As the modern game of football has expanded and evolved in recent years, the influx of money into the sport has seen the world’s pastime become a very profitable profession for more than just the players. While agents have long been prominent across many different sports, including football, the development of so called “Super Agents” has been a recent phenomenon. These modern pioneers of the footballing market have earned their flashy titles by often representing a multitude of the best players in the game. But it is not only players that they work for; many high profile managers, such as Jose Mourinho, are also represented by super agents.
By representing a fair number of the sport’s biggest superstars, these agents gain a considerable amount of influence on the world transfer market. Because these agents are often some of the most connected individuals in the game, many players want to be represented by these professionals. Yet, in some cases, these super agents might have a conflict of interests that does not always prioritize the player. Many players not only want to sign a contract that will ensure them a lucrative salary, but also want to play for the best and most prestigious clubs in the world. Because an agent often receives a relatively large proportion of any transfer fee, it can be in the agent’s best interest to coerce his client to a club that is willing to pay a larger price. There have also been incidents of clubs with new influxes of capital “hiring” super agents to bring talented names to the team (ex. Chelsea 2003 & Monaco 2011).
There is continuing debate as to whether the presence of super agents in the modern game is a disruptive force that negatively impacts the markets, or if it is simply an inevitable byproduct of increased viewership, tv rights, and money in general. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that many of “these agents wield disproportionate power over the transfer market, particularly at the top end where the richest clubs and the best players are involved.” (Tang) As transfer fees continue to climb higher and higher every window, so too have agent fees. It is not uncommon for many of these super agents to bring in more money than some of the games hottest talents, often earning large percentages of club transfer fees. Here is a closer look at some of the game’s most notable super agents, who they represent, and highlights of their influence on the sport and footballing market.
Pini Zahavi: This Israeli buisnessman was one of the first to lay claim to the “super agent” title. Known for his involvement in the then record breaking transfer of Rio Ferdinand to Manchester United, Zahavi was also very influential in many other blockbuster transfers during the early 2000’s Premier League era. He was enlisted by Roman Abramovich shortly after his financial takeover of Chelsea FC in order to help enlist an entourage of world class players. These included both Didier Drogba from Marseilles and Ashley Cole from fellow London rivals Arsenal. (Edwards) The later of which was heavily criticized as being extremely controversial by supporters due to the lack of transparency and shadow negotiations taking place behind the club’s back.
Additionally, Zahavi is heavily credited with introducing the English game to the traditionally South American football business practice of third-party ownership. (Edwards) After reviewing the details of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano’s joint 2006 transfer to West Ham United, it was revealed that Corinthians (the selling club) did not have control over the pair’s contracts. Instead, an investment group which had previously purchased a percentage of the Argentine’s playing rights had a heavy influence. Consortiums such as this treat the players like investments, hoping to make large profits down the road when athletes excel and make big money transfers. Because of their business interest in the players, they are typically heavily involved in transfer decisions and contract negotiations. Both FIFA and the European Parliament have since banned third-party player rights ownership, but supervision and enforcement of the ruling is still difficult in many countries. (Tang)
Mino Raiola: Known for not being afraid to speak his mind on social media when it comes representing his clients, Raiola has jumped onto the scene as one of the most influential “super agents” of the modern day. One of his first big name clients was Pavel Nedved, who upon his transfer to Juventus was able to secure a wage higher than then-world player of the year Zinedine Zidane thanks to Raiola’s negotiating prowess. Today, he represents the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba. (Jones) When asked about Raiola’s role in engineering a young Paul Pogba’s free transfer from Manchester United to Juventus, Sir Alex Ferguson referred to him as a “shitbag” for convincing the player to leave. (Tang) But it was Raiola who had the last laugh after he went on to sell Pogba back to Manchester United for a record $123 million fee, 40 percent of which he pocketed himself.
Raiola has also been guilty of brokering deals that seem to go against the best interest of the club. The same summer Pogba was reunited with Manchester United, Raiola was also trying to encourage the sale Borussia Dortmund player Henrikh Mkhitaryan to the Red Devils. Being a pivotal midfield player, Dortmund were reluctant to sell. However, during previous contract negotiations with the club, Raiola inserted a clause that would require them to pay him millions in fees if they turned down a buying team’s advances. (Tang) Because of this unwillingness to pay the extra cost, Dortmund were coerced into selling their star midfielder. But, this didn’t stop Raiola from receiving his payment, it was just included as a part of the transfer fee, instead. As super agents like Raiola become even more prominent and expand upon their pool of player representation, top clubs often have little choice but too buckle to their demands and inserted clauses.
Jorge Mendes: Being Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent is bound to make anyone a powerful influence in the footballing world, but the list does not stop there. Mendes also represents the likes of James Rodriguez, Angel Di Maria, David De Gea, Diego Costa, Radamel Falcao, Jose Mourinho and many other top names. If Zahavi was the biggest “super agent” of the past, Mendes is definitely the most influential “super agent” of the present and foreseeable future. Like Zahavi, Mendes was also hired to help bring in high caliber players during Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea. He performed similar feats with AS Monaco, masterminding the 105 million euro deal that secured James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, and more recently with Wolverhampton Wanderers where he recruited many fellow Portuguese nationals (a market he has a strong influence in). (Edwards)
However, not all of Mendes’s business is as innocent as it may first appear. An investigation performed by The Guardian revealed that Mendes might be subject to a conflict of interests. Mendes and his agency often provide advising and investment services to a fund called Quality Sports V Investments LP, which he in turn recommends many of his players too. Then, using his influence in the footballing market, promises to leverage his relationship with many of Europe’s top clubs in order to encourage them to buy those players. (Tang) This results in a financial interest in the players being sold, as Mendes will receive a large cut.
Similarly, there has long been a lack of transparency in transfer business between clubs and “super agents” like Mendes. This can often lead to dodgy relationships where transfer deals are coerced through a separate agenda. An example would be when Mendes provided several players and a coach to Wolverhampton Wanderers after their 2016 takeover by Chinese conglomerate Fosun. These deals went through soon after Mendes sold a stake in his agency to Foyo Culture and Entertainment, a Fosun subsidiary. (Tang) This begs the question of whether the actual value of the player is represented in the transfer fee or not. If not, that would be a considerable manipulation of the football transfer market.
Written by Evan Neel