Published: January 18, 2020 1:13:34 am
Written by Rahul Asnani
Late last year, on December 29, Norwegian teen sensation Erling Braut Haaland, after rumours of him going to Manchester United, was signed by Borussia Dortmund for €22.5m. It will be months before Paul Pogba, nursing an ankle injury, takes the field for Manchester United. There are rumours of him moving back to Juventus. Ajax’s Matthijs De Ligt joined Juventus for €75 million. Everton picked up budding star Moise Kean for €27.5 million and Napoli managed to acquire PSV’s Hirving Lozano for €40 million.
These seemingly unrelated transfers have a common thread – in the hands of modern football’s most polarising figure – 53-year-old Italian-born Dutch super agent Mino Raiola. Those kind to him call him a loyal agent with extraordinary business acumen. The other, less complimentary, view is of him as a narcissist obsessed with leaching off the game. However, there is a broad consensus that Raiola, who earned €63.1 million as of October 21 of last year in transfer commissions, much more than an average footballer playing in a top league, is a modern-day Shylock who club managers dread.
This hasn’t been an easy journey for world football’s biggest mover and shaker. Raiola isn’t a stranger to hardships. In his infancy, his family moved to the small Dutch town of Haarlem where they opened a quaint pizzeria named Napoli. From an early age, Raiola understood the importance of a flawless work ethic, starting from washing dishes to leading business negotiations.
Raiola could speak Dutch well and that helped. His passion, however, was elsewhere. The man loved football and decided to act on it when he dropped out of law school, which he had joined in his early 20s, and became the technical director at Haarlem FC, the local club.
His stint there was short-lived as his way of working did not match the requirements of the club. Soon he decided to leave and started his own company, Intermezzo, an agency that aided Dutch businesses. Raiola’s first taste of life as an agent came when he commandeered the transfer of Bryan Roy from Ajax to Foggia, a crucial move at the time that turned heads. It eventually led to Rob Jansen, one of the Netherlands’ leading agents at the time, asking Raiola to help with the transfer of Dennis Bergkamp to Inter Milan in 1993. However, their working relationship did not go past this deal as Raiola decided to work on his own.
From here on, Raiola was a full-fledged agent. As noted by Callum Rice-Coates in These Football Times, it was mentioned that Raiola kept discussing with the then coach of Lazio, Zdenek Zeman, a close friend of his, that he longed for the “perfect player”, and that he got in the form of Czech superstar Pavel Nedved. The agent managed to forge a strong bond with his first big client, resulting in the player joining Lazio where he enjoyed a decent run, scoring 51 goals in 208 appearances.
Although Nedved was satisfied at the club, Raiola convinced him to take the next step in his career and with that, came the famous transfer to Juventus. Luciano Moggi, the then technical director at Juve, wasn’t a fan of Raiola and therefore, allegedly used underhanded means to gain leverage over transfer negotiations.
However, despite being less experienced at the time, the Dutchman dealt with the situation perfectly, understanding that the club’s desire to sign the Czech player was immense and was able to strike a lucrative deal with Juventus.
Nedved had complete faith in his agent. Raiola explained it eloquently, “They said: ‘Alright, we will give you X.’ But then I told them: ‘I changed my mind, I don’t want X, I want Y.’ ‘You are crazy,’ they responded. And the war began.” (courtesy These Football Times). This would go down as the deal that put Raiola on the map.
The deal earned him a considerable amount of notoriety. His clientele grew exponentially. The next one to catch everyone’s eye was outspoken Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Thijs Slegers, a former Dutch journalist, introduced the two to each other. He made it known to the Swede that Raiola was a “Mafioso”. Slegers mentioned that in their first meeting, Raiola made it known to Zlatan that his stats did not live up to his ego. The rude awakening was exactly what a man like Zlatan needed who did not think twice before hiring the Italian-born Dutchman as his agent. From then on, Raiola has always looked out for Zlatan and his best interests, at times at the expense of club relations.
Pep Guardiola is just one of the many enemies Raiola has made in his career. When Ibrahimovic fell out of favour with the Spaniard, Raiola came out and voiced his anger, saying “If Guardiola doesn’t play Ibra after paying €75m for him, it’s best if you send him to a psychiatric hospital.” The war of words between the two has waged on since then. Despite the controversy, Raiola is an integral part of Zlatan’s career, making him one of the most expensive footballers in history.
The next step in Raiola’s career is the one he is known for the most. In 2012, Raiola made it clear to Pogba that his talents were being wasted at Manchester United, and the French 19-year-old agreed and made it known to Alex Ferguson that he wanted to leave the club. This led to another enemy Raiola made on his path to being a super agent. The move turned out to be the right one for the Frenchman as he found immense success at Juventus, aggregating 34 goals and 40 assists in 174 appearances. This set up a return to Old Trafford perfectly as Pogba made the big move back for a whopping €105 million.
In the same window, Raiola also brought Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Manchester United, earning a total of €43.6 million in commission. Since then, he has denounced United and their perceived incompetence in dealing with players he brings to them, going as far as to say that he would not bring any more players to the club.
Amidst the back and forth, Pogba and the continual transfer rumours of him leaving the club run amok. It has come to a point where the power of Pogba’s transfer lies Raiola’s hands as the club look to wash their hands off the troublesome agent.
Raiola has been a key component in the transfer of Matthijs de Ligt as well. Despite United seeming a likely option for the Dutch youngster, the club decided against it. Barcelona seemed like the frontrunners with ex-teammate Frenkie De Jong joining the Blaugrana. However, that fell through as well with Juventus picking up the Dutchman for €75 million. It’s not out of the realms of possibility to imagine Raiola’s demands had a role to play in the two likely frontrunners dropping out of the race for a budding youngster with big future.
It brings us to five days ago when Haaland signed for Dortmund. Manchester United were the ones to have the most contact with the starlet. However, as has now become apparent, the primary reason for them dropping out of the deal was the exorbitant demands of Raiola and Erling’s father, Alf-Inge Haaland. The demands reached a total of €25 million while the club would receive €20 million for the player. The disagreement between the club and the agent seemed like the last straw between the two parties as it seems like Raiola will not bring any more players to the Red Devils.
Even when he is not making deals, Raiola stays in the news; like when he bought a villa owned by mafia don Al Capone. Incidentally, he also treats clients as family and loyalty has a big role in his relationships.
So, is he is villain or a football Robin Hood? Or he is merely a product of the consumerism-driven sport that modern football has evolved into? While the jury is still out, Raiola has undeniably left an indelible mark on modern football.
Rahul Asnani is an intern with The Totalsports
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