by Mervin LR
At only 23 years of age, sports agent Wilbur Lasrado is quickly starting to make quite a name for himself.
Wilbur Lasrado is one of those people in the game, who has a certain amount of passion for plucking out youngsters and making them stay afloat in the footballing world.
Currently working at Inventive Sports UK as a Player Relation Manager, Wilbur is one of the key members amongst the agencies in football, boasting the likes of Steve Coppell, Lucian Goian, Iain Hume, Andre Bikey, Sahal Abdul Samad and Jobby Justin, etc as their major clients.
We were fortunate to ask Wilbur a few questions about his background, representing professional footballers and the industry as a whole. Check out the interview below:
What is your background and what you did leading up to Inventive Sports?
Having lost my dad’s support to the family at an early age of eight, I was lucky to have been brought up single-handedly by my mother who has left no stone unturned to make sure I get the best of everything. The values she inculcated in me have made me stronger.
Like any 16-year-old, I was naïve and confused about what to expect ahead in life, but with constant pep talks and a humble family background, I was always motivated to work hard and achieve my goal.
Firstly, I never thought, I’d be a graduate but on being convinced by my mom’s positive approach, I decided to take up a full-time course. Thus, started the struggle to pursue a degree course and simultaneously manage a job at several companies like, Intelenet (now known as Teleperformance) and Tech Mahindra over the years.
After completing my Bachelor in Management Studies and towards the end of 2017, I was introduced to Baljit Rihal – CEO of Inventive Sports, who is a Licensed English Football Agent, ECB Cricket Agent, FIFA Match Agent and Founder of Asian Football & Cricket Awards from London. After a month of talking and discussion regarding how to take the business further we decided to work together. Earlier, Baljit was only into International Players, I wanted to add some desi flavor to it.
Football was my first sport through school and so naturally, I learned the ins and outs of the business very quickly, was hired and assigned to work with some football clients, effectively recruited some others, and the rest is history. It has been a great personal challenge and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in the sports agency industry? What specifically interested you in the industry?
First thing is my passion and the second thing is my desire and hunger for sports. I like new challenges, I am not the kind of person who gives up very easily, I will fight till the final buzz or till I breath last, even if I fall- I will get up and fight with every inch of my skin.
The transition was not easy. I realized many of these individuals face unique challenges as they tried to advance their careers and would benefit from trustworthy agents to help transform their talent into opportunities at the professional level.
What inspired me was that it was extremely hard to break into the business. I was extremely determined and hungry to be in the business, so I said I’m going to give this a real shot.
Who do you look up to in the agent industry like role model and why?
Yes, there are lot of people in the industry I looked up to but one of the finest example I would say is Baljit Rihal. The way he goes about everything and the excellent work he has been doing is nothing short of extraordinary.
Baljit comes with a lot of experience and contacts in the industry and had the understanding of players. He taught me a lot about bridging the gap between corporate brands and the action sports market. I have learned a tremendous amount through him. If today I’m doing well, it’s because of his guidance.
Who was the first client that you were given access to?
When it comes to Indian players, I started off with the likes of Aaron Dcosta, Augustin Fernandes, Alesh Sawant, Sanjay Balmuchu, Biaklain Paite, Abhishek Das and slowly I grabbed on to opportunity to seal International players such as Lucian Goian etc.
I always had a close bond with my players, the relationship I have with them is not like an agent/ player rather more of a family and friendly relationship. I feel that’s how it’s supposed to be; At times it backfires, but you can’t help getting close to the players as ours is a relationships business.
And this industry is full of creative, fun and driven people from around the world who are passionate about these sports. During off-season we often catch up for a 5 A-Side game and when work is over, we all chill together. They treat me not like an agent, but like family.
If my player has a game to play or has an awards function to attend, I get him for a hair-cut from my professional stylist, it gives him confidence and changes the way he carries himself, which pays dividends in the end.
What is the life of a football agent like? (as it involves a lot of travelling, you will be always on the move?
It’s challenging and will always keep you on your toes. I also have a corporate job that I keep up with, my life goes anti-clockwise. My work starts at 8:00 pm hence I sleep around 06:30 in the morning, wake up at around 12:00 in the noon. I further push to the gym at 4:00 P.M.
My passion includes playing football, travelling, interacting with people etc. Throughout the day, I am mostly in direct contact with clients and potential clients, most often on the phone and it’s a wild ride every day.
How do you differentiate yourself from other agencies in the ultra-competitive football representation industry?
The sports agent and media representation business are a tough industry and a highly competitive field to break into. We are building an amazing structure and plan for our agency that entails contract negotiation, marketing and endorsements and something that I am thrilled about, in which I think a lot of our future clients will really enjoy that.
I know it won’t be easy, but I’m prepared for that and realistic about my targets. I can give you one example of my client Augustin Fernandes.
As Hero ISL Season 3 concluded, Augustin finished the campaign well with FC Pune City, but unfortunately, he had to go through a minor surgery, he returned fit just in time to get into the ISL Draft for Season 4, where he got picked up by two times champions ATK, but couldn’t bag a single appearance for them. He wasn’t able to break into the coaches plan, thus had to be released in the Winter Transfer Window.
Having known him from many years, the potential he has and fact that he’s been like a brother to me made me want to push him beyond his limits however, it wasn’t an easy task, the bonding and affection we had – made one thing for sure that we weren’t leaving each other’s back come what may. Back when his agent and everyone around him gave up, there was one thing about him he never gave up on himself rather just continued to work hard, every yard. He kept on hustling, did everything he could.
Due to lack of playing time in the previous season, he wasn’t picked up by a single franchise going into the following season, nothing was working in favor of him. But despite all that negativity, he kept going – working rigorously on his fitness and conditioning, in the month of December he then had an opportunity, to trial at Jamshedpur FC before being eventually signed in the Winter Transfer window where he then featured as a Centre Back across three games, scoring one goal and keeping two clean sheets this redeeming himself, fighting against all odds.
The way he made his comeback, his hunger was visible to all. Towards the end of the season, we had few offers, but it was wise of him, to decide and renew at Jamshedpur for another year. That’s a definite example of how the agent-player relationship should work and you shouldn’t give up on players easily even when the going isn’t easy. Working with him and other young footballers and helping them pursue their career and navigate this business is very rewarding.
What is the difference between you find dealing with Foreign club and Indian club?
Well, there is a bridge of a gap between the level of Indian and Foreign club. In Europe the market is inflated, particularly in England. And we are still some way behind the real big transfers.
When a foreign player comes to India, he is mostly in his mid-30s; they happen to do very well across Indian Soil but the same cannot be said about Indian players if they were sent abroad at the same age. It goes a long way back to the grassroots development. Normally, if you look at the foreign players start playing from the age of 6 but in India, it would take at least 15 years to realize his full potential and what to do next. Thankfully with the grassroots now coming in place, I’m positive about the change in the coming years.
In addition to being an agent, you are also working in a corporate company in Mumbai. How do you juggle with managing players at Inventive Sports and corporate job simultaneously?
My life revolves from managing players at Inventive Sports to keeping up with my corporate job. I am committed to everything I do and know where my priorities lie and I work accordingly to achieve that. My personal goal is to just to stay focused and hungry. This is a very tough industry and can get hard at times and I just need to make sure I stay focused on everything I do.
Your roster includes quite a few players like Iain Hume, Lucian Goian, Andre Bikey and Jobby Justin? You were involved in many transfers Jobby Justin moving to ATK this summer. That felt like an especially positive story.
We signed Jobby back in the year of 2017 when he played for Kerala State Football Team and then signed for East Bengal. He didn’t get much playing time in his first year but in the next season with new coach in charge, he worked his way up, proved himself- 9 goals/ 4 assist and some individual brilliance you all know- which is why he was a part of the recent 37 man squad to represent India at the Kings Cup 2019.
There were lots of clubs were ready to sign him, we tried our best which club would be best suitable options – not only in terms of money but also a place where he can prove himself furthermore.
At Inventive Sports, we scout players when they’re young. It’s easy to look at a few names like Sahal Abdul Samad today and say he’s a superstar, but the truth is that our representative Shakeel Abdulla spotted him back during the year 2017 in Kerala and signed him up before he became a regular for Kerala Blasters and Indian U-23 and Senior Team.
How important is trust and building a strong relationship with your clients?
Like any business of course trust, integrity and a good relationship with your clients is fundamental. You have to get to know your players’ and understand what is important to them.
You’re one of the reasons behind the recent partnership between Nivia and Football Sports Development Ltd to be the official partner of the Hero ISL for the 2018/19 season?
Yes, we were the one’s involved- behind the success of Nivia- the leading Indian Sports manufacturing brand signing a multi- year agreement with Football Sports Development Ltd to be the official ball partner of the Hero Indian Super League with a multi-crore deal starting from season 2018/19.
It was something no one ever talked about, but I’m really glad that I was part of the success of the development of Indian football. It was one of my biggest achievements in the industry so far.
Sahal Abdul Samad had a breakout campaign and now has a chance to be a key player for Kerala Blasters and national team in the coming years. What’s your expectation of him performing this season?
Sahal has been revelation for both Kerala and Indian football in the recent time. He produced some scintillating performance to win the Hero ISL Emerging Player of the season award. He is an extremely talented player and competitor; but he is an even greater person than he is a great athlete. He has the value system and tools to handle success – one of the many reasons we think he will ultimately be a star for years to come.
What would say are the three main character traits needed for a successful football agent?
Football is very hard industry to crack. The top three-character traits you need is 1. Be honest 2. Good communicator and 3. You do need to be thick-skinned to survive as a football agent here.
What’s your opinion on Igor Štimac being the new head coach?
He brings with him tremendous experience of having coached on some of the biggest stages in football. This happens to be his second assignment as coach of a national team after earlier guiding Croatia to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil which includes working with Elite players like Luka Modric Dejan Lovren, Mateo Kovacic. He’s also had a couple of spells with Hajduk Split going on to play for Cádiz in Spain followed by Derby County and West Ham United in England and has also been a part of the Croatian Team that finished third in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. It’s great to have a coach of his level. A new chapter has truly begun, and I hope he does well and takes Indian football to next level.
Finally, if someone wanted to become an agent, what would you say to them?
Stay humble, work very hard and don’t be afraid to leverage your network. There are so many roles out there that can make you an integral part of someone’s team, so you should focus on figuring out how you can bring value to someone first and foremost.
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