We can only speculate on how significant an influence football agents really have over the clients in their books, but the general consensus is that the likes of Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola often pull the strings for their players, and not always necessarily in their best interests. Much like Shakespeare’s Iago, the modern agent can control a player’s destiny as if they are the ones writing the script and not just the contract.
“Jorge told me I had to get a flight to Madrid, I knew nothing of what was going on and when we arrived he told me I was signing for Atlético Madrid. We were in the house of Atlético sporting director Jesús García Pitcarch, and I didn’t even know who he was.” - Diego Costa on his move to Atlético Madrid at 19 years of age
One thing is beyond doubt; it is in Mendes’ best interests in the long run for his clients to be doing well - to be performing, to be winning, to be in the headlines as much as possible. This is something that could easily work in Manchester United’s favour if Mendes can coax some of the stars in his portfolio to join a club that are not playing Champions League football next season, as was the case with Radamel Falcao two years ago. José Mourinho is a star managerial attraction for Mendes’ players, something that he will no doubt make use of.
A number of his clients are already being linked with a move to Old Trafford, and no one would be surprised if the summer sports pages were regularly pockmarked with images of his charges holding a red and white scarf outside the club’s Carrington training base. James Rodriguez and William Carvalho are two players of a suitable calibre to join the Manchester United ranks while current player David de Gea is also a client of the highly-regarded agent. Ed Woodward and Louis van Gaal struggled to convince de Gea to remain at the club last summer - saved by the infamous dodgy fax machine - but Mourinho and Mendes could solve that problem in the short term.
“A good man...a true friend...an awesome human being” - Cristiano Ronaldo on Jorge Mendes
It is not uncommon to see clubs buy Mendes-advised players in bulk, in a strategy that is more suited to grocery shopping at a discount supermarket than trying to build a successful team, but just like these outlets Mendes makes no apologies for how he operates and is happy once there is profit to be made.
His uncompromising business nature - famously leaving Cristiano Ronaldo to celebrate alone after his signing for Manchester United - is not unlike that of Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, and in a similar fashion Mendes may take the club where they want to go but it may not be the comfortable ride they had envisioned. And there is also the possibility of needing a three-hour bus ride to get to your destination after landing in a former military airbase with a misleading name.
It may be that Mendes will decide to pool a number of his players - and by extension his main assets - at Manchester United, confident that with Mourinho at the helm the club will have tangible success within a couple of seasons and also that he can push through deals that are ultimately stacked in his favour.
A club that can spend what it wants, a manager with the determination and will to prove any supposed doubters wrong, and in the middle an agent who can make it all happen. What could go wrong?
This is where complications may occur for Ed Woodward, whose reputation as a negotiator has been damaged by high-profile declarations of interest in players like Gareth Bale and Neymar that have subsequently embarrassed the club and its directors.
If Mourinho wants a player and Mendes is said player’s agent, what power does Woodward or anyone else in the halls of Old Trafford hold in the negotiations? Not that it ultimately matters for a club of that size - the only lesson learned from the transfer activity since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure has been that money is no object. The Portuguese super-agent will no doubt relish the prospect of testing the depth of Woodward’s pockets this summer.
Like any transfer strategy, relying on Mendes to provide his clients to the club - if that is part of the plan - could also go wrong. Mendes has previous at Manchester United, with a mixed bag of facilitating the moves of Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon but also those of Nani (also from Lisbon for a fee of over £22 million) and Anderson (£27 million from Porto), for fees that even in the inflated environs of today’s super-rich clubs seem ludicrously high.
He was also responsible for the transfer of Bebé to the club - with Mendes buying a 30% stake in the player’s economic rights just before the move to profit from as well as his customary agent’s fee. Question marks remain over the validity of the signing (Ferguson claims he was the only player signed in his reign who he had not seen play before), as well as Mendes’ relationship with Peter Kenyon and their business interests including investment funds in Gibraltar, Ireland and Jersey that previously owned economic rights to a number of Mendes’ clients before the eradication of third-party ownership.
Signing players from Portuguese clubs generally involve paying a premium anyway, which is down in part to Mendes’ monopoly on his native country’s league. It will come as no surprise that Mendes is thought to have played a part in 68% of all transfers involving Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica in the previous decade - a claim he is quick to make himself.
“This country owes him a lot because he handles large transfers and brings money into the country. This is like an export.” - Club Vitoria President Emilio Macedo
In spite of the obvious benefits the club can accrue from having a closer relationship with the football world’s most high-profile Mr. 10%, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward seems like a particularly appetising lamb being brought to the slaughter at the altar of one of the most powerful men in modern football. Mendes has previously wormed his way into the running of clubs through relationships with the owners - most famously with Peter Lim at Valencia and Monaco’s Dmitry Rybolovlev - but can now take advantage of Mourinho’s position (as he did at Real Madrid) and also Woodward’s naivety in the market and desperation to succeed after three years of stagnation.
Manchester United will dance with the devil, and have to take the risk of being burned in an effort to bring back the success of previous years. If the soul of the club has not already been sold it may well be on the market soon, and no doubt Mendes will be a willing buyer - just don’t forget that he will be due his 10% on that too.
The excellent profile of Mendes by The Guardian’s David Conn has been used as a resource for this piece. The article is available here.