Wednesday 21 February 2018

Striker caught in agents' power struggle

Antonio Conte and Diego Costa are in dispute over the striker’s future Picture: PA
Antonio Conte and Diego Costa are in dispute over the striker’s future Picture: PA

Jason Burt

What does it say if you can take the Premier League's top scorer out of the team at the top of the richest, most high-profile league in the world when he is 28, in his prime, and sell him to China?

It shows that you are top dog, the No 1, the most powerful agent in football, who can shape the global game; that you have the connections and ability to change world football.

Such is the scenario for Jorge Mendes, if he can get Diego Costa out of Chelsea and into China. In one deal he will have reaffirmed his status as the world's most influential football agent. And if the Portuguese can take Costa to China then why not his biggest clients: Jose Mourinho, or even Cristiano Ronaldo?

Mendes recently told Sky Sports Italia that Ronaldo had been offered a salary of £88m a year to move to China by an unnamed club, and while the phrase "unnamed Chinese club" may provoke scepticism, no-one doubts that Mendes is connected or that he wanted that snippet out there; or that those figures could actually stack up, or, indeed, that they might help earn better deals for clients at their current clubs.

It was no coincidence that a photograph was in circulation last week of Mendes meeting Shu Yuhui, chairman of Tianjin Quanjian, one of the Chinese Super League clubs circling for global talent, and presenting him with a signed Ronaldo Real Madrid shirt.

That connection is Mendes' biggest, most powerful calling card, and there have been discussions about other clients - James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao - being wanted.

So far the biggest deals have been landed by Kia Joorabchian, who took another Chelsea player, Oscar, to Shanghai SIPG for a fee of £57m and a salary of £400,000 a week, while Carlos Tevez has moved to Shanghai Shenhua to become the world's best-paid player, on £600,000 a week.

Those figures will not have gone unnoticed by Mendes, and agents of his stature will attempt to corner the market where the money is and take pride in brokering the biggest deal.

Mendes did not take Mourinho to Chelsea in 2004 because he had a love of the Premier League or west London. He knew that was where the money was and that Roman Abramovich was reshaping the landscape of English football.

China is a whole new market. It hasn't the quality of many European leagues, but cannot be dismissed.

The figures are astonishing. Paris St-Germain were gob-smacked when it became apparent that the £60m-a-year offer made to Zlatan Ibrahimovic was genuine.

He turned that down and joined Manchester United instead, although his former PSG team-mate, Ezequiel Lavezzi, did move and became one of the world's best-paid players.

It may not be sustainable. Yesterday, China's FA announced a series of measures in response to "irrational" spending by clubs. They included a reduction in the number of foreign players who can appear for a club from four to three.

But agents will make hay while the sun shines, and Costa finds himself at the centre of a power play. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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