Ryan Fisher is a football intermediary with a difference. With a self-confessed love of dealing with facts, 29-year-old Ryan approaches his role as a football agent with data and analytics at the forefront of his company, Total Football Group. A strong set of business skills - from a successful career in Australian real estate - combined with a passion and drive to make a positive impact on the game, Ryan’s interview is an interesting read for those individuals looking for an insight into the life of a football agent.
I was born in England but my family emigrated to Australia when I was 10-years-old. Like a lot of kids, I grew up with this dream of wanting to be a footballer but that opportunity wasn’t really there for me because one, I wasn’t very good and two, in Australia, football isn’t the leading sport so, I never really had a chance to find out how much I could develop as a player. I left school at 15 – I really struggled at school to be honest. I was this English kid in Australia, with a funny voice and covered in spots; I didn’t exactly fit in! I got a job at McDonalds and I instantly felt like the workplace was where I belonged; I could be more creative in the workplace than I could be at school. I had a really good talk with my parents and said to them that school wasn’t really for me. They were supportive and said to me that they were happy for me to leave as long as I had an apprenticeship lined up.
I had this idea to become a chef, so I moved back to England on my own at 15-years-old and I started working in a kitchen in London. I was there for 4-and-a-half years and I became a qualified chef. I look back on it now and think about how crazy that was but still, it was the right thing to do.
Everything I learned from being a chef, I have transferred into my business life: work ethic, discipline, structure, attention to detail, work to standard and completing a job successfully. I worked for a chef who was quite intense too – very diligent with details – but I think that’s why I became interested in data and analytics because similarly, to his management approach, it’s breaking everything down to the finer point and working your way from there. This chef used to empty my bin at the end of the day and go through everything that was in there. He would pick up the leftovers of an onion and tell me I could have cut more off it than I did and if I wasted that amount of onion everyday for a year, I could be losing him £20. It was intense but the experience taught me a lot about business.
At 21, I decided that cooking wasn’t what I wanted to do so I moved back to Australia to work in sales – selling appliances in a little shop in Australia. I did really well in the role and if there is one thing that I would say about myself, is that I have always been somebody who doesn’t look at what other people are doing but look at what they aren’t doing and try to add value to that space. In my opinion, if you add that value on top of what everybody else is doing, you have a difference that makes you stand out. So, I was selling appliances, doing well with it and somebody said to me that if you’re going to sell anything, why don’t you sell houses? I thought it was an interesting idea and with that, I moved to Melbourne, got into the real estate market with no experience, got my head down and started working hard.
It started small but things changed when I sold a penthouse that had been on the market for 6 years – it was a high-profile property belonging to the tennis player Leyton Hewitt. I sold it for $8.2 million and suddenly I had this interest and recognition from a lot of people working in the industry. I went onto have a 2-and-a-half-year career in real estate which saw me transact close to $160 million worth of real estate in the private, luxury market in Melbourne. I spoke at conferences, on news channels and all of a sudden, I was in this position where I just sat and thought, ‘How have I ended up here?’ I had left school early, had this unconventional route into industry… but I learned a lot of life and business skills and to be honest, I do work incredibly hard in whatever job I have.
But I have always loved football and one day, I looked around and saw that I had all these material assets that you are told are the things that will make you happy… Well, I had all these things and yet I knew something was missing; I was actually quite miserable. So I thought, ‘Do you know what, I’m 25 and I’m in a fortunate position where I can take a few risks.’
I’m not this backpacking explorer who wanted to go off to ‘find myself’ but I did want to travel so I thought why not start a company while I am doing that – learn about the industry I love and travel around Europe at the same time. I flew to England and met with a couple of big football agencies to put myself forward and ask for a job. I was offered one but ultimately, the responsibilities of the role weren’t what I wanted to do; I wanted to create a new way of working as a football intermediary. For me, kids should be left alone to develop their football and agents should only step in when they get to a level where they need representation. I didn’t want to be that person talking to parents at different academies to try and get them on board. Also, I was quite wary of the fact that it is so easy to become a registered agent - you can log on to the FA website, pay £250 and that’s it!
The whole industry didn’t make much sense to me so I sat down and thought about how I could do things differently. I created a spreadsheet of all the internal members of staff at each club – the Football Directors and the CEOs. I used my real estate skillset to get in front of them and I sent them emails and letters, as well as phoning them. For 2-and-a-half-years I drove around Europe in a Mini Cooper that kept breaking down, watching football and meeting with clubs. I made absolutely no money but I experienced so much in terms of meeting people, experiencing different cultures, learning about football… I built up a vast network.
Then I ran out of money so, I went back to Australia and got back into the real estate industry for 12 months. However, what I also did in those 12 months was to take the time to analyse everything I had experienced in those 2-and-a-half years. From there, I built Total Football Group into a company that I feel is what the football industry needs. I also re-financed myself because I wanted to keep that human element to decision making. If I have a player who has two offers and one offer makes me less money but is the better option for the player’s development, I want to be in control of prioritising the player’s development. I wouldn’t necessarily be able to make that decision if I had outside investors’ interests to consider.
I landed back in the UK a year-and-a-half ago, have spent a lot of time networking and have formed a partnership with a data and analytics company based in London. For me, if clubs are using data and analytics to be able to recruit and value players, I need to be looking at the same information to do my best with the development and commercial side of their career. I approached this data company – who had never worked with agents before – and said that I was interested in forming a partnership with them and consequently, we put an agreement in place. Since then, I have successfully listed a few players and completed player transfers as well. 10% of the profits I generate is reinvested back into grassroots football too.
I am still in the early stages of my career and not claiming to be a ‘super-agent’ but I love the game, am trying to approach the role in a different way and enjoying the on-going adventure that comes with it!
I want to be very specific with the players I represent; I don’t want a sports management company with 15-20 players on the books. Personally, I think that is an outdated model; I don’t want to have a conveyor belt of players. For example, if a club is looking for a left-back and I have 4 left-backs, how do I decide which player is the one I put forward? I want to ensure I have quality over quantity and have the ability to look after players well too.
Post-career security is a key area I want to ensure I service. The average retirement age for a football player is between 31 and 34, compared to the average retirement age of 66 for the rest of us. Generally speaking, players have two career options in the game after retiring, punditry or coaching. If they don’t do that, what do they do? And if they haven’t been given the right advice throughout their career, they could be in a lot of trouble.
From a data and analytics perspective, the objective is to continue educating myself in this area because it’s almost like its own language and if you’re not fluent in it anytime soon, you could find yourself null and void in the industry in the future.
Right now, I am 29-years-old and my plan is to develop the group for the next 10-11 years, build it into a company that is well-respected in the industry; and has represented some of the biggest names. From there, I have an interest to move into the political side of the game – looking at the governing body who will be operating at that time, working for them and moving my way up the career ladder.
Overall, my ambition is to represent some of the best players in the world, broker some of the biggest deals in football and heavily invest funds back into the game. For me, when I leave the industry, I want to ensure I leave it in a better place than when I found it.
I love dealing with facts and I always say that everybody is entitled to their own opinion but you’re not entitled to your own facts. In business, facts are massively important. For example – and I don’t mean to call a footballer an asset because they are a human being – but to a club, they are an asset and there has to be an evaluation method. If you look at real estate, how do you evaluate a house? Capital growth, land value, square metres, return on investment etc… I was always very good at looking at statistics and analytics to justify value or put forward a strategy and one of the things I kept hearing from football clubs was, ‘We use data and analytics,’ so I knew I needed to understand how they are using that information too. I knew quite quickly that if I wanted to be successful in this industry and operate to a high standard, I needed to get a grasp of the use of data and analytics. A lot of people said to me that agents don’t need that but I completely disagree. It’s short sighted to think like that; the game is evolving too quickly to not understand that type of information.
The more I have learned about the area, the more I know that this is the way the game is going. I honestly believe in 3 or 4 years’ time, if you are not across that side of the game, it will be impossible to maximise the negotiation of your players’ commercial outcome and their development.
The first thing to understand is that data and analytics are two separate things. Data is the information and analytics is how you interpret the information and what that means.
The simplest way I can explain it is to look at the way football has often operated, where you have a scout or representative attend a game with a notebook and pen, make notes on the performance of a player and feed that information back to a club or decision-maker. Data and analytics are exactly the same thing but on a much more comprehensive level.
That’s a long answer as every player is different!
Absolutely. If I go into a club and I represent player A who is 25, a central midfielder and he is up against roughly 40 other central midfielders in the league – one that starts every week and one that is a substitute. One club comes forward and says ‘Okay, we can offer you this amount of money on this length of contract.’ With the information I have, I could sit down and position him against every other central midfielder in the league – every touch on the ball, off the ball, positional play, effectiveness in games etc. If he ranks as number 8 in terms of performance in the league but there are 12 other players on more money than him than what is being offered in the contract, I would say, ‘Hang on. There are 4 other players in the league who my player out-performs and yet those players earn more money than what we are asking for.’ So, from a negotiation perspective, it helps me justify why my player is better from both a performance and development point of view, as well as being a mechanism for me to approach clubs and say, ‘This is the performance level of a player you currently have and this is the performance level of a player I can offer you’.
There are two types of people in the world right now – people who have been affected by Covid and people who are lying! It has affected everybody.
In the transfer window we just completed (January 2021), there were so many loan deals because clubs don’t want to be paying money upfront but they do want players off the wage bill. The pandemic has affected player values, especially when you couple that with the impact of Brexit whereby some players have decreased in value and others have increased.
But yes, Covid has negatively impacted football economically across the board, from club revenue, player wages… It’s also negatively impacted me visiting clubs because of the Covid restrictions in place; I can’t have a meeting with players or club representatives. The effects are endless.
But in chaos there is opportunity so you have to rise above it, work harder and offer services and value where other people aren’t.
There isn’t one… I’m just really busy!
I currently work in asset advisory and real estate too so again, that’s another reason as to why I don’t want a sports management company with 15-20 players and instead have one with less players who I can represent to the best of my ability.
My average day depends on whatever emails have hit my inbox. As well as being on the phone to clubs and players, I am usually sending information to the data and analytics team I partner with and that may lead to further phone calls. The process repeats throughout the day and then I go to bed.
Somewhere in between all of that I will find time to eat!
It’s nice and a little daunting. I am the business so as deep as it sounds, I have to be mindful of me. Am I eating enough? Am I going to the gym? Have I had enough sleep? How I run is how the business runs so it’s great to have the recognition – proud is a good word actually – but I am also somebody that knows not to get too caught up in it. I want to keep improving and not lose sight of what it is that is driving me.
To take part in an article for The Athletic, and with James Pearce especially, means a lot to me though and hopefully it inspires somebody else to pursue their dream in football. I am contacted by young people all the time looking for advice, whether it is in real estate or football and one thing I always say is, ‘Nothing is impossible and keep chasing your dream.’
It’s nice to have little milestones though – recognition that reminds you to keep going and focus on the good days, rather than the bad days. We are all a work in progress.
I believe you need emotional intelligence and life experience to do your job well and the only way to get those two things is to just go for it; learn, make mistakes and have a strong moral compass. One of the things for me is, if in 5 or 6 years’ time I can sit with a 17-year-old player and say, ‘Look, I was flipping burgers at 15 but I worked hard to pursue my dream so if you want to play for Manchester United, I believe in you to do it and this is what you need to do and this is what you shouldn’t do.’
Follow your dream and learn along the way.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask a question if you don’t know the answer and if you want to be an agent, or any position in the industry actually, find somebody who you respect and is already doing the role; and learn about their experiences and their approach to doing their job well.
You need to be able to communicate and have grit and determination; figure out what it is you want to do and just go for it. If you get to a point where you don’t want to do it anymore, at least you gave it a go to find that out.
And wherever you work, do your absolute best to be good at what you do – you owe it to yourself and to the industry you are working in. It’s about attitude and applying yourself.
The Foundation has just launched and it won’t be until the end of 2021 in which the first project or charity will be chosen. The logic behind it is to support and invest in football projects around the world that need help. I want to be hands-on with the foundation too; visit the projects personally and be directly involved.
I look at football as a global platform and its own language – one of the biggest languages in the world. If you take 5 people who don’t speak the same language but you give them a football, those 5 people will instantly be on the same page. It’s such a powerful sport.
My personal ambition, as I said earlier, is to represent some of the biggest players but in addition, it is to build a reputation as somebody who has made a positive impact on the game on both a social and economic level.
If I can look back and say, ‘You know what, I’ve made an impact in the game that I love,’ I’ll be happy.
It’s not about the money for me, if it was, I would be back in Australia selling real estate. It’s just not what life is about for me. Football has such a voice around the world and that is something I want to be a part of.
Interviewer: Sascha Gustard-Brown
Sascha is highly experienced within the area of Supporter Engagement, having held the positions of Head of Supporter Engagement at Luton Town Football Club and Supporter Liaison Officer at West Ham United. She is currently working on small supporter engagement projects in sport and freelance writing in football.