Inspirational Woman: Catalina Kim | Football Agent & Founder and CEO, C&P Sports

Catalina Kim is the only female Asian football agent in Europe. She brokers multi-million pound deals between European football clubs including Manchester City, AC Milan, Real Madrid and many more, and successful Asian brands.

At 38 she could retire tomorrow, but she won’t because she is top of her game, showing that women, Asian women, can make a mark even in the male-dominated white male world of European football.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the founder and CEO of a leading sports agency, and as the only female Asian football agent in Europe I have carved out a unique role for myself in this white male-dominated industry.

I never foresaw this as my career path. Born in South Korea I moved to Italy to study, then forged a career in the fashion industry in Milan before moving to London to work as a consultant for the South Korean Embassy.

While at the Embassy, I made many connections and after I left I was approached by a previous business contact to help broker a deal with Manchester City football club.

This project laid the foundations for me to start my own sports agency, C&P Sports Ltd., which now employs 28 people in London, Frankfurt and Seoul. My agency brokers multi-million pound deals between Asian brands and European football clubs. We advise on commercial viability across the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and other world-leading sporting bodies.

C&P Sports has worked with some of the most successful footballers and managers in the world, and I am proud to have brokered the longest sponsorship in history between Korean corporation and English premier league – Kumho Tyres of Tottenham Hotspur.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I never dreamed my life would follow this path! I imagined I would be working in the consulting industry in Europe but it never crossed my mind that it could be football.

Other than my mother language, Korean, I also speak English, Spanish and Italian . These three European languages are the key football languages, but again I never planned this.

When I worked at the South Korean Embassy in London, we would advise UK corporations that want to enter the Korean market, and as government officials we were supposed to give only positive views to encourage them to do so. One day, after a meeting with one UK retail business representative, I walked him out and as soon as we got in the lift, I told him “Don’t do it!” then explained three major reasons why I believed their business could not succeed in the Korean market.

He was shocked, but by the time the lift arrived on the ground floor he had invited me to speak further over a coffee. I declined so as not to compromise my role, however we stayed in touch and when I left the Embassy he introduced me to several key business figures including the Chief Commercial Officer at Manchester City FC.  It was my honesty that had impressed this contact, and thanks to his connections and faith in me I ended up on this career path in the football industry, and I have never looked back!

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

There are four types of discrimination I have found in European football.

First gender, second race, the third is due to the nepotism culture in football and the last, if you are not a former player you are asked to over perform.

The first and second challenges are universal but the third and fourth are also important to note. Why should favour be given to someone simply because they are the child of someone successful? Sons and daughters of stars are given preference and priority when it comes to access to clubs and players, and I do my best to challenge this with my success.

Also, representing businesses in commercial contracts in football is a completely different job to playing football that requires a completely different of skill set, but former players are often given special treatment when brokering deals in European football. I see this as as much of a discrimination against me as the other forms.

I am the opposite of all these discriminatory factors – I am an Asian woman from a normal background, not the child of an important figure in European football history, and never have I played professional football, yet I’m still succeeding – proof that we can overcome challenges and discrimination if we really believe we can.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I believe my biggest achievement is always the one I am working on now. Every deal is important and should be approached as the biggest ever.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Honesty with genuine insights.

People are afraid of giving their honest opinions and sweeten them, because hearing a brutal truth is never fun for listener. However, you only get the respect you deserve when you give the bare facts with brutal honesty, and that’s what I do!

Delivering honest views with genuine insights is the way to seal a deal. If your client sees you have good insights and a genuine intention of only trying to help them, they value your honesty highly.

Catalina KimYou’re the only female Asian football agent in Europe – how can more women make their mark in male-dominated fields?

I spoke about four types of discriminations in European football earlier. Gender is one of them and not necessarily disconnected with other types of discrimination. The nepotism culture did not much help woman to enter the football industry and the discrimination against non- former players also fails to address the gender issue as the number of female footballers is much smaller than male footballers. For this reason, we must fight off all types of discrimination in European football if we genuinely want the right change for women.

You have also had to fight off sexism and racism during your career – how did you handle this?

I have been labelled a pioneer in terms of my role in introducing new profiles to the industry.

The European football world has never really worked with women or Asians until very recently. So when I do experience sexism and racism in the market, I am willing to allow time for my peers to become familiar with me and learn how to work with non-white European males.

I wish this understanding and accepting progressed faster, but the fact is it is progressing.

When in Italy I was openly insulted due to my ethnicity and gender. My Visa put my gender down as male and when I addressed the issue with the police, as I was asked to, I was greeted with giggles and sexual innuendos. This upset me inside but I will never show I am upset if somebody insults me. I was treated like a second-class citizen due to my gender and race, even by my female boss. This is why I left Italy in search of a more tolerant society. I find Britain so much more tolerant, and the world of football is hopefully catching up with that level of respect.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I am very lucky to have been surrounded by people who genuinely have always supported my career. I consider them as my mentors. If you could call me an underdog given my background, that could be right and people support underdogs with their hearts. Probably for this reason, many of my contacts in fields (not just in football, in all kinds of industries) have always been there for me and offered their advice anytime required for my projects. They consider what I do brave and genuinely want me to continue to succeed in this field.

Since my book  – Agent Lady – was published and became a best seller in Korea, I have received many messages seeking advice. As my mentors supported my career path, I support those who are ready to develop. I hope sharing my story will work as mentoring readers to follow and realise their dreams.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I have an autistic brother and that made life for my family in Korea difficult as Korean society has little tolerance with disabilities. We often got kicked out of restaurants and were asked to move my brother to a different school saying other customers or classmates were uncomfortable with my brother’s condition. Due to such intolerance of society, the first week of my brother’s attendance at school our family realised that my little brother would not have a friend for the rest of his life. Kids did not want to play with my brother, actually kids were told by their parents not to play with my brother. The girls in Asia usually do not get encouraged to learn or play sports for cultural reasons, but for this special reason, my parents taught me sports so I could be a friend to my brother. This is why I became so familiar with sports as a woman, and now that helps my career succeed.

My time in Italy was a collection of days with constant racism and sexism, but at least I learnt Italian to understand when people were trying to insult me, and that is now one of key skills for being a better agent in football!

So for the younger me, during those times of despair, I want to say life may not be fair for you now, but you will find your own fairness, and you will be happy.

Korea isn’t fair for your family and Europe was not fair for you but eventually you have found your own fairness used these challenges to create success.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

There has been no ownership in the 1st divisions of European football by Korean capital yet. I intend to be the first person to make this happen.

What do you think of Super league? Do you support the idea?

I want to describe what I believe football should be to answer this question, using my personal experience of my very first day at a football stadium in Korea. Our family experienced being kicked out from restaurants, galleries, movie theatres, concerts etc. due to my brother’s autism.

But things were different at the stadium. No one seemed to care about my brother’s condition. We could have stayed until the end of the game. Due to the intolerance of society my brother has been rejected and excluded from most things but during the game, there was a magical moment – a man standing near our family when he was celebrating over a goal, he high-fived everyone around him including my brother. It was a magical moment that I would never forget. First inclusion and acceptance by society. That is how I fell in love with football.

Hence the question is this: Since when has football been about excluding someone? When did football ever stand for only for ones selected? Football is the most universal and accessible sport in the world. That is why it is widely loved by all genders, races, nationalities and generations. It has never been approved as a sport only for ‘big clubs’. That is not the value of what football stands for nor the reason why people come to the stadium to watch.

The structure of the Super league and the direction where they intend to head with it are not aligned with the right football philosophy. So, no, I do not approve of it. I trust the majority of my colleagues in the industry are with me on this topic.

What gives you the edge in your field?

European football still lacks understanding of Asian market. The ignorance comes from the lack of number of Asian people in this industry. The majority of revenues of European football come from Asia, but we don’t see many Asian seniors or leaderships in the clubs. Heads of Asia in the club houses are all white European males and once I even saw a white man who didn’t speak a single Asian language give a lecture on Asian markets at a football seminar in London. We should bring real experts for real insights. I’m on a mission to achieve equality and respect, and I firmly believe I will succeed.

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