Football: 6 things about super-agent Jorge Mendes

Football agent Jorge Mendes, who spoke to The Straits Times in an exclusive interview this week, could be one of the most powerful men in football. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Football agent Jorge Mendes, who spoke to The Straits Times in an exclusive interview this week, could be one of the most powerful men in football. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Football agent Jorge Mendes, who spoke to The Straits Times in an exclusive interview this week, could be one of the most powerful men in football.

His A-list clientele includes some of the biggest names in the game, like Cristiano Ronaldo, Falcao, Jose Mourinho, Angel di Maria, James Rodriguez and Diego Costa.

Here are some things about him you may not have known.

1) Started small

In a previous life, Mendes sold his mother's hand-woven straw hats and baskets on the beach, before becoming a struggling semi-professional footballer, who ended up earning more from his video rental store than he was in wages.

He retired from the game at 30, having bought a nightclub on the northern Portuguese coast. There, he met goalkeeper Nuno Espirito Santo in 1996, and his life took on a different trajectory.

Mendes landed Nuno a transfer to Spain, and he came to represent more players from Portugal and Spain. "Jorge never took a cent from me, although we'd agreed he'd get a bonus. He tore up the cheque under my eyes, saying he'd never cash it," said Nuno.

2) His biggest ever transfer window

Manchester United star Angel di Maria (left) with Jorge Mendes. -- PHOTO: GESTIFUTE

Angel di Maria to Manchester United, Diego Costa to Chelsea and James Rodriguez to Real Madrid were three of the biggest deals in the summer transfer window, and Mendes was responsible for each.

In fact, that could have been Mendes' biggest ever transfer window, The Guardian reported. Those three transfers, along with Eliaquim Mangala's move to Manchester City and Falcao's loan to Manchester United, were worth a whopping £201.4 million (S$411 million).

3) Leaves a trail of angry agents in his wake

Former Portuguese footballer Luis Figo. -- PHOTO: EPA

Mendes has been accused of poaching promising players from other agents. He was famously involved in a scuffle with the agent of former Ballon d'Or winner Luis Figo in a Lisbon airport in 2002.

Nani's former agent Ana Almeida complained that the Manchester United player was nabbed from under her nose, having joined Mendes despite having a contract with her.

Goncalo Reis, the former agent of striker Bebe, also said his client was taken from him by Mendes, saying: "When Mendes arrived, I was out of the transaction. It's a sad thing that the one who discovers a player is not able to stay with him when big clubs are interested."

In response to criticism, Mendes said in 2006: "There are people that have signed contracts with players and are there waiting for a Jorge Mendes to show up and take him to a big club. They want to be glued to the operation without ever having done anything to promote it."

4) Gives some local stars hope for a move to Europe

Singapore footballers Hariss Harun (left) and Safuwan Baharudin. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Mendes met local footballers Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin, arguably Singapore football's brightest stars, in 2013, when Atletico Madrid were in town to play a Singapore Selection side.

Football Association of Singapore president Zainudin Nordin introduced the two Lions to Mendes when players from both sides spent an evening out together.

Safuwan, who just moved to A-League side Melbourne City on a three-month loan, said then: "I was introduced to Jorge and it was a casual chit-chat. If the opportunity to play in Europe arises, I will take it with both hands for sure. It's a dream to play professionally overseas and take my football to the next level."

Hariss also said: "Jorge said he will do his best for us, so we'll just continue working hard and be optimistic."

5) His first English transfer

Even super-agents start with baby steps. Mendes' clients now ply their trade at England's top clubs, but you may not have heard of his first client to move to the English Premier League.

In 2002, Newcastle United snapped up 19-year-old Hugo Viana from Portugal for the then princely sum of £8.5 million. He left two years and a mere 39 league games later, first on loan, then permanently, having not made any real impression.

A year later, though, Cristiano Ronaldo, another Mendes client, was transferred to Manchester United, and the rest is history.

6) Goes where the money goes

Prince Albert II of Monaco (left) and Dmitri Rybolovlev of Russia, president of AS Monaco, at the Louis II stadium in Monaco on Dec 9, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

What happens when billionaires buy football clubs? Mendes profits. Russian tycoon Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a controlling stake in AS Monaco in 2011, and when the club was promoted to the French Ligue 1 in 2013, enter the super-agent.

Mendes brokered the purchases of James Rodriguez, Falcao, Ricardo Carvalho and Joao Moutinho for a combined £110 million.

What happens when said billionaires get tired of spending extravagant amounts? Mendes profits.

Just a year later, with Rybolovlev reining in his expenditure and facing an expensive divorce, Rodriguez was sold to Real Madrid for a fee that could reach £71 million, and Falcao went to Manchester United in a £6-million loan deal.

The Guardian reported that Mendes is said to be involved with Singapore businessman Peter Lim's purchase of Spanish club Valencia. Guess who's the manager there? Nuno Espirito Santo, Mendes' first-ever client.

dshea@sph.com.sg

Sources: Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC, Financial Times, The Straits Times

Please read The Sunday Times on Feb 1 for Sanjay Nair's exclusive interview with Jorge Mendes, the super football agent behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa.