Jorge Mendes: Man Utd's most powerful man?
The name Jorge Mendes will mean many things to many people. He's the ubiquitous super agent who can often be seen in director's boxes at stadiums across Europe, with shades on, whispering in the ear of a club official or a player whose transfer he's just sealed.
As the representative of a host of football superstars including Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao, and David de Gea, Mendes was named the second wealthiest sports agent in the world on Forbes' agent Rich List last year.
The Portuguese earned a massive £62.3 million in commission and negotiated £622million worth of active player contracts in 2015, putting him behind only baseball's Scott Boras as the most influential sports agent on the planet. It's no surprise to learn that, given the numbers involved, Mendes has masterminded three of the five biggest transfers in the history of football.
He was certainly a busy boy last summer too. David de Gea's failed move to Real Madrid on deadline day hit the headlines, but it was a rare low point in an otherwise fruitful window. One of Mendes' biggest clients, Angel di Maria, left Manchester United to join Paris Saint-Germain a year after joining the Red Devils from Real Madrid. 12 months, three clubs and more than £100 million in transfer fees with plenty of commission for Mendes; not bad work if you can get it.
The super agent still had time to help make Monaco's Anthony Martial the most expensive teenager of all time (despite not being his agent) and fix a deal worth around £35 million for Nicolas Otamendi to Manchester City. According to Transfermarkt, his agency Gestifute represents more than 80 players who have a combined estimated transfer value of more than £400 million. Mendes also takes care of a stable of managers, including Jose Mourinho and Belgium boss Marc Wilmots.
Today's announcement of Mourinho as Manchester United boss marks, if not the biggest deal of Mendes' career, then perhaps his biggest coup. There had been plenty of murmurs that one of the biggest cases against appointing the Special One was the growing influence of his agent at Old Trafford; Louis van Gaal is said to have clashed with him repeatedly.
"Mendes' final flourish was fitting for a man who had just won the war and tightened his grip on the world's third richest club"
Mendes flexed his muscles and hijacked what should have been a crowning moment for Van Gaal - his post-FA Cup press conference - by ensuring the news of Mourinho's impending arrival landed in the laps of the press just moments after the full-time whistle at Wembley. A final flourish fitting for a man who had just won the war and tightened his grip on the world's third richest club.
It's worth noting, as Ian Herbert in the Independent pointed out recently, that by Mourinho's second year at Real Madrid, half his team were attached to Mendes; Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Fabio Coentrao, Angel Di Maria and Marcelo. Only a fool would bet against the same thing happening again this time around.
Former Chief Executive David Gill, now a director, recently confirmed that the Manchester United board would have "much more of an ambassadorial role” going forward. Members of that board include Sir Alex Ferguson and Bobby Charlton. At the very least the door is open for Mourinho and Mendes to mould the club in their own image, potentially disregarding - for better or worse - any notion of history and tradition. For now, the best that fans can hope for is that there can be no excuses for failure if that does prove to be the case.
But the 49-year-old former aspiring footballer doesn't only concern himself with making transfers of players and managers happen. He's also been credited with turning around entire clubs, while it's been estimated he's been involved in over £1 billion worth of transfers at the same time.
Mendes became an agent entirely by chance. In 1996, he was running a string of bars and even a video store when a chance encounter changed his life. He met goalkeeper Nuno, in a bar in Guimarães, and struck up a relationship with him that ultimately led to Mendes brokering his transfer to Deportivo La Coruna a year later.
From there he built Gestifute up with a string of deals including Hugo Viana’s move to Newcastle United using what was, at that time at least, his most valuable commodity; his charm. “Jorge never took a cent from me, although we’d agreed he’d get a bonus,” said Nuno afterwards. “He tore up the cheque under my eyes, saying he’d never cash it.
Sir Alex Ferguson is a fan too, having praised Mendes' honesty and fairness in a tarnished industry. "Jorge Mendes is the best agent I dealt with, without a doubt," the former Manchester United boss said. "He was responsible, looked after his players… and was very fair with clubs.”
And if that sounds like hot air then this week above all others proved that Ferguson doesn't usually mince his words when it comes to agents. "I simply did not like him," the Scot wrote in his latest book, Leading, released this week, of agent Mino Raiola, who negotiated Paul Pogba's ignominious Manchester United exit to Juventus.
"He [Raiola] and I were like oil and water. From then on our goose was cooked because Raiola had been able to ingratiate himself with Paul and his family and the player signed with Juventus."
Two major moves established Mendes as a power figure in the world of football. Firstly, he was able to wrestle Mourinho away from his former agent with one decisive act that earned the Special One's trust. Back in 2004, Mourinho was football's hottest property having guided Porto to the Champions League. Over in London, Roman Abramovich was on the lookout for the right man to succeed Claudio Ranieri after he'd bought Chelsea, and lead the club into a new trophy-laden new era.
"There were three agents who wanted to represent me," the Chelsea boss said in a biography of Mendes: The Special Agent - The key to Mendes.
"He told me he was with Abramovich in Paris. And there I was, with Abramovich in front of me. Jorge had proved to me he wasn't lying." - Jose Mourinho on Jorge Mendes
"Then a fourth agent appeared who was Jorge Mendes. I said to them, "The one who keeps me is the one who brings me Abramovich or takes me to him." Two days later, Mendes rang: "Abramovich is in Portugal and wants to see you".'
While the pair were meeting with the Russian billionaire, another agent rang Mourinho. "He told me he was with Abramovich in Paris. And there I was, with Abramovich in front of me. Jorge had proved to me he wasn't lying."
That deal not only made him a nice chunk of change, it also opened up other doors too. With a boot in each camp, Mendes has successfully moved players he represents to clubs managed by Mourinho ever since his first move to Chelsea. The list is too long to mention, but it includes Diego Costa, Radamel Falcao, Deco, William Carvalho and Ricardo Quaresma amongst many others.
If the deal with Mourinho helped Mendes get his foot in the door then it was Cristiano Ronaldo's switch to Manchester United in 2003 that made him in a household name. He made £5 million from the Portuguese winger's move to Real Madrid in 2009 but more importantly, by getting him from Sporting Lisbon to Old Trafford in the first place, it made others sit up and notice.
Mendes forged his career by signing up Portugal's best young talent from soccer schools and he hit the jackpot with Ronaldo. "Mendes (was) just a normal agent, but with Cristiano Ronaldo's move to United, it opened the door for him." fellow agent Barry Silkman said in an interview with CNN, while Miguel Cuesta-Rubio, writer of "Jorge Mendes: The Special Agent," added: "Of course, when you have Ronaldo it sends a loud message to the other players, and one goes to the next."
It is his dealings with Ronaldo that perhaps reveals the secret to his success. Mendes is said to be personable and sincere; traits not exactly in keeping with his peers. The pair have now become so close that Mendes picked Ronaldo as his best man for his wedding. The Real Madrid star reciprocated by reportedly buying him a Greek island.
“I trust him completely. I’d feel happy to put everything I have in his hands,” Ronaldo said of Mendes in 2014. Such is the level of commitment amongst his clients that Fabio Coentrao admits he'd be a sailor rather than a footballer were it not for Mendes.
"He’s charismatic, good company and can connect with people at any level,” former Monaco Sporting Director Tor-Kristian Karlsen told the Financial Times last year.
The key to Mendes' success has been his ability to position himself as the conduit through which not only clubs do their business through, but also entire continents in some cases. Manchester United, Monaco (with whom Mendes is said to have a financial agreement with to sell their players) and Atletico Madrid use him as a one-stop shop for their transfer business; and it's even been claimed he's been used to broker deals for players that he doesn't represent.
Jose Bosingwa's £16m transfer to Chelsea was facilitated by Mendes even though he wasn't the right-back's agent for example, and when Mourinho took over at Inter Milan in 2008, he flew to Italy before his first day to draw up plans for the Italian club's transfer policy.
Working with fellow agent Pini Zahavi the pair have moved to effectively wrap up the lucrative South American market. Barely a player moves from the hotbed of football to Europe without one or the other involved. Players, like James Rodriguez, for whom Mendes brokered a £71 million move to Real Madrid, seeking a route into Europe tend to go via Portugal because of work permit issues, and that's where Mendes is the gatekeeper. It's a match made in heaven. One report claims that brokered 68% of transfer fees at the biggest three Portuguese clubs - Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon - between 2001 and 2010.
Although Mendes is a private man and rarely gives interviews, he would not have got into his position without a ruthless streak, and he's certainly not afraid to bend the rules and burn those who stand in his way. When Manchester United surprised the footballing world by signing young Portuguese footballer Bebe from Vitoria, despite the fact he'd not played a competitive game for the club he'd joined just a month earlier, Mendes was at the heart of the move.
Sir Alex Ferguson insists he signed Bebe on the recommendation of Carlos Queiroz having never seen him play, and it was later revealed that Mendes had received €3 million of Bebe's €9 million transfer fee because he'd purchased 30% of the player's rights. The deal was subsequently investigated by the Portuguese police over allegations of corruption. Mendes wasn't even Bebe's agent and his then-representative, Gonçalo Reis, claimed that Mendes improperly poached Bébé from him just before the deal with Manchester United was done.
"One report claims that Mendes brokered 68% of transfer fees at the biggest three Portuguese clubs - Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon - between 2001 and 2010."
Third-party ownership is illegal in the Premier League but is an area that Mendes and his GestiFute group have been very much linked with. It's not enough for him to represent players, Mendes owned part of them too - and if, for example, he were to move a player of whom he held a stake in Manchester United, he'd represent all sides of the deal; the buyer (through Mourinho), the player and the seller. An investigation by the Telegraph claimed that could have been the case with Chelsea's Diego Costa's move from Atletico Madrid, who received only £14 million because he was part-owned by a third party with links to Mendes and former Chelsea executive Peter Kenyon. He's a one-man industry.
"With all due respect to other agents, this country owes him a lot because he handles large transfers and brings money into the country because this is like an export," said Emilio Macedo, president of Vitoria Guimaraes, after the Bebe deal.
An investigation by the Guardian in 2014 claimed that he'd been flying a little too close to the sun with his third party dealings. The paper claimed that Mendes, along with Kenyon was 'serially involved in third party dealings that breached FIFA regulations', and also advised offshore funds who invested £100 million in player rights, who he represented. After the article was published, FIFA announced plans to change the rules over third-party ownership.
King of the World
Mendes continues to hold court as one of football's most powerful figures regardless of the accusations. His relationships with key men at some of Europe's biggest clubs means he is in prime position to remain the conduit for the biggest transfers in the game. After all, he controls the prime currency of football, talent, and he's been able to commodify it to his benefit.
In many ways, he's revolutionised what it means to be an agent, and expanded the job title into something completely different. Reports in Portugal say that he was involved in more than €400 million worth of transfers in the latest window, and with Ronaldo linked to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, his biggest pay-day may still be ahead of him.
Mendes once dreamt of making it as a footballer himself but retired at the age of 30 after being rejected by a host of lower-tier Portuguese clubs. In a rare interview, he admitted he 'wasn't good enough' to make the grade and had to give up. Ironic, isn't it, that he now earns more than any footballer on the planet.
Which of Mendes' clients would you like to see at Manchester United? Leave a comment below!