As the professionalism of women’s football continues to grow, the demands on players continues to increase.
As a result of those demands, agents and agencies have crept into the game, which is still very much an alien concept to many. In the past, there hasn’t been a huge requirement or a need for anyone to look after players’ affairs, because for so long the sport was largely amateur and there was little to no money to be made by athletes or agents.
However, as the game gains more exposure, and with players starting to work on their own profile – or brand if you prefer – these individuals are now starting to play a big part in the game.
Agents in the men’s game are often met with a negative reaction and don’t always have the best reputation. The view tends to be that they are only interested in lining their own pockets, regardless of whether a move or deal is in the best interests of their client.
In the women’s game, the role of the agent is relatively unknown, because as already highlighted, there hasn’t been a requirement for them and they’re still relatively new.
Leoni Blokhuis, based in the Netherlands, has been an agent for five years and started her company FlowSports back in 2012.
If you’re an Arsenal fan, you may be interested to know that four of Leoni’s clients are currently members of the Gunners squad – Sari van Veenendaal, Dominique Janssen, Lisa Evans and Vivianne Miedema. In total, the Dutch agent has 22 clients, all female, from the Netherlands, Scotland, Belgium and Malta.
With a background in sport having worked in local government, it was a desire to work in football and continuous knockbacks that prompted Leoni to start up her own company.
“I called a lot of agencies in Holland and had a lot of men tell me football is not for women and there was no place for people like me,” she said.
“At that moment I thought I will do it myself. It was not my dream to become an entrepreneur, it was a dream to work in football.“
Leoni admits that when starting out, she didn’t know much about the women’s game and her first client was actually a male player in the Dutch third division.
“He was not in the papers, but I met with him and his goal was to play for a professional club, and my goal was to get a player to a professional club. It was new for both of us and we gave each other a chance. I got him a move to Go Ahead Eagles who were in the second division, and then he won promotion with them, so it was good for both of us.“
It was a phone call from a friend of her father, who had heard that Leoni was now representing players as an agent, who put forward the idea of potentially representing players from the women’s game.
That phone call would lead to a meeting with current Netherlands international, Sherida Spitse, who was clearly impressed with what Leoni had to say, as she became her first female client.
“The first female player I met was Sherida. We had a really good meeting and I knew right then that this was something I wanted to do, even though the women’s game was new to me. I saw the unconditional love for the game that Sherida, and all other female players with her, had.
“I now have 22 players, all female, that I look after. I made the decision at the start of 2016 to only work with female players because the game is purer and they all play football because they really love the game and not because of money.”
For the first 18 months, from her start in 2012, Leoni didn’t earn a penny from working as an agent and had to balance her part-time job in local government with building a network within the women’s game.
Finally, In September 2015, she became a full time professional agent.
Leoni outlines that one of her main roles as an agent is to look after the wellbeing of her players, which initially involves looking at the contract they have with their clubs, to see if there are any points that need to be reviewed.
“In Holland, there are players signing contracts and they don’t know what’s inside it.
“When I start working with a player, I always ask to see their current contracts, and I experience there are things included that players are not aware of. There are occasions where clubs take advantage of the player. The club can use them in a negative way and that is why it’s good for every play with a pro contract to have someone who can help them.”
So how do they help them?
Well, the role is varied for Leoni, doing everything from flying out to meet her players abroad for meetings, to arranging TV interviews, photo shoots and commercial deals.
Every day she is in touch with clubs to ensure she is building her network so that “when they need a player, they will think of me,” she confessed.
Then there are the commercial opportunities that are now starting to become available in the women’s game. With EURO 2017 winners amongst her clients, brands and businesses are now registering an interest in her players. Leoni stresses that while this is obviously important, finding the right club and environment is paramount.
“We are working daily on commercial deals and opportunities, looking at what kind of brand will fit my players. The brand for someone like Shanice van de Sanden will be different to that of Vivianne Miedema.
“A lot of players can now earn good money, but commercial deals are now becoming more common. A lot of people are always asking about money, but looking at a club like Everton, the players are training every day, sometimes twice a day, they have great opportunities. Some clubs in Europe do not have that.”
The Dutch agent admits that the last three months since EURO 2017 has seen her role have to adjust with unprecedented interest in her clients that were involved in winning their country’s first major tournament.
One of the first tasks she had to conduct was liaising with UEFA Women’s Champions League holders Lyon, who were keen to sign Shanice van de Sanden – another of her clients.
Leoni recalls meeting with Van de Sanden just before the move had taken place.
“I met with Shanice to talk about her future and Lyon and when we finished a guy saw her and screamed.
“He was like ‘I don’t even like football but I saw you at the EUROs and I loved what you did, it was amazing.’ This is how it is for the girls in Holland now, they are very popular and famous.
“But its amazing for Shanice to get a move to Lyon because they are the best women’s club in the world.
“It was one of her goals to play for one of the biggest clubs, but also one of mine.“
It’s fair to say the situation the Dutch players find themselves in is new to them, with celebrity status thrust upon them almost overnight.
This has presented new challenges for Leoni, with the demand for some of her clients increasing considerably – especially media. But she insists that no matter how in demand or big a player gets, she attempts to treat all her clients equally and ensure all their needs are catered for.
This she hopes, is a reason why she and FlowSports has such a good reputation, and why she can continue to build her portfolio and work with even more of the world’s biggest players.
“I want to become the best at what I do, my goal is to work with the best players. My salary comes from commissions and fees, so I have to work with big clubs too.
“But the future is looking good because I think the game is growing and I am a company with a good reputation. Our mission is to make the difference in women’s football.”