Speaking in an exclusive interview with Get French Football News, player representative and lawyer Badou Sambague discussed the hot topics of conversation in the French football landscape and offered insight into the situations of some of his clients.
How do you feel about Ligue 1 being the only one of Europe’s big 5 leagues not to make the effort to finish their 2019/20 campaign?
I think the decision was taken in the context of moment where a big decision was required, in terms of health and safety for the population but also all sports people. Of course, today there are a lot of people who are pointing out that other leagues are starting up, that France is the only country not to have tried to do so. I think that with hindsight we could have seen that there was more time before coming to a decision. We can also see that not all countries were impacted to the same extent by the pandemic and not all countries were as well prepared for it as each other either.
We know that there are a lot of people impatiently looking for action to begin again, but we can also see that the appetite of a population is significant in deciding whether to return to competitive action or not. Taking the case of Germany, from the moment that the authorities and the league decided that action could return behind closed doors, we saw that there was total respect for what the clubs and government decided. Fans, the population, everyone was pulling in the same direction.
I think in terms of France, we also had this fear of being able to deal with the attitude of certain people, who could have, should competitive action have returned, formed groups, organised things that could create a new difficult situation. For me, France should not be looking at other countries. I think like Belgium and the Netherlands shouldn’t either. I think this is a decision that shouldn’t be uniform, even if the impact on the transfer window is going to have different affects for each country. We can’t take a common decision, because the decision should be reached by each country depending on the health and economic situations in each nation.
The other thing that we have to think about is the health of the athletes. A return as brutal as the one being proposed, in terms of the mental and physical consequences of returning to a season, with all the issues over intensity and rhythm. The problems aren’t going to come in the first match, but after game five, six or seven, we could get really bad injuries.
What do you make of Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas’ argument, that French clubs are going to suffer this summer by not completing the season, because their players will lose visibility on the European market?
It is a risk, certainly. The French player versus players elsewhere who are going to continue to play, going to continue to score goals, produce assists and defend well for the defenders, it is going to have an impact, because clubs often compare players from different leagues on these metrics. Quite naturally there is going to be less exposure, these players are playing less games. You take the example of Switzerland, where the league is poised to return, obviously the players are a lot more visible because scouts will be able to watch their matches etc.
The French players who are going to be advantaged are the players who performed well pre-COVID-19 outbreak. And who already have a few options on the table, but the clubs abroad are certainly not going to hesitate to negotiate the fees down in this situation, comparing it to other options elsewhere.
Why did the UNFP, the French Players Union, have such little control in their ultimately failed efforts to convince players to take wage cuts owing to COVID-19?
Because we have a difficulty in France, linked to workers’ rights, because players are under, at its core, employment contracts, which means that they cannot be modified without (their) authorisation, which I think is the same in the majority of European countries. Which is why FIFA, when they indicated that negotiations could be held on length of contract, wages, it had to be in accordance with national law. So, there are issues with workers’ rights there. On the other side, the UNFP is there to guarantee footballers’ rights, by indicating that salaries, contract situations, could only be revised with the agreement of the player. So, we can say that the UNFP are more in the vein of defending footballers’ rights against the contracting party. What we have today is an agreement over deferred payments with zero obligation for the footballer to take it up. There is an agreement between the UNFP, the LFP and then the club unions, but there is no obligation, it is deferring payments and I think that very few, if any clubs, have actually adopted this system.
Are you concerned about whether or not Mediapro will be able to actually fulfil their €1.5bn a year broadcasting contract for Ligue 1 and Ligue 2? As the LFP didn’t actually ask for any bank guarantees before going ahead with the deal.
I think that on paper it is a very considerable deal. There is then also the experience that Mediapro have internationally, notably in Spain, they didn’t need to make a guarantee on payments then. So, I think they negotiated the way with the LFP as they have with other partners. I can’t comment on that more, as I am not involved in those negotiations. But what I can say is that generally the LFP have taken the necessary precautions in the past and Mediapro do have a track record.
What is your conception of the modern-day footballer’s entourage?
The management of a player’s entourage is very important, those close to them, but also family, that can be around the footballers. It is true that in recent times players have developed quite considerable entourages. It is not always easy as a professional to manoeuvre all that. And so sometimes we have to manage the situation with the parents, situations with friends, cousins. And generally, you are going to see different categories of advisers, either agents or lawyers, who agree to work with a player even if they have a difficult entourage, and then others who just entirely refuse to work with a player who has that situation around him, because in the future these sorts of situations will likely get messy. So, when you are considering whether or not to work with a player, you try to evaluate their entourage, the context they are in, the family and the mental characteristics of a potential client, not just in terms of as a footballer, but also as a man. We essentially have to do an audit of the family and personal situation.
That must be complicated, because you can do the audit, you sign with the player, and then 3 or 6 months later someone pops out of the woodwork…
Exactly, so we do ask those questions at the beginning, then we see whether we feel we can advance or not. There are also situations that look complicated at the beginning but that we know can turn positive as we move forward. Sometimes, there are situations that you think are going to be easy, but then they develop into something a lot more negative. It’s not easy.
Let’s talk about Timothy Weah, one of your clients – in your view what is his long-term on-pitch position? Out wide or as a #9?
I think that he is a boy who can play on both wings, but in an attacking position he is more someone who will play with two attackers. He is a young player still, who to play alone up top still needs to develop certain things on the physical and athletic sides of things. Even though he is very physical, very quick, he is a player who can beat men. But at the moment he is someone who needs combination play, he likes to combine a lot. So, when he is central, he needs a player with whom he can combine. In reality, he is a boy who can play across the attack, without any problem, but it is true that centrally, in a position of combining with someone else, that is when he is most devastating.
That sounds promising, certainly when you consider Lille boss Christophe Galtier’s penchant for the 4-2-2-2 that we saw this season.
The club is really counting on him. He is recovering well, he is now currently in New York, he is in a rehabilitation programme that is being monitored by the club every day, by the doctors who are also in New York and the ones in Lille and he is in regular contact with the club. He is working very intensively to come back for the beginning of next season.
Are you worried that the injuries that Weah has suffered this season, notably in the hamstring area, are going to cause him bigger problems in the long-term?
No, I think he is still in the phase of his body growing, of getting it used to the consistent physical efforts at this level, he is a boy who is an athlete, who goes fast, who has the intensity required. And who is using his muscles very considerably, so his body is in the process of transforming, because he is growing, because he is putting on muscle, so quite naturally, at a certain point, there are difficulties that can occur. He is a boy who is going to come back stronger, because he is still at an age where one comes out of something like this even better. He is learning a lot about his body during this period.
What has been the hardest thing about football agency since you jumped into it?
I think there are a couple of things. In this world, you deal with broadly three categories of people, if you can call it that. Clubs, players and other agents, lawyers or intermediaries who work to do deals. In terms of the clubs, our role is to work exclusively for the players, as the lawyer/mandated representative of a footballer, which is the equivalent today of an agent, and sometimes we have negotiations with the club, that have to be done in the best possible conditions, because the club that we are negotiating with is the future employer of the player, so we want him to arrive in the best possible environment (after negotiations for an incoming transfer or a contract extension). So, the strategy and negotiation has to be in the spirit of a partnership, because the club is the employer of the player. And sometimes there can be disagreements, but you have to make sure that things happen in the best way possible. So that is not always an easy balance to strike in terms of relationships with clubs. Because we are defending the player, but we don’t want to cross a line that negatively impacts the player’s conditions on a daily basis and you also want a relationship to allow you to then bring potentially future clients (to that club). But you don’t want to go too strongly into having club relationships, because you still need to credibly have the image of advising a player first and foremost. So that is an interesting balance to handle.
The second point, is the relationship with other intermediaries, we have to systematically keep a degree of openness with them, even though the majority of the deals we do, 95%, are done directly with the clubs without any intermediaries. But you have to keep a degree of openness with intermediaries in that they could have relevant information, that will be important for the player we are in charge of, and it is also our job not to miss an opportunity for the player we are in charge of. Whilst also keeping control of the potential deal.
There are certain clubs in England right now, that if you are a French agent trying to place your client from Ligue 1 or Ligue 2 there, you simply can’t do so without working with certain intermediaries.
You have to be careful in these sorts of situations, because the fact that an intermediary is present means that they have some use in terms of facilitating the deal. Either they are useful to the club that is going to buy the player, or to the club is that is going to sell the player, or to the player’s agent. Everyone’s priority is that deals are done and done in the best possible conditions. If there is a French club that is trying to sell a player and they are struggling to do so for the right price, they are going to call certain people to work the market and the price up so that they are able to hit their target. Naturally, whoever the intermediary is, each party will have a vested interest in involving themselves in a deal. Sometimes, this is what complicates a deal. However, intermediaries in France today compared to England and Italy, intermediaries are not yet as active in France.
At the moment, we have agents, player agents or club agents, but people who are inserting themselves in this deal or that deal, we don’t yet have that, but it is developing in France. In other countries, there are people who don’t represent any players but yet are deal makers who specialise in bringing people to the table, who are happy in that role, because they have faith in the player and faith in the club for the deal to come together.
Last week Mark McKay claimed to a national English newspaper to be the agent of Amiens striker Serhou Guirassy, when he has no contractual engagement with the player whatsoever. There are things that are simply not right in this world.
Yes I totally agree with you. These relationships with intermediaries are not easy to manage, because we want to open the door, but we can’t open the door to everyone, and then when a player begins to shine incredibly brightly, naturally you get a multitude of intermediaries who start to call you. A club will give criteria of what it requires in terms of players in X position and the characteristics it wants to a series of intermediaries, and then it is they who will solicit players and their entourages.
The third part is the managing of players, which is not at all easy these days, it requires a certain type of man management, I am not that old, but I think that other ex-players will agree with me, it was a time when they were more able to let their hair down. We have a very significant job to do in terms of heightening the importance of football in players’ minds, and the science of football. And that is a very tough job because of everything that has happened with social media, the PR game, material that is exposed on social media etc. We have players today who very often are focused on what football will bring them, in terms of material things and notoriety, rather than the football itself – so that is some heavy-lifting on our part. So our job is to really hammer in the importance of the science of football, match analyses, their own matches, but also analysing players that they can look to emulate, to progress and grow their potential exponentially. And sometimes we have to make clear that without that work, without performing and without consistent pursuit of success, all that material stuff won’t be there. It’s about re-focusing them on the love of football that they had when they were little kids. Because there are lot of things that will distract them, that they will enjoy, social media every day, etc. So that is daily work and not easy.
Is there a chance that Samuel Grandsir returns to Brest this summer on a permanent basis?
Nothing is closed off today, but right now it is true that he has had other opportunities that have presented themselves too, but he had a very good time at Brest, so for the moment, nothing is closed. Now, he is an AS Monaco player and from there we will see how things develop. He has contacts on the other side of the Channel (England), we will see what that brings.
That’s possible, but also potentially higher up the table.
What is your view on the AS Monaco project at the moment – they have an enormous number of players under professional contract (over 60).
I think this is not a simple situation, but if we look back to just 18 months ago, AS Monaco were not in this situation. It is proof that in football, things can vary very quickly. So, I have no doubts about Monaco returning to the highest levels of French and European football, owing to how the project is structured, on very solid footing. They have a super training centre on its way, they have a great youth academy and a lot of really strong professionals. So, I think it is periodical, like all football.
Will Jonathan Panzo remain at AS Monaco next season?
At the moment, he is an AS Monaco player, they don’t want to sell him because they view him to be someone with incredibly high potential, who naturally could explode onto the Ligue 1 scene next season. Of course, there are clubs asking questions about his situation, but I think that when league and pre-season action gets going again, we are going to see more of him. He has a top mentality; he is a very serious boy.
Do you not feel that Mohamed Simakan needs another season in Ligue 1 in order to continue his development before looking at a move abroad?
I am not someone who says to a player: “You should do X or Y.” It is up to him to lead the strategy and guide it in the most efficient way possible. If he had played 10 matches this season, then today we would not be in a position to talk about options the way that we are. At the beginning of the campaign, it was expected that it would take much longer for the player to reach the position of considering a transfer. We have interest.
A player also has to be someone who can take on challenges in stride, at the right moment of course, but still take challenges on. We are lucky in that the players that we work with, we know them very well, as people and sportsmen, and we can give our opinion on whether they will be able to take a challenge on or not. Look at his time at Strasbourg, he arrived on an amateur deal, he got his youth contract, he became professional 3 months later, he has been setting the pace and it is a bit the same today. Now, is leaving on a season that was not completed ideal? I don’t know, it will depend on the opportunities and also on him and his capacity to take on challenges. But in any case, he is a boy who will be able to take on many different challenges, because he is determined, hard-working and seamlessly integrates into a dressing room. Those qualities are very important for a player who moves to a new club, a new country, a new culture.
Are Strasbourg under financial pressure to sell him?
No, not necessarily. They sold (Youssouf) Fofana (to AS Monaco in January). Aside from that, Strasbourg is a club that cares about the projects offered to their players – if they think that there is a club, that really interests and is good for Mohamed, as the club that raised him, they will alter their strategy to find a solution.
Is there a desire on the player’s side to consider following many French defenders in the last three to four years with a move to the Bundesliga this summer?
I think that are things to learn from every player, whether they are French or from elsewhere, but at the same time the players we work with we feel need to carve out their own route. Of course, you need to have examples to look up to, examples of success, there are elements of someone else’s game that one can look to emulate, but they also need to make their own choices, because every career is unique.
Does Enzo Robise have a chance of playing for the Southampton 1st team next season?
He is under contract until 2021, so a loan would not be possible. But he has all the qualities to play English football and when Southampton signed him from Reims, it was to give him the opportunity to eventually play in one of the biggest leagues in the world. They have a philosophy that suits him well, with players who break the lines, it is part of the club’s philosophy. Aside from that, that requires him to improve his level, notably in training sessions with the 1st team. He already trained a lot with them. He had quite a considerable injury this season, for which he needed to undergo surgery in Lyon, which went very well indeed. He came back well and he is back in the French youth team, he is someone who is very closely tracked by the FFF.
Why did Jeando Fuchs head to Alaves last summer – it is clear that it has not worked out? He certainly had the talent already last year to be playing for a top 10 Ligue 1 club.
In football it is sometimes like that. We have to make career choices, and our aim is for things to work, sometimes it doesn’t work, and when it doesn’t your job is to rebound as quickly as possible. He went to Alaves with more than 100 professional appearances under his belt at the age of 21. He became a Cameroonian international, the Alaves choice happened owing to a partnership with Sochaux, his former club. He was one of Sochaux’s best players, there were regular exchanges with Alaves, they presented him with a project that seemed quite clear, and so he accepted. Now, we can consider that he might have to take a different direction when he returns (to Alaves from his loan in Israel). When Jeando signed for Alaves, it was to succeed over there, so we will see.
Can we hope that he returns to France this summer? Might we expect Alaves to demand something like €5m in order to let Jeando Fuchs depart?
No, no, no – I think it will be a lot less than such a sum. But as you said the economic situation in France… no doors are closed, if there is a question of need in his position. Because Jeando wants to play a maximum of matches, so no club will be considered if they can’t guarantee a certain amount of playing time. We are lucky that this has been a season where not so many matches have been played, as a result Jeando has not lost much ground on others with this season at this stage of his career. He was in fact ahead of colleagues at his age before this season. But the idea has to be accentuate his advantage over others, not limit it at each point.
Presumably things won’t clear up until La Liga begins again.
Absolutely, we need action to get going again for discussions to be picked up again. It is similar to a situation in Germany, where we have certain contacts.