Jennifer Mendelewitsch has been a FIFA Registered Players Agent for twelve years, through the French Football Federation. She has a master’s degree in law from the University of Paris X Nanterre and regularly appears as a pundit on French television and radio shows.
We have a lot of players coming through academy programs in the U.S. now looking to get noticed by European clubs. How would you recommend that they do that?
Unfortunately, at present the European leagues really underestimate the potential of the U.S., in terms of young players – we focus on Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa and South America. It’s mostly because the US Soccer organization is completely different from the models we are used to. We still don’t really understand how the academy programs work, how Major League Soccer works, and how we can benefit from your system. The French Football Federation just created a partnership with MLS but it can be very complicated for American players to come to play to Europe.
How important is it for players to have an agent at the professional level?
It is essential. Players need to focus on their games and training, and they need to find someone who is able to deal with all the other parts of their career – such as contract negotiations, endorsements, sponsoring partnerships, tax returns, insurance, and sound financial planning. With the development of social media we help players with that too, and give them advice on medical staff.
A professional career is so short that players need to maximize what time they have – that’s where the agent comes in. Finding the best opportunities for their client, and making the best of it.
With so many registered agents to choose from, how should they find one that is right for them? Do they interview you?
It depends on the profile of the player. Top players are literally harassed by agents and they make their choice by interviews, but often it also comes down to what they have heard from others. Football is a small world where players talk to each other a lot. When someone is happy with their agent the word of mouth we get from it is usually the best advertisement. But it works the other way around too, if you make a bad decision for one of your players, everybody knows about it right away and you could lose all of your clients in a short period of time.
I’ve heard stories of African and other players being tricked by unregistered agents. How much of a problem is that in the game?
They’ve been tricked by registered agents too! Unfortunately the money in football is a big attraction and everybody wants a piece of the cake. Every day we hear stories of young players and even professional players being tricked by agents, but the main problem is that these illegal behaviors are never punished.
FIFA just decided to delete the FIFA LICENSE, and basically in April anybody can claim that they are a football agent. Without any rules or licensing there will be no protection for the players or the clubs. This will be a major problem for football and it starts this summer.
How difficult is it for players to move do a different country to play? Do you help them get used to it and speak the language etc.?
Usually clubs (especially English clubs) are really well organized and take good care of the player. They manage language lessons, find them a new home, and the other day to day things they will need to start a life in a new country. My role is to help them to settle down quickly so they can focus on their game. I work with the club to make sure they have accommodation, good schools for their kids, bank accounts, and all the details that might help the player to feel at home in their new club.
Having a network of contacts must be important to do your job. How did you build it?
It takes years! I’ve been in this business for ten years, and having a good network is key. At the beginning my father helped me a lot as he is a former FIFA agent himself, but the most important thing is keeping your network up-to-date. This often involves calling clubs and sports directors every month to be aware of their needs, and keeping good relationships with all of the people involved with the game.
I also work as a pundit on several TV and radio shows and this is a big part of my network too. Using media and information are also very important for an agent to do their job well.
There are often complaints in the media about how much money in the game goes to agents. How do you respond to that? Do you think they should be getting what they get?
The media survive because of the game – thanks to the players and to the show football offers to people. I think the complaints are more about the lack of transparency than in the financial amount itself. The rule is that agents take a maximum of 10% of the player’s gross salary. In my opinion this is not excessive. When people don’t follow this rule, it becomes easy to blame the agents. What about the role of the clubs though? It takes two to tango…
How did you become an agent? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Thanks to my father, football has been in my blood since I was a teenager. I’ve went through law school and have a master’s degree in business law; then I took the FIFA exam in 2003. I was just 20 years old at the time and hadn’t realized how complicated this world is.
The question I’m always asked is about what it is like being a woman in this environment. I always answer the same way – when you need to make an appointment to see your dentist, you don’t care if they are a man or a woman – you just want your tooth carefully removed. It’s the same for a player – they need a professional, no more no less.