Saturday 21 April 2018

Jorge Mendes: Jose's man who holds all the cards

Agent of Mourinho and De Gea continues his growing influence at Old Trafford

Portuguese football agent Jorge Mendes. GETTY
Portuguese football agent Jorge Mendes. GETTY
Jorge Mendes is Jose Mourinho’s agent as well as that of Cristiano Ronaldo. GETTY

James Ducker

Ed Woodward was with a group of reporters in early 2014 when his Blackberry, sitting on the table in front of him, started ringing. One of the assembled throng took a light-hearted guess at the identity of the caller at which point the Manchester United executive vice-chairman raised his phone and happily volunteered that it was Jorge Mendes trying to get through.

If there was a slight air of a man in thrall to the caller, it was also a case of Woodward deliberately playing to the crowd and sending himself up but then he is by no means the only executive of a leading club to have the so-called "super-agent" and arguably the sport's most powerful figure on speed dial.

As Jose Mourinho, Mendes's second most famous client after Cristiano Ronaldo, prepares to be announced as United's new manager, there are signs of this being the year that Mendes strikes back, at Old Trafford but further afield, too.

A relatively difficult past 12 months for Mendes and his Gestifute agency had led to suggestions in some quarters that the 50-year-old had overreached but the critics should probably have known better than to underestimate the game's most influential dealmaker.

Indeed, some are keen to characterise Mourinho's impending instalment at United as evidence of Mendes exacting a modicum of revenge on Louis van Gaal, which is somewhat far-fetched but an intriguing subplot all the same.


Did Van Gaal antagonise Mendes with his treatment of three United clients - Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria and David de Gea - in the lead up to last summer? Maybe, maybe not, and Mendes is long enough in the tooth to recognise that it is a manager's right to handle players as he best sees fit, but the conspiracy theorists will have detected a certain irony to a prominent Mendes client taking some of the gloss off Van Gaal's best day in charge.

No sooner had United secured the FA Cup against Crystal Palace at Wembley on Saturday than news filtered through that Van Gaal would be sacked and replaced by the former Chelsea manager. The timing was probably just an unfortunate coincidence but it is unlikely Van Gaal would have been on Mendes's last Christmas card list.

Van Gaal had opted against taking up an option to sign Falcao permanently last summer after the Colombia striker's miserable loan spell from Monaco, during which time Mendes had claimed the "situation would be different" had Sir Alex Ferguson been in charge. Di Maria was sold by Van Gaal last July after falling foul of the Dutchman 12 months after his British record £59.7 million move from Real Madrid, with the Argentina winger subsequently aiming numerous barbs in the manager's direction.

And then there was the treatment of De Gea, the United goalkeeper who was unceremoniously dropped by Van Gaal amid the uncertainty over his future at Old Trafford only for the Spaniard's proposed transfer to Real Madrid to collapse in the final hours of last summer's transfer window. Had Van Gaal been given the chance to see out the final year of his contract at United, De Gea would have sought to jump ship.

De Gea is unlikely to have similar problems with Mourinho and is now likely to remain at Old Trafford. So Mendes has United's soon-to-be appointed manager as well as their star player among his clientele although those who now speculate that he will soon be firmly ensconced at the club perhaps felt that he had a strong working relationship with Ferguson and David Gill, two men who were naturally suspicious of agents.

Ferguson attended Mendes's wedding to Sandra Barbosa in Porto last year and has described him as "the best agent I dealt with, without a doubt". Anderson, Nani, Bebe, De Gea and, of course, Ronaldo were all Mendes clients whom Ferguson signed.

Those who know Mendes say he is loyal, charming and committed to pastoral care. They talk about him being in it for the long haul, not out to make a quick buck. His clients tend to stay with him for a long time, although that must be born in part from a knowledge that few can extract as good a deal. Those who don't know Mendes, or who tuned into the documentaries 'Jorge Mendes: Super Agent' and 'Ronaldo' and witnessed the patter, will wonder if he represents an uglier side to the game, one whose common denominator is money.

But whether admired or reviled, Mendes's rise from nightclub owner to football kingmaker has been a remarkable success story all the same and it is little surprise that the Portuguese has been pulling the strings behind the recent explosion of activity in Chinese football. He is omnipresent, and Woodward and United might be seeing even more of him in the next few years to come. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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