Tuesday 16 January 2018

Vincent Hogan: Agent's bad manners of little concern to Raheem Sterling

Mino Raiola has overseen five transfers for Zlatan Ibrahimovic worth nearly £180m (Jacopo Raule/Getty Images)
Mino Raiola has overseen five transfers for Zlatan Ibrahimovic worth nearly £180m (Jacopo Raule/Getty Images)
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Mino Raiola wasn't actually a mafioso, he just looked and acted like one. So says Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the man who has overseen his last five transfers, for a combined total of close to ¤180m.

Raiola is currently trying to negotiate a deal for PSG to bankroll the Swede's departure from Paris. They want rid of Ibrahimovic apparently and, in football, even waste disposal has a price.

Aidy Ward, presumably, worships at the altar of Raiola. How else could you read his work as Raheem Sterling's agent this week and his unleashing of a blow-torch to the concept of negotiation? Ward's interview with the London Evening Standard attempted to belittle the club with whom his client still has two years of a contract to run. He essentially told Liverpool that they did not matter.

Now there may be many out there who hold with that general world view, given the Merseyside club's clear need to take a long, hard look at how it functions.

But even the least sanctimonious of football people should swallow hard if Ward's lottery numbers come up on this one. To make good money this summer, he needs one if not both of his high-profile clients, Sterling and Saido Berahino, to leave their current employers. Ward would, it is true, get a generous percentage of any contract renovation for his players at Liverpool or West Brom respectively. But that's just pocket-money compared to his cut of a multi-million transfer.

So Ward pursues the big hit - it's what most football agents do. And because of their hold on the game, because of the inordinate influence that people like Raiola and Jorge Mendes and Pini Zihavi now bring to bear on the market, even the great football clubs dance to someone else's tune now.

Zihavi is credited with introducing the dubious concept of third-party ownership, where private investment consortiums purchase a percentage of a player's rights in the hope of reaping a profit in future transfer deals. They might as well be dealing in bonds.


The culture now is that big agents hold more sway then than the big managers even and Ward, palpably, wants to be one of them.

So Sterling, particularly, becomes the vehicle through which he hopes to get recognised as a front-rank dealer. However urgently the player might want to leave Anfield now, few can doubt the desperation of his agent to see it happen. All of which has made for his profoundly depressing conduct this week and the sense that even the illusion of loyalty in football can now formally be decommissioned.

When Ibrahimovic took on Raiola as his agent at Ajax, he admitted that he did so because "he was completely fearless and prepared to pull any number of tricks, and that sounded good. I didn't want to have another nice boy."

When they went into negotiations with Juventus, Raiola turned up sweat-drenched in Hawaiian shorts, a Nike T-shirt, running shoes with no socks "and that belly, like one of the guys in The Sopranos."

Ibrahimovic warmed instantly to the sense of someone resolutely hostile to the old ways of doing business, to someone willing to by-pass the often stultifying orthodoxy of agent-club communication. Raoila, like him, had a working-class upbringing, something he would consistently express without resort to "sugar-coated crap".

They became a marriage made in heaven, Ibrahimovic declaring in his autobiography "Mino wasn't just a nutter, he also landed the deal."

If Aidy Ward now lands the Sterling deal, say a £50m move to Manchester City or Chelsea (though it's doubtful either would pay that much), the monstrous scale of the finance involved will transform his status in the industry. So telling Liverpool that he doesn't care about the PR argument and calling Jamie Carragher "a knob" will serve only to accentuate the sense of a ruthlessly single-minded operator.

Whether we like it or not, that's what most professional footballers want in their corner.

Sterling's only concept of loyalty will be to his family and, if there is a market willing to pay him twice the salary Liverpool can offer, he is unlikely to be burdened by anything as cumbersome as a conscience as this tawdry affair plays out.

Liverpool will play hard-ball to a point, but only to protect their bargaining position. And Ward? He can blithely wait to see the lottery numbers fall, all the time wearing his ignorance like a badge.

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