INTERNATIONAL “super agents” Jonathan Barnett, Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola are aghast at the proposals, they have been branded “anti-competitive and unlawful” by their opponents and legal action has been threatened if they are implemented.

Yet, FIFA are, regardless of the outcry over their plans, poised to introduce sweeping new regulations for player representatives due to, among other concerns, growing unease about the sums of money being paid to them in commission.

The world game’s governing body are set to bring in measures later this year - which are expected to include mandatory licensing and an increased emphasis on education - in a bid to raise professional and ethical standards.

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Nobody needs to tell John Viola, the Scottish agent who has been brokering transfers, negotiating contracts and generally overseeing footballers’ careers around the globe for over 25 years now, his industry has an unfortunate reputation.

However, he knows the stereotype of agents as unscrupulous wheeler dealers is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, unjustified and is hopeful he can improve their public image in future through a ground-breaking initiative.

“The public only hears about the greedy agents who have made millions,” said Viola. “People don’t see guys who have come into the business, been working their backsides off for years and have hardly earned a penny. You get kids who are out morning, noon and night and are only taking home £10,000 a year. There are plenty of them about.

“I have spent thousands of pounds travelling around the world to do a deal, have been away from my family for a week only for it to be called off at the last minute. I did a big deal in the Middle East four years ago and still haven’t been paid. A crook who owned the club ran away all the money and ended up getting put in jail.

“There are a lot of good ethical agents who are doing their very best for their clients. They aren’t all con men who are going to take the p*** out of clubs. Clubs use agents. I get calls from directors at clubs saying: ‘John, we need a striker, can you use your network to find one?’. I am trying to change the perception of the business.”

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Viola moved into the education market four years ago when he launched an e-learning course on how to start a career as an agent. It proved a resounding success and has helped a raft of hopefuls around the world to move into the industry. It remains open to anyone from any background.

The Glasgow-born and Easterhouse-raised entrepreneur has now helped to set up two football intermediary university degree courses, the first of their kind anywhere in the world. He believes they will enable students to satisfy the new FIFA requirements when they are brought in, conduct themselves in the correct manner thereafter and flourish in what can be a cut-throat business.

“FIFA have said they want to regulate agents again and are in the process of doing that,” he said. “Going forward, they may be looking for qualified people. I have devised a Masters degree and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree in the football agency industry. It has never been done ever.

“A few years ago, my colleagues at the 451 Football Consultancy and I wrote an online football intermediary course. Everybody who did it loved it. Vincent English, a university professor, did the course.

“He contacted me and said: ‘I think you should take this a stage further and make it into a degree’. He has a company called 5iveGlobal and he started the wheels in motion. He went through it subject by subject, added extra subjects to it.”

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Both the Masters and MBA courses are accredited by the International Telematic University UniNettuno in Rome, a distance learning establishment with 23,000 students, and uses European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) credits, a recognised means of evaluating academic qualifications.

Professor English oversees the educational aspect of the courses while Viola, who continues to work as an agent helped to facilitate the transfer of German internationalist Andre Schurrle from Borussia Dortmund to Fulham last season, takes time out from his day job to handle the practical side.

There are pre-recorded lectures, live webinars, online tutorials as well as week-long in-house courses. The syllabus comprises subjects as diverse as contract law, economics, marketing, combatting racism and mental health awareness. Students are graded on the strength of their written assignments.

“When you apply, Professor English looks at your background,” said Viola. “He either approves you or says ‘sorry, this isn’t for you’. The Masters takes between nine months and a year to complete, the MBA takes two years and involves a lot more hours. If you have a Masters or an MBA in this industry you are going to be well placed if FIFA decide that agents have to pass an exam to get their licence.”

Viola worked in financial services before becoming an agent in the 1990s after a number of his footballer clients asked him to handle their contracts. He learned on the job and built up an impressive portfolio of clients over the years. But he made his fair share of novice mistakes in the process.

He has no doubt he would have benefited enormously from a grounding like the one he is now offering aspiring intermediaries when he was starting out. “It would have been amazing,” he said. “It took me years to find my feet. You have to work hard at it.”

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Craig Moore, the former Rangers, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Newcastle United and Australia defender who Viola represented throughout his playing career and who now works at 451, is one of those who has completed the online course. Moore is currently working his way through the Masters degree.

But it isn’t just ex-players who are alumni. Babatunde Elliot, a London-based doctor, is another. He is currently combining working on the front line with the NHS in their fight against coronavirus with his new role as an intermediary. Viola and his business partner Phil McTaggart are acting as his mentors.

The Scot is clearly a believer in the free market economy. He argues the new FIFA controls ignore the economic realities of supply and demand. That said, he can certainly understand their desire to ensure players are properly protected and represented.

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“If Manchester United want to pay Raiola £25m because they want Paul Pogba from Juventus then that’s life,” he said. “In any business in the world if somebody is prepared to pay that money they are free to do so. They know what they are buying. Why should agents be regulated?

“But FIFA are right to want agents who are educated, they are right to want agents who are qualified, they are right to want agents who are ethical.”

John Viola has no doubts a graduate of the Master of Arts or Master of Business Administration in Football Intermediary Management degree courses will be all of those things.

John and Phil will be hosting a free webinar on how to become a successful football agent at 11am tomorrow. Anyone interested should register at…

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