How did a former Hearts defender from Slovenia catch the eye of a Serbian scout, whose Spanish agent found him a club in Thailand?
The controversial world of football agents often appears murky and opaque to fans and journalists alike, not least because it seems anchored in a bygone age of clandestine meetings and secret phone calls, with clubs and supporters often the last to know about a deal.
That could all be set to change with a revolutionary new system that allows players, scouts clubs and agents to connect online.
It is in the interests of clubs to portray some agents in a negative light, as it is always easier to pin the blame for an unpopular sale to a meddling third party. The fact is that clubs still use such representatives to arrange and complete purchases of their own, when they could instead conduct all business through official channels. When time means money, it is far easier to entrust a project with a specialist third party than do the ground work yourself.
We also often question the sporting integrity of high-profile players keen to secure as many transfers as possible to build up a nice nest egg before retirement, with little interest in the football development of themselves of their clubs.
It is too easy to complain about overpaid professional footballers when those plying their trade in League Two can earn the same as a street cleaner, and with fewer employment rights. And that’s in England, let alone farther flung corners of the world.
The vast majority of the world’s professional footballers make significantly less than the average British worker, if anything at all, and live in countries where unemployment among the under 30s is the norm as opposed to the exception – even in Europe.
For some players securing a transfer to even a minor league can be a route out of relative poverty, not just for themselves but for families and entire communities.
Much of the disquiet concerning agents is seeded by top clubs for whom the financial stakes are that bit higher; a standard commission on a Premier League transfer can run into the millions, through no fault of anything but an inflated transfer market.
However, most transfers occur with little or no fee between clubs, and for wages that many fans would reject themselves. A significant proportion of players around the world are without clubs, work on short-term contracts, or are paid by appearance.
With the connectivity of the digital age meaning there are few secrets in the global game, it was only a matter of time before scouting, athlete management and the internet all met in the middle to help these players.
Most professional players do not have access to permanent representation, with many of the agents operating in developing nations little more than people-traffickers.
But many aspiring pros do have access to the internet – and this is where Fieldoo comes in.
Fieldoo is a web platform for players to represent themselves by creating a simple profile with their preferred position, club history and key statistics. Clubs or agents in need of, for example, an experienced left-back on a free transfer with the right to work in Europe can easily filter through the some 4,000 registered players to find a selection of possible targets. Contact can be made, trials arranged, and players placed accordingly.
It’s kind of like match.com meets Football Manager. And it works, as former Hearts trainee Matej Rapnik can testify.
Central defender Rapnik, 23, was without a club after leaving Celje in his homeland, Slovenia. Having spent two years at the Hearts academy, the former Slovenia U21 international he felt he had the ability to make a career for himself abroad but did not know where to turn.
That’s where Fieldoo.com came in.
“I thought it could be great way of self-promotion and the place where I could connect with relevant people from the industry,” Rapnik told us. “And in December 2012 Serbian scout Sasa Cuk contacted me through Fieldoo website and asked me if I was interested in a transfer to Thailand.
“Being a Slovenian U21 national player, I was a little sceptical at that moment. Nevertheless a few days before Christmas I decided give it a try and signed a professional contract with SCG Muang Thong United.”
The agent explained how he used the system to find the right man.
“I work for Spanish agency Pandora as a scout for the Balkan region and got the task to find a central defender with youth national caps as soon as possible,” Cuk said.
“Browsing through Fieldoo I found and contacted Matej. We negotiated for some 10 days and finally Matej was set to make a move.
"Pandora’s head agent Jorge Llagostera travelled to Thailand and concluded the transfer to Thai champions SCG Muang Thong United, coached by former Chelsea player Slavisa Jokanovic.”
A Slovenian player and a Serbian scout find a Thai club, with the deal completed through a Spanish agent, all having been introduced via a website. How very 2013.