Not far from the football-adoring city of Naples in southern Italy in 1967, a soon-to-be monster in the world of sport was born. Just one year later, a young Mino Raiola moved to the Netherlands with his mother and father, the latter of which opting to open a restaurant business in the city of Haarlem. Mino’s appetite for business was apparent immediately, with the young Italian playing a key role in the success of the restaurant, while simultaneously attending high school before studying law at university.
After failing to impress on the pitch at HFC Haarlem, Raiola took up the position of the club’s sporting director when he was still only a teenager, yet soon moved on to assist in the transfers of Dutch footballers to Italian clubs under a company called Sports Promotions. Several players were involved in such movements to Raiola’s native Italy, yet legendary striker Dennis Bergkamp’s venture from Ajax to Inter Milan was undoubtedly top of the list.
Like most aspiring entrepreneurs, however, Raiola decided it was time to go alone. And where better to start than with the transfer of Pavel Nedved – a creative midfielder plying his trade for Sparta Prague, who had just guided the Czech Republic to the Euro 1996 final – to Lazio, who would then go on to become one of the finest players the world had ever seen.
And so it began. Raiola has since built up a mammoth reputation in the football industry, with over 50 players on his books, amassing to an insurmountable volume of money. The Bergkamps and Nedveds have been replaced by the Lukakus and Pogbas, with the notorious agent reportedly picking up an incredible €20m plus for the latter’s mega-money return to Old Trafford. The wily character may just lend the fact that he can converse in seven different languages to his booming success.
Unsurprisingly, the world-renowned sweet-talking businessman has hit the headlines on more than one occasion, having been involved in several disciplinary hearings prompted by the Italian Football Federation. The super-agent also reportedly purchased the former home of mob boss Al Capone in Miami, and most recently jumped to the defence of Pogba after former Manchester United man Paul Scholes heavily criticised the French international, with Raiola exclaiming that ‘Scholes wouldn’t recognise a leader if he was in front of Sir Winston Churchill.’ No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t trust the money-chasing agent the minute he set foot in England.
Raiola’s reputation in and out of the game has grown even further in recent years, with his guile driving him towards a top five spot in the Forbes sports agents list, alongside the millions accrued by baseball tycoon Scott Boras, basketball’s main man Jeff Schwartz, and fellow football fanatics Jonathon Barnett and Jorge Mendes.
Mendes may be the most recognisable name within the sport, undeniably thanks to his role in Cristiano Ronaldo’s summer move from Real Madrid to Juventus for over €100m this summer, yet Raiola has gone from number ten in the world of sports agents to number five in the space of a year, having negotiated over $628 million in current contracts, with Commissions of $62.89m.
More worryingly, though, is that Mendes and Raiola could field an almost unbeatable starting XI between them, with James Rodriguez, Bernardo Silva and Angel Di Maria lining up for the former, and young and old names like Justin Kluivert, Gianluigi Donnarumma Blaise Matuidi for the latter.
In a world dominated by money, football is undoubtedly no exception and is arguably the leader in an ever-expanding list of industries that have been damaged by excessive wealth. It wouldn’t be fair to pin all the blame on men like Raiola and Mendes, but football agents are certainly partially at fault for why this ‘beautiful game’ of ours isn’t so beautiful anymore. Agents are, after all, running a business, and are guilty of putting their own needs above the needs of their clients.
Their clients are, of course, the players, who are now encouraged to seek more and more money by squeezing every penny they get from their exploits both on and off the pitch. Moreover, this process has an extremely negative impact on the game, with once-essential traits like loyalty and integrity rapidly going out of fashion.