It would be good if every sports director or someone doing the transfer negotiations in the club had the experience of being an agent. My experience as an agent helps me a lot day to day. I spent 18 years working with players. I know what they are thinking, I know what they want. When I negotiate with an agent now, sometimes I think I know better what the player wants than the agent.
Success breeds success
After building SEG International from the ground up to become one of the leading player agencies in world football, one could have forgiven Alex Kroes for disappearing into the wilderness when he sold his shares in 2018.
Instead, a year later Kroes threw himself back into the spotlight, becoming the owner of Go Ahead Eagles, then of the Dutch second division.
Fast forward to when he left the club in 2022, Go Ahead Eagles earned their place back in the Eredivisie and set up a financial plan to stay there.
“I created a plan in my head more or less to take this step in three to five years. Now after two years it has happened. It’s nice when you look at the fixtures - Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord are coming. It’s good for a small club, which we still are,” Kroes said at TransferRoom's Virtual Deal Day in the summer of 2021.
Indeed, it was a plan on paper that was the foundation of SEG in 2000.
After graduating from university, which came after narrowly failing to make the grade as a professional footballer with Ajax Amsterdam, Kroes and his best friend Kees Vos launched SEG.
“We had no experience, just a proper plan in place to see how far we get,” Kroes noted.
They got plenty far: SEG now counts more than 400 clients in 25 countries across multiple sports. Vos remains in charge.
Those 18 years as an agent and business director - a large part of Kroes’ role was to expand the business by bringing in more agents around the world through a franchise model - have given Kroes plenty of experience when it comes to now negotiating player transfers and contracts in Deventer.
Perhaps, even, the upper hand.
“I think it would be good if every Sports Director or someone doing the transfer negotiations in the club had the experience of being an agent,” he said.
“My experience as an agent helps me a lot day to day. I spent 18 years working with players. I know what they are thinking, I know what they want. When I negotiate with an agent now, sometimes I think I know better what the player wants than the agent. At least I then get close to what his expectations are.
“During negotiations that helps me, it gives me a bit of an advantage, not just in negotiations but also along the way in the process of attracting players and managing the people around me. I think it helps a lot if you are an agent, and then start to work in a football club.”
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
When it comes to the deal, Kroes said all too often parties are coming to the negotiation table unprepared and uninformed. His advice?
“You need to know what you want and be prepared to walk away if it's something you or your client does not want. You need to know which direction you want to go in beforehand. Try to be the guy on the other side of the table as well.
“You need to know the market prices well and when to do the deal, or whether you have time to wait for an alternative. Sometimes when I do negotiations and I say ‘no’ to the guy, I know he will not find another club for his client. Sometimes I feel like the agent doesn't know that himself and then he’s playing poker too much.
“Negotiating is not easy but if you are prepared and know what you want, you are halfway there already and it makes it a bit easier at least.”
That one big signing
Kroes said there were 27 official licensed agents in the Netherlands when he and Vos started SEG back in 2000. Now, a few years out of the game, he estimates there could be as many as 300 operating in the country, largely the result of FIFA’s decision to relax regulations in 2015.
But quantity does not always mean quality.
“I can imagine the market is getting more and more competitive, but also filled with people who are not, let’s say, prepared enough to do this job in the proper way towards the players and clubs,” he said.
“It’s getting more difficult to find out who is the good one and who is not the bad one. I do believe 99% of agents are starting with the best intentions. Sometimes when I have a meeting with a new agent, I find them all open-minded, full of integrity and with the best interest of players. They sometimes say, ‘Alex, I do not need the fee, give it to the player to make his salary a bit higher’. I’ve experienced that many times. “
He continued: “Overall, it’s a very competitive world. The media are writing that each agent can become a multi-millionaire in a couple of years just by doing one transfer. The harsh reality is that 80% of the agents need to work really, really hard just to have a proper life, not a multi-millionaire’s life. It’s hard work.
“What is important for an agent is to ensure the player is the number one, that he is the biggest asset.
"At SEG we were very lucky that in 2007, Kees became the personal player agent of Robin Van Persie and while we had a great structure in the company back then and working hard with around 20 agents in a couple of countries, Robin gave us the next step forward.
"Keeping that player connected and other good promising players connected, that was the number one target. The better they do, the better you do and that is attractive to other players to become a client of your company.
“Call it luck, call it hard work to get to a certain level. At SEG back then we had to work really hard to become the agent of a big player because they have to consider you to be a good counterpart, someone they can rely on and help them further in their career.”
Singing from the same deal sheet
Having sat on both sides of the agency-club divide, Kroes is well-versed in the frustrations of the transfer market.
But with a selection of Trusted Agents now permitted on to TransferRoom, he believes doing business has become that little bit easier.
Kroes explains: “I believe in the model, the software and the platform, because I do believe there can be more transparency and efficiency in the market. I also experience it myself: we have scouts seeing some nice players, putting a lot of time and energy into it, and then I say ‘have you spoken to the agent? How much money do they want’? Then at the end you find out the player is not interested or is too expensive.
“This model is helpful in the way it will help the efficiency of our business. It will not replace the agents or the whole transfer business, but it’s very helpful. There will be deals that can be done far more efficiently in the future on the platform.”