After famend soccer agent Mino Raiola handed away final week, Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport labelled him “probably the most highly effective, one of the best, probably the most mentioned, probably the most feared – by the golf equipment – probably the most beloved – by his purchasers.”
Tributes flowed from gamers he managed, eulogies laced with the identical superlatives.
Erling Haaland, soccer’s brightest younger star who’s getting ready to a large switch to Manchester Metropolis, wrote merely: “The most effective.”
His affect, actually, was unparalleled. The 54-year-old ‘tremendous agent’ will go down as one of the crucial essential figures within the sport this century. Alongside game-changing coaches like Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola, alongside iconic gamers like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, or billionaire homeowners like Roman Abramovich.
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Raiola earned that standing by putting himself on the very coronary heart of one in all soccer’s biggest points – the billion-dollar arms race between mega-rich membership homeowners like Abramovich searching for to purchase their method to success.
Because the switch market succumbed to hyperinflation and Europe’s largest leagues exploded in recognition world wide, Raiola was at all times on the negotiation desk, reportedly accumulating greater than $1 billion in contracts.
The portly Dutch-Italian had already turned a millionaire at 19 by shopping for, then promoting, a McDonalds to a property developer.
He had began his working life at 11 by cleansing dishes in his father’s Italian restaurant within the Dutch metropolis of Haarlem. Quickly he would develop into a waiter, then his father’s enterprise negotiator, earlier than beginning his personal enterprise serving to Dutch corporations deal in Italy – a enterprise which might develop into essential to his early switch success. His household would find yourself with 11 eating places all instructed, however Raiola quickly turned to his actual ardour: soccer.
He had dropped out of a legislation diploma – he later stated he noticed no use in finishing the diploma himself since attorneys may merely be paid for – and have become a director at a neighborhood professional membership. His good thought? Poach then-teenager Dennis Bergkamp from Ajax, the most important membership within the nation. His fellow membership bosses stated no, so Raiola walked out. That membership is now defunct.
Raiola started to help with transfers of Dutch gamers to Italian golf equipment – Bryan Roy from Ajax to Foggia in Italy in 1992, the place Raiola even spent seven months dwelling with Roy to assist him settle. It’s that form of excessive private contact which might set Raiola aside within the years to come back.
Quickly he did handle to drag off a Bergkamp switch (in 1993 to Inter Milan).
Then got here the second that modified fashionable soccer: the ‘Bosman’ ruling of 1995. Gamers whose contracts ended had been abruptly free to maneuver all through Europe with no switch charge – and to barter their subsequent contract with rival golf equipment in line with their market worth.
Mixed with an inflow of broadcast deal cash, the switch market exploded, and brokers turned more and more very important. Enter Raiola, probably the most highly effective agent of all.
By the point the Bosman ruling got here down in 1995, Raiola had began his personal switch company. It didn’t take lengthy for him to take the soccer world by storm. In 1996, he took Pavel Nedved from Sparta Prague to Lazio. He would additionally oversee Nedved’s transfer to Juventus in 2001 for £34.6 million. Two years later Nedved received the Ballon d’Or as one of the best male participant on the earth.
Nedved’s time at Juventus would intersect with the trail of Raiola’s different early celebrity, Swedish nice Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibrahimovic was outrageous, mouthy, and brilliantly proficient – very similar to Raiola himself. They first met at a highly-touted Japanese restaurant in Amsterdam when the striker was a gangly teen, awkwardly arriving in a go well with.
Ibrahimovic wrote in his memoir: “However who the hell turned up? A bloke in denims and a Nike T-shirt — and that stomach, effectively, like one of many guys in The Sopranos.”
Within the 1000’s of pictures of Raiola alongside his well-known steady of gamers, you’d be arduous pressed to search out one the place the agent is carrying a go well with – a ploy he stated made his reverse negotiators underestimate him. Denims, a T-shirt, and sun shades was Raiola’s fashion – and his all-important cell phone so usually raised to his ear.
Raiola requested Ibrahimovic the query he requested all gamers he thought of representing: “Do you wish to be one of the best on the earth? Or the participant who earns most and might showcase probably the most stuff?”
Ibrahimovic phoned Raiola after their assembly, asking him to be his agent. Raiola agreed – however then demanded this of his new cost: “Promote your automobiles, your watches, and begin coaching thrice as arduous. As a result of your stats are garbage.”
Ibrahimovic did. Raiola then despatched him on one in all soccer’s biggest switch journeys: from Ajax to Juventus in 2004, to Inter Milan in 2006, to Barcelona in 2009, to AC Milan in 2012, to Manchester United in 2016. Then in fact it was off to LA Galaxy and again to AC Milan, the place the legendary goalpoacher remains to be writing his title within the historical past books. Raiola may reside off his minimize of Ibrahimovic’s switch charges – value effectively over a mixed complete of 131m euros – alone.
However the pair at all times described one another as buddies, relatively than as consumer and agent. Lots of Raiola’s costs would repeat that description. Raiola would do all the things from organising a teenage participant’s first checking account to purchasing a big-name participant a home earlier than they moved nations. Mario Balotelli as soon as known as Raiola – not the hearth division – when the participant’s home was on fireplace. And at all times, at all times, the agent fought doggedly in negotiations.
His dealings had been labelled unscrupulous, ruthless. It actually earned him no scarcity of enemies. Genius supervisor Pep Guardiola was one, for his therapy of Ibrahimovic. Raiola would name him “a coward, a canine”.
Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson was one other. Raiola helped a younger Paul Pogba go away United for Juventus in 2012 after an notorious stoush with Ferguson. Pogba – one other gifted teen – was coming to the top of his contract and hadn’t damaged into the primary group. Raiola urged him to remain on the membership, however pushed for a pay rise.
In a gathering with Raiola and Pogba, Ferguson fumed. Raiola instructed the Financial Times that Ferguson twice known as him a ‘twat’ – a phrase he didn’t know on the time – earlier than the agent hit again: “That is a proposal that my chihuahuas — I’ve two chihuahuas — don’t signal.”
Sir Alex would later publicly label Raiola a ‘s**tbag’.
Pogba went to Italy and loved immense success, changing into one of many best midfielders on the earth. In 2016, Raiola pulled off one in all his grandest switch coups – Pogba, Ibrahimovic and one other consumer in Henrikh Mkhitaryan all signed for United in a single window.
Such was the affect of 1 man that he may form or reshape a group as simply as a participant’s profession. However it was at all times his gamers that he cared for many, as proven in that all-important query he requested a younger Ibrahimovic. And Raiola’s biggest remorse – expressed repeatedly in public – was that his consumer Balotelli wasted his immense expertise. Raiola believed Balotelli may have received a Ballon d’Or – or just a few – if he labored as arduous as Nedved or Ibrahimovic did.
Raiola would find yourself a multi-millionaire, incomes a number of the largest agent’s charges in soccer historical past (reportedly together with a whopping €25 million from Pogba’s then-record €105 million return to United). But cash was by no means the motive.
It’s the nice duality of a person who stood on the coronary heart of soccer’s largest offers, who fought tooth and nail for each greenback. In a world the place brokers are so usually slammed as ‘leeches’ of the sport, sucking out cash for his or her private ends, Raiola was king. Followers would cheer his title at stadiums, hoping to affect him to switch one in all his prime gamers to their membership. And as switch information and rumours started to take delight of place on the again pages of newspapers, Raiola was pulling the strings of the most important offers.
However on the identical time, he by no means held again in his criticism of the system – in 2016, he stated this of membership executives: “It’s dumb as a result of they wish to preserve it dumb. It’s a closed world, with gigantic potential, and an enormous turnover of cash, however usually managed by folks of whom I believe, ‘What the f***?’”
He as soon as took goal at FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter, labelling him “a senile dictator”, and even flirted with a run on the job himself. Arguably, he was already extra highly effective than even FIFA’s prime canine.
After Pogba’s return to United in 2016, Raiola splashed the money by shopping for the previous Miami dwelling of Al Capone. For a person so usually joked about as trying like he was straight out of The Sopranos, it couldn’t have been extra becoming.
Raiola spent his ultimate months feverishly pursuing one other huge deal – Dortmund star Erling Haaland’s not-yet-sealed transfer to Manchester Metropolis for £62 million. Like so lots of his purchasers, Haaland was noticed by Raiola as a teenager – this time in 2019 taking part in for Austrian facet Crimson Bull Salzburg. Virtually all of Europe’s prime golf equipment got here knocking on Raiola’s door for Haaland’s companies in 2020, earlier than Raiola took him to Borussia Dortmund.
His stratospheric rise has continued apace. Now the immense expertise appears on the verge of a transfer to Manchester Metropolis – a membership managed by Pep Guardiola, with whom Raiola feuded for a few years. In fact, he put that feud apart for Haaland’s greatest pursuits – and Metropolis delegates reportedly even visited Raiola in hospital to progress the deal. Maybe at Metropolis, Haaland will develop into the sport’s biggest participant and make up for Raiola’s nice remorse over former Metropolis participant Balotelli’s failure to do the identical.
It was virtually becoming that Raiola’s passing was shrouded in drama. Italian newspapers proclaimed he had died – just for Raiola to answer in usually bitter style by way of Twitter: “Present well being standing for those questioning: pissed off second time in 4 months they kill me. Appear additionally capable of resuscitate.”
Two days later, his household took to his Twitter account to share the unhappy information.
“Mino touched so many lives by way of his work and wrote a brand new chapter within the historical past of contemporary soccer. His presence will perpetually be missed.”
He may not be missed too dearly by the lots of of membership executives who needed to sit reverse him on the negotiating desk. However he might be missed by all of his purchasers – his buddies – who benefited from his shrewd dealings and fierce dedication.
No matter opinions on the person, he actually was: “Probably the most highly effective, one of the best, probably the most mentioned, probably the most feared – by the golf equipment – probably the most beloved – by his purchasers.”