Bridging gap between players and clubs in Indian football, super-agent Wilbur Lasrado shares his journey
In a country where a career in any sport apart from cricket is frowned upon, Inventive Sports UK's Wilbur Lasrado shows no qualms while sailing his ship as a football agent.
Officially designated the position of a Player Relations' Manager, Wilbur's passion for the beautiful game led him to this unconventional career path. And, today there is no one holding him back.
"Having played the game from my early days in school to my college days to private tournaments, football was more like a passion for me than just a way to pass time. One thing which caught my eye as I grew up was that the football agents in India were not able to cross the line for their players. They were working only for the benefit of certain players. A lot of good players, as a result, were left out. So, when I got an opportunity to join this industry, I grabbed it with both my hands and never looked back."
Day-to-day activities of a typical football agent
The job of a football agent in India is very tumultuous. While it has its own advantages of interacting with players on a regular basis, there are plenty of challenges in this industry.
"I will be very honest about this, it's not an easy industry to live in. First and foremost, you have to be a good communicator. It is a very important pre-requisite in this job as you are going to act as a mediator between the player and the club.
"Secondly, you need to be thick-skinned and courageous. There will be a lot of challenges and one should be ready to face and overcome it. You cannot give up if a deal doesn't go through. You will not get all yes' every now and then. There will be a couple of nos as well. Every agent stumbles sometimes and faces rejection but that's not the end, one needs to keep moving and should be prepared for it.
If you think that is enough, Wilbur also works as a program coordinator with EMERITUS, an organization that collaborates between three top-ranked business schools- MIT Sloan, Columbia Business School & Tuck at Dartmouth.
"I leave at around 7 pm for work and finish around 5 am. I reach back home around six and by seven, I am off to bed. Around 1 pm, I wake up and my life as a football agent begins.
"During the day, I speak with clients, potential clients, my players and more. Then, I push to the gym around 4 pm. After coming back, I freshen up and move for work. It is a very tight schedule but the support from my mother and sister is unbelievable. And, that keeps pushing me forward."
'Always felt like a brother than an agent'
Many fans believe that the agents only work as a mediator in the industry, pouncing on the commissions they earn. However, Wilbur explains there is more to it than that.
"I believe that the sole responsibility of a player should be to play football and focus on it and lead by an example to all. I feel it's very important (for a player to have an agent) so that the player can do his work and the representative or the mediator do his work.
"You could be Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic or one of the best players in the world. Even such players have guys like Jorge Mendes or Mino Raiola as their representative and that is a huge bonus for them. If you tell me to play football, I will definitely not be able to play it as good as any players I look after. Similarly, I believe, it would be tough for the player to do my job as good as I do it.
"At the end of the day, the agent has read the laws of the game. If a player focusses on his job on the field, it becomes easier for the agent to do his job."
While many agents prefer to have only a business kinship with their clients, Wilbur shares a more personal relationship with them. The players, too, reciprocate accordingly. As a result, he has always felt more like a brother than an agent.
"I share a very close bonding with my players. That's my style of working and the relation I share with my players from the younger players I manage like Zayed Bin Waleed, Johnson Matthews, Nikhil Prabhu, to foreign players like Iain Hume, Lucian Goian, Raphael Augusto, Andre Bikey to Indian internationals like Sahal Abdul Samad, and Jobby Justin.
None of my players treat me like an agent. I always felt like I have been treated as a brother or as a part of their family. If they have any problems, they always count on me and ring me up. I am very open and honest with them."
On Indian internationals Sahal Abdul Samad and Jobby Justin
Sahal Abdul Samad and Jobby Justin are Inventive Sports' leading clients. Both of them were unheralded names in Indian football a couple of years ago but now they are invaluable assets for their respective clubs and prized possessions for the national team.
A club offers a player a long-term deal only if the player exceeds their expectations. And, Sahal has earned every bit of it.
"A multi-year deal is something that will keep him (Sahal Abdul Samad) secure. Sahal knows his options down the line and if he wants to explore something else, he can always do after finishing his term. He is pretty quick and I am sure he will do well with Kerala Blasters FC this time too. From our end, we hope that he keeps donning the national jersey every time."
Jobby Justin's case is slightly different from that of Sahal Abdul. East Bengal officials wanted the Keralite to continue with the Red and Golds and the player wanted the same too. However, they were a bit "unprofessional in handling the situation" and Inventive Sports and Jobby later decided to sign with ATK.
"Last to last season, Jobby was finding it tough to get playing time. But, he knew he had to work hard and to see himself playing in the national team, he needed to continue putting more efforts.
He worked tremendously hard in the off-season. With coach Alejandro Menendez at the helm, he performed very well in the big games, especially the derbies. I have the clip of his overhead kick against Mohun Bagan and trust me when I tell you this, it give me goosebumps every time I view it.
After he made a name for himself by proving what's he got, we started receiving phone calls from around seven to eight clubs about his availability for the next season. He had his contract running until the 31st of May 2019. We talked about each and every option that came by and all those were great offers. Jobby wanted to stay with East Bengal because he played two seasons with them.
We reached out to the Quess management but they stopped negotiating with us. We told them that we can do a pre-contract as per the Bosman rule with other clubs. The FIFA Clause states that a player can sign for another club six months before the end of his tenure, without the previous club receiving a fee.
Shakeel (Abdullah, one of the Inventive Sports' Player Relation Managers) traveled to Calcutta to meet Jobby and understand his situation. Then, Jobby decided he needed to consider the offer. One of the pros of ATK's proposal was that it kept him in Calcutta. At the same time, he was also getting an opportunity to play in ISL. That is why he decided to move ahead and we were fortunate enough to have facilitated the deal using the Bosman rule."
On Nerijus Valskis' deal with Chennaiyin FC and rumors circulating related to player transfers
Every season, the ISL sees a good number of foreigners coming to India to ply their trade for the first time. This year, Chennaiyin FC will witness Lithuanian striker Nerijus Valskis donning their jersey and Wilbur explains to us how Inventive Sports managed to break the deal.
"Nerijus' profile came to us through another agent and we were keen on bringing him to India. He scored 27 goals in one season six years back and is one of the top strikers in Lithuania. We got a mandate signed from them so that we could take it forward. Regarding the deal with Chennaiyin FC, I would want to appreciate the professionalism the club showed firstly. They spoke to us and with the player and handled it very well. Baljit (Rihal, CEO of Inventive Sports) was the main guy who was behind this deal and it is his hard work I would say."
A lot of player transfers get leaked in the media before the club makes an official announcement. Many times the deal is still in the negotiation phase and these media reports become hard for the clubs to negotiate.
"We, Inventive Sports, believe in confidentiality. That is how we work. We don't know about the other agencies and don't speak for them. We announce the deal only after the player puts the pen to the paper and the club gives us the go to make the announcement."
On FC Pune City's financial crisis
It is no secret that FC Pune City is in financial turmoil and are even considering to change their venue. A lot of players even wrote to AIFF regarding delayed payments. It is logical in that manner for an agency to prevent their players from signing with the club.
Wilbur and Inventive Sports, however, believe that it is just a bad phase for FC Pune City and in no way they will advise their players against signing for them.
"Pune is a good club run by good people. I met their management personally a couple of times. Yes, the current financial crisis has brought them down but one negative thing should not spoil their years of hard work. They are a very good team and have a terrific youth system.
"Three of our players- Johnson Matthews, Nikhil Prabhu, and Rewang Lepcha- play for their youth team. In the last season, they finished runners-up in the Hero Elite League. They were the champions of the MDFA Super Division. Nikhil went on to bag the honor for the Best Defender in the MDFA Super Division. Rewang was also one of the top contenders for the Best Goalkeeper award. They have done a fantastic job with the grassroots and the youth system too.
"With regards to the senior team, they were doing a decent job. They had a few ups and downs at the start of the season. But hats off to Pradyumn, man! He calmed the storm as soon as he got appointed as the interim manager and after that things changed immediately.
"They are a good team. They have good people. If there is an opportunity for any of our players, definitely we would want to see them in the Orange colors. I had players play for Pune before and I have players still playing for Pune. And, I would definitely want my players to continue playing there."
Finding a team for players who are without a club
One of the toughest challenges for any player agency is to find clubs for players who were without one a season before. It becomes difficult for them to negotiate as the player had a year gap in his career.
One such player was Augustin Fernandes. Despite winning the 2015 SAFF Cup with India, representing the Blue Tigers in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, and playing regularly for FC Pune City and Atletico de Kolkata in ISL before, he had no club at the onset of the 2018-19 season. But, together they not only managed to bag a trial with Jamshedpur FC but also ensured he got a one-year extension.
"Augustin had an untimely surgery but got fit just before time. However, he failed to make it to the coach's plan. As a result in season 4, he wasn't able to crack any game time for ATK. And, that is what led him to be without a team in season five. I told him that in these circumstances, we don't give up. He, of course, was disheartened a couple of times but we told him to keep on pushing and be ready as an opportunity can come at any time.
I told him at this moment, what is important is you need to be playing football. Hence, told him to focus on his conditioning, strengthening, and other things he needs to do from his end. The rest, I will take care of. Right now, he has sort of made a revelation. He proved his mettle in the three games he got and Jamshedpur offered him a one-year extension.
Beikhokhei Beingaichho is in a similar state right now. But, Wilbur and his team are confident that they will be able to pull off a deal for him and he will have a club to play this season.
"We signed Beikhokhei towards the end of last year. Someone who has a rich profile and has scored at the AFC Cup and won the I-League and Federation Cup, we are confident he would get a club. He is an extremely talented player and you can see that from the assists he has given to the top players like Robin Singh and Sunil Chhetri in the past.
"He just needs a club now and needs to be playing football. Personally, I really like that man. He puts extreme hard work and has a never give-up attitude. He is also very humble and decent. I really look forward to achieve a lot of success with him in the coming years."
The road forward for him
Inventive Sports have their players playing for almost every club in India, except for two clubs- Mumbai City FC and FC Goa. Being a Mumbaikar, Wilbur and his team's next target is to see their players play for them.
"Yes, you can say that we have made several deals with almost every clubs in India. But, despite being a local boy from Mumbai, I haven't been able to crack any deal so far with Mumbai City FC.
Another team is FC Goa. They are again an extremely professional club and one of the best teams in India who play arguably the best football in the country. They have quite some good players and I really enjoy watching them play. We definitely look forward to working with these two clubs and see our players there if the opportunity comes," he signs off.