Mariel Duayhe grew up in Mexico with a passion for football, not knowing she would soon become one of the country’s most revolutionary player agents.
She first learned of the sport from her older brother, forcing her to take on the role of goalkeeper at the age of four with gloves much too big for her hands. She quickly fell head over heels, turning the backyard activity into a full-blown obsession.
“Growing up my idol was Mia Hamm, I would watch her all the time,” she laughed as she described the giant poster of the player in her childhood room. “I was the most dedicated, the most passionate. I would take control of the TV in my house and just watch every single game.”
But playing professionally was still a distant dream for Duayhe, until she earned the shocking invitation to play for the Mexican national team at the age of 17.
She trained with the youth side for a bit, but the reality of women’s football in Mexico at that time quickly set in. She could not participate in any major tournament as the organization remained underdeveloped.
Though the Mexican Federation originally established a female senior team in 1963, it did not receive the official recognition from FIFA until 1991, prompting the slow journey towards investment in women’s football.
“I spent a while with the national team, but at the time, women’s football in my family and Mexico was just not it,” she told 90min. “My mom told me I was wasting my time, and the whole environment surrounding the sport was very heavy, and I just ended up not coming back. But all I really wanted to do was play football. I didn’t even know agents existed. All I knew was that I wanted to be close to the sport.”
The experience dimmed her dream of a career in football, turning her away to focus on a Bachelor’s degree in marketing, by process of elimination. Years passed before she saw a possible return to follow her dormant aspiration.
By chance, she reunited with an old teammate.
“Interestingly it was Mariana Gutierrez, the current director of Liga MX Femenil, that brought me back. She and I played together when we were much younger. She was getting her Masters degree, and asked me if I wanted to intern at an agency that would pay us to watch games. It was there that I realized there was a career in being an agent.”
Now, almost 13 years later, Duayhe backs some of Mexico’s biggest and brightest stars including Santiago Gimenez, Erick Gutierrez and Daniela Espinosa. But even with exponential experience and knowledge in the industry, she hasn’t had it easy.
The industry continues to see discrimination against women, coming from years of male dominantion. Duayhe admitted she holds no grudges against those who made the journey more complicated, explaining they did so unwittingly.
“I don’t hold it against anyone. I don’t even think it was particularly personal against me, but simply a lack of awareness and willingness to change old ways of thinking. They didn’t put in the work to leave behind the prejudices against women in the workplace, but in the end it shaped me.”
She worked diligently behind an agency to establish herself, shaping her own vision of the industry. Duayhe realized the potential of seeing beyond just paperwork and the price tags of a player, understanding as an agent she wanted to accompany athletes in their journey.
She surpasses formalities to form real relationships as an agent, teacher, and friend.
“I am convinced that the day I begin to see players as dollar signs, which is how many in the industry perceive the situation, that I have completely lost myself. My value would no longer exist.”
– Mariel Duayhe
“I truly think I end up signing with players that are more in tune with me. When signing with a player, I look for the athlete that has a capacity beyond the constraints of the pitch. There’s an importance in the mentality of it all, they must be willing to learn and hear. Also, if he is daring enough to sign with a woman, it’s because the person has more of an open mind,” she said exclusively to 90min.
“I am convinced that the day I begin to see players as dollar signs, which is how many in the industry perceive the situation, that I have completely lost myself. My value would no longer exist.
“It’s about forming a bond,” she continued. “I have found that this industry is filled with a lot of distrust, a lot of uncertainty and misconceptions on the part of the players. They do not know how things work, and there are people who take advantage of that. I chose, instead, to communicate what’s going on, and serve as a transparent guide to the situation. At the end of the day, us agents cannot make a decision for our players, we can only explain and suggest the best possible paths. And there’s a huge responsibility to that.”
Duayhe continued to emphasize the importance of understanding responsibilities as a agent. In explaining the multifaceted nature of the industry, she revealed the emotional component of standing behind a player.
“It is amazing when a player is doing well. I always say, when an athlete is succeeding, how smooth it is to represent them. Diana Garcia, for example, began to do very well with Leon then suddenly Rayadas de Monterrey wanted her. We constructed a super contract with the team that subsequently led to her involvement with the Mexican national team, and adidas.
“That’s all incredible, the hard part comes in when a player doesn’t have a team, or gets injured. That’s when you have to have a representative that will be with you through the bad times, and that doesn’t always happen. What has worked for me is getting interested in the actual person, not the player.”
Duayhe spoke on the situation of Mexican national team figure and PSV Eindhoven player Erick Gutierrez as an example. He joined the Dutch side in 2018, arriving after a fantastic run as captain of Liga MX side Pachuca.
On the outside, the trade looked like a dream come true for all parties involved, but the reality is much harsher. A couple of dry spells on the pitch and injuries during the offseason saw Gutierrez take a backseat role for PSV, forcing him to rethink any past decision.
“When it started going badly, he was injured, he wasn’t playing, I tried talking to him about his dreams. But it wasn’t easy. This is when I say, it’s important as a player to be open-minded. Europe is a player’s dream, but it is very difficult to succeed. if you arrive and don’t play, the reality of speaking a different language, not seeing your family, the foreign food and people, it all becomes aggravated. If you play, everything balances it out. It took us a lot to convince Guti to stay, especially knowing there were other offers present.
“I had a club official text me once, offering a deal for him. He asked to speak with the player directly, obviously in a bid to calm the situation, I asked him not to go directly to him with the bid, but obviously not five minutes later the player received the phone call. But Guti listened, and gave it another go with PSV,” she said.
Now, the player is considered a key component of the team. The defensive midfielder featured extensively during the 2021/2022 campaign, inspiring the team to lift the KNVB Beker trophy when scoring the equalizer in the 48th minute.
“When a player is going through a tough time, you live the frustrations with him. All those emotions, you feel them too. So, when he scored in the cup final, I was there with his wife and kids. I yelled, and celebrated the goal as if it had been my own.”
Erick Gutierrez is just one of her recent triumphs, with many more to come. Duayhe is redefining what it means to be a player agent, and there is absolutely no stopping her.