The DFL has suggested that player salaries and commissions for their agents could be capped. Bundesliga football agent Stefan Backs, who represents goalkeeper Alexander Nübel among others, is critical of the idea.
The coronavirus outbreak is affecting all aspects of sports – and the transfer market is no exception. The contracts of more than 60 Bundesliga players are set to expire at the end of June and in the current climate, it could be more difficult than usual for them to find new clubs. According to financial experts, the market value of football players has also dropped sharply due to the outbreak.
Christian Seifert, the chief executive of the DFL (German Football League), has suggested the introduction of a salary cap for players and limiting how much commission a player agent can charge when one of his or her players switches clubs. Stefan Backs is the agent who helped arrange the agreement that will see goalkeeper Alexander Nübel move from Schalke to Bayern Munich on a free transfer at the end of the season.
DW: Manuel Neuer has just extended his contract with Bayern Munich until 2023. In view of this development, was it a mistake for Alexander Nübel to move to Bayern?
Stefan Backs: Since it had already been pretty clear that Manuel Neuer would extend his contract, it was always part of the whole calculation. Alex decided to take on the greatest-possible challenge. If he didn't think he was up to it, he wouldn't have done it. In my view, the fact that Manuel Neuer has extended his contract will turn out to be a good thing for him, because he still has a lot to learn. He just needs to train in such a way that he will be ready to replace Neuer one day. Otherwise the transfer wouldn't really have made sense.
How happy are you that you were able to get the deal with Bayern done before the coronavirus pandemic hit?
The coronavirus isn't just affecting football; it's affecting everyone. It would kind of be gloating for me to say: "Thank God I got it done beforehand." On the other hand, Alex and I deliberately avoided the usual wrangling (in the negotiations) and we've been rewarded somehow.
How has the coronavirus crisis changed your job as a player agent?
The business of transfers has almost completely dried up because at the moment, the clubs simply have to figure out how they can survive the crisis. This has changed the focus for us. Now players are more likely to come to us with questions like: What's next? What is the legal aspect of taking a salary cut? Our actual business, player transfers, is quite quiet right now.
Has it become more difficult to find new teams for players?
All of our players are currently under contract, so they are in a relatively good position. But things are different for the coaches we represent. It's harder because the clubs don't know how they should plan. For this reason, a lot of things are on hold.
Has the market value of the players really dropped?
In the short term, only the very best players will be involved in big transfers, and the "normal" Bundesliga player will see his value decrease. Players like this will no longer attract high transfer fees.
Will the players have to lower their salary expectations?
In the short term, for sure. Players have already agreed to a wage cut of 10 to 20 percent to help their clubs survive the coronavirus outbreak. But whether this will remain so in the medium or long term remains to be seen. I'm curious to see how many will remember what's being said today when the crisis is over.
There has also been talk of a cap being introduced on player salaries. As an agent, what do you think about this idea?
A salary cap is unfeasible in my view. We live in a free market. It's up to everyone to decide for themselves how much money they want to spend on a player. If caps were introduced, they would have to apply internationally. I believe this is simply impossible. The clubs should start by restricting themselves and refraining from transfers that are too risky. I am not in favor of imposed regulations, nor do I think they are legally tenable.
Would you recommend that players go for shorter-term contracts right now?
Here you have to consider the situation that each individual finds himself in. Is he out on loan? Is he already over 30 or just starting out in his career? How much quality does he have? Are we talking about the second or the first division? So there is no one answer. But what can be said is that any player who currently has a contract that runs beyond this summer should consider himself lucky.
Since the pandemic struck, clubs all over Europe have been feeling the pinch. In the current climate, would it make sense for players to look farther afield for a new club?
The only positive thing about the coronavirus crisis in football is that it has affected everyone equally. Some countries abroad have been hit even harder. The English league, which I have a lot of dealings with, currently has neither a date for a restart nor a health plan for when the games can resume. They're envious of us in Germany. This is a huge boost for the Bundesliga, which is why I believe that German players would be well advised to stay in Germany right now.
Christian Seifert has also sharply criticized player agents in connection with the coronavirus crisis. Did that bother you?
It didn't affect me personally. But I'm surprised that in the middle of a crisis, when you don't even know where things are headed, plans are already being drawn up. It would be a good idea to get all the affected parties and experts around one table and develop a fully thought-through plan together. When I hear suggestions like introducing caps on commissions or player salaries, these simply can't be enforced under current law. So you are proposing something that isn't possible. I regard this as populistic and not serious. These are rush jobs that I can't see the use of.
Football officials have been insisting that they intend to question how they have been doing things and work to correct developments that are widely seen as negative. Does this apply to player agents too?
It's too easy to blame everything on the agents. Even among the clubs, some are well managed, others less so. Many clubs need to examine what they have done over the past few years. They should take the time to look at everything in depth and get everything that went wrong out on the table.
If there are regulations that can be implemented that would help to strengthen professional football in the long term, then we as agents would be on board. We too would stand to benefit from that. But simply looking for a scapegoat and claiming that they earn too much and that this is why the clubs are in such a bad way, that's too simplistic.
It sounds as if you're concerned about the image agents have among the general public.
I am someone who ensures that players and clubs come together, a service provider comparable to an insurance broker. People always pretend that the agents are the ones who rip off millions, but we earn a percentage of the player's salary. If everyone involved agrees that it's okay, he deserved it, then I don't see how the fault lies with the agent.
I've never held a gun to anyone's head and forced them to pay me a sum. Besides, I don't only represent Alexander Nübel, but also regional league (fourth tier) players who don't earn anything, or young coaches who are just starting out in their careers. We invest a lot, too.
Stefan Backs, 55, is the managing director of the Dortmund-based agency Siebert & Backs Fussballmanagement. Among the players the company represents are Schalke goalkeepers Alexander Nübel and Ralf Fährmann as well as Cologne midfielder Marco Höger. Prior to becoming a player agent in 2002, Backs was a sports journalist.
The interview was conducted by Stefan Nestler.