off the pitch.”
It doesn’t just stop there for Djellab even players who aren’t his clients will go to him with problems.
“One player I had a relationship with who already had an agent who wasn’t answering his calls. Called me about the MOT on his car while he was in Portugal.”
“I didn’t end up signing the player but you never know what’s going to happen if he leaves his agent in the future, he might go I remember what Riad done for me.”
More than just clients
As Isaac Newton once said “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” This philosophy is one that is clear Djellab looks to make sure he avoids.
“My clients are my best friends; we go to restaurants together. We do a lot of things it’s not just business for me. When they sign with me, you become family.”
“If they aren’t performing on the pitch. I stick with them while some agents with no emotional connection they just get rid of them.”
Too avoid situations where his clients hit a bad run of form, it is important for regular contact to be maintained, making sure they are set on achieving their best.
“At the start of the season I sit down with my clients and set them targets depending on their position. A lot of my clients are attackers so I set them targets for how many goals they should score.”
“I like to set the target higher than what I expect of them so if I think they should score 20 in a season I tell them I want to see them score 30.”
“I like to see them push on and get their best. We have reviews at the end of every month when we sit down and review these.”
It is no question Djellab has made astonishing achievements in his career at just the age of 20 but the driven individual remains hungry for success as he strives to excel in his field.
“My short-term goals are to sign one more client before the year is over and help one of my clients who is semi-pro at the moment become professional.
“My long-term vision is to become a professional football club owner but there is a long way to go before I can achieve that.”
“I already have an Algerian showcase team in London where every player is under 20 and we go and play against different academy’s, we recently went against Tottenham Hotspur’s youth team.”
“The idea of this is to try and get more Algerian people playing professional football in England.”
Similarly, to most people from an Algerian Muslim background sadly discrimination has been an issue for Djellab at different points in his life, but the hopes are that with this showcase team he can increase participation, slowly kicking discrimination out of the game and offer fair opportunities to everyone.
“I think when I first started it was very hard when I was ringing clubs, they would hear my name and think I was a bad agent who was just in for the money but as I have built my reputation up it has started to get rid of it but I don’t know if that will ever completely go.”