Gift Saunyama is a professional footballer from Zimbabwe. He shared his experiences with FIFPRO as part of a campaign to raise awareness about people pretending to be football agents.
By Gift Saunyama
An agent approached me through Facebook and we continued our correspondence through email. I regularly posted about my professional career on Facebook, so that’s how he may have found me.
I was playing in the Zimbabwe Premier League at the time. The agent told me he had heard about me, that he had seen me play. He said he had a trial for me with a club in Hong Kong.
He sent me a document. It looked real, and it had my name and the dates of the trial on it. I could see that it was a scanned document. I was really excited about it. Nevertheless, I didn’t react and went offline for a couple of months.
When I got back online, I contacted him again. I talked about the lost opportunity, that I didn’t react on his previous proposal for the trial. And then he simply arranged a new trial for me. That got me excited again.
It’s very tempting to move abroad if you are a player in Zimbabwe; you are willing to go to other countries such as Zambia or South Africa.
Looking back at the conversations I had with the agent, I now realise I didn’t ask too many questions. I was much younger, around 25, and I let my excitement take over. I never asked the important questions: shouldn’t the agent be trying to get to know me much better? Shouldn’t they know my plans about playing? He simply asked: "Do you want to play in a better league? If yes, then send me your details."
The alarm bells went off when he started talking about money. He wanted me to make a deposit of 500 USD on an account to pay for accommodation and travel. At the time I didn’t have that kind of money. Teams in Zimbabwe don’t pay that much; most of them are struggling as our league is not commercialised.
I told him I didn’t have the money, but he kept on asking questions. "How much money do you have? When do you think you can get the full amount? Do you think someone can borrow you the money?"
He wasn’t talking about football anymore; he was only talking about money. He was more worried about money than about me. I started to have doubts.
If I would have had the money, I could have done it. But I didn’t have the money, and I didn’t want to borrow any.
I spoke about this with another player, who told me about his experience. He was playing for a team in the South African Premier League. Things went quite well for him, until a new coach came in. Then, he was playing less.
He wanted to go to another club on loan. He discussed this with an agent, who advised him against the loan move and told him that he could simply sign with another club. The agent urged him to clear himself from his team, which the player did. But after this player paid the agent a fee to arrange the move to the new club, the agent didn’t answer his calls anymore. Suddenly, the player was left without a club.
After telling him my story, the player advised me to stop working with this agent. I ignored all the messages the agent sent me after that.
Unfortunately, many players take the wrong decision because they are not educated about being approached by agents. We tend to do these things because we lack the knowledge. Especially if it’s the first time, you jump at the chance when first approached, and we often tend to figure out these things on our own. In Africa, sometimes you don’t even tell other people because you don’t know how far some person is willing to go to make things not work for you.
It would be good if unions could visit clubs to educate players about this issue. It was the first time that I was approached by an agent to move abroad. I had been in touch with local agents, but I never sat down with them. I wasn’t impressed with how they worked and treated players. They never called to ask what players wanted and how they were doing, and didn’t offer them anything. The only thing they told you was that they could take you to another team, and then take the little money you have. They are only there when you are doing well; they and are never there when you need help.