Football agent John Viola meets Luis Figo
A groundbreaking new course on how to become a football agent has soared “800 percent” during the pandemic, according to its creator.
John Viola, 61, one of the UK’s first FIFA-approved agents, told MailOnline he “feels like a councillor” after speaking to several people from all walks of life who have quit their jobs for a new career in his industry.
And he believes the new influx of trained agents will benefit the game, claiming that professional footballers run the risk of receiving subpar advice as a result of being represented by underqualified agents.
John said: ‘So many people have rethought their lives during the lockdown. I’ve heard bank managers, accountants and bartenders say that their careers are getting old and that they are looking for something new.
“But the most important thing is that they really want to become a football agent.”
John claims that since FIFA, the governing body of world football, relaxed the rules in 2015, “almost anyone can become an agent.”
Viola is pictured presenting a live session during his course at the Queen’s Park Rangers stadium Loftus Road, where he does a recruiting role-playing game with former football player Paul McVeigh
Viola is pictured filming some training material outside Scotland’s Hampden Park stadium
That means professional footballers hire underqualified people to represent them, which can have huge implications for their careers.
He says: ‘Anyone can now become an agent by filling in a form and paying the English FA £600 – plus a further £300 a year – and pass an aptitude test.
‘It’s different in every country, but when I started 27 years ago, it cost me £100,000, which I had to borrow.
Viola seen with André Schürrle on the day he took him from Borussia Dortmund to Fulham. brought
“I had to give it to FIFA as a deposit and interview and test it with my local football association. The rules have been relaxed enormously, with many players now bringing in family members to represent them.
“It is a great risk to employ an inexperienced relative for such a high-level job. It can have a negative effect on a player’s career, but on the other hand, it can also turn out great – but that’s only possible if they have the right training.
‘I’ve been a football agent for 27 years and I’m still learning. If anyone thinks they can become a football agent in one fell swoop because their brother is a great football player, he is wrong.
“They have a great opportunity, yes, but they have yet to learn how to do the job well from someone with expertise — otherwise it could be a disaster.”
Explaining the knock-on effect of bad advice, John adds: “Footballers don’t get the right contract, that’s the worst. They may be advised to join the wrong club and then be attached to them.”
A former insurance broker who grew up in Glasgow’s East End, John became a football agent in his mid-thirties, working on deals involving some of the sport’s biggest names, including former Real Madrid Galaticos Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos.
He also brought world cup winners to Rangers and Fulham and Real Madrid stars to the Premier League.
The Scot created his own course, along with his son Johnny, 26, and cousin, business partner and agent Phil McTaggart, 42, to equip graduates with the skills necessary to survive in the industry, and also attracts many current agents on board who recognize they need extra help.
Viola meets one of his students and passes on his knowledge in Ghana
John said: ‘It’s a very difficult job and no one got the right education and that’s what I give. I show people how to do their job professionally and ethically with transparency.
“Throughout my training it’s all about being professional and understanding what it’s all about, the rules regarding FIFA and players, the clubs, because there’s been a lot of bad press about agents, I teach them how to do their job correctly can do.
“I think the most important thing is that we’ve brought so many different people into the industry, from the white man to a doctor, from an accountant to an ex-referee, husband and wife, it’s for everyone and everyone. It will surprise you, and from all over the world.’
The virtual course covers 15 modules, from identifying and recruiting players, building relationships with clubs to the actual process behind a footballer’s transfer – and costs £497.
He has also written an MBA and Masters Degree in Football Agent Management alongside a professor named Vincent English, and offers a mentoring service.
John says that while a football agent’s job is hard work, he understands why it’s seen as such a glamorous career.
He explains: ‘I’ve been to 82 countries, places I never dreamed of visiting. This is from a guy from the East End of Glasgow, I wouldn’t have known how to spell some of these places. I’m out of a residential area and I’m standing next to Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos. And on encouraging new talent in the industry, he adds, “It’s a great feeling for me to help someone whose dream it is to become an agent.
“Some people thought I could never do this job, we hired them and a year or 18 months later they’re sitting in a boardroom doing business at the highest level, which is a great feeling for me.”
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