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Super-rich Raiola not just agent but mentor too

PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • There are things to like about Mino Raiola, not least a keen intelligence and a refusal to be intimidated by some of football's most powerful figures.

Before dealing with the £41 million (S$74.2 million) he is reported to have made on the transfer of Paul Pogba from Juventus to Manchester United last year, consider where the Italian-born Dutch football agent came from.

Not the small city in the Netherlands where he grew up, or even the smaller one in southern Italy his family left when he was aged one. No, just take a stroll through the corridor that takes you inside the head of the 49-year-old football agent trying to do the job better than anyone had ever done it.

In 1992, Raiola had worked on the deal that took Bryan Roy from Ajax to Foggia in the south of Italy. To ensure the move worked for the player, he moved to Foggia and stayed there for six months, during which time his chores included painting Roy's house.

That would not have been a paying job but men as smart as Raiola understand the long game is the one worth playing. He also understood that he was in a service industry, one more complicated than the pizzeria his father owned but similar in that he had to keep his customers satisfied.

Two-time European champions Nottingham Forest would pay a club-record £2.9 million to lure Roy from Foggia to the City Ground in 1994.

GETTING HIS WAY

Tomorrow, I'll keep the player at home all day; he won't show up for training. I then have an appointment with the directors of Ajax at noon, but I'll come at two.

MINO RAIOLA (above), football agent, in a secretly-taped 2004 conversation with Juventus managing director Luciano Moggi, on how he would force the issue over Ibrahimovic's move from Ajax.

The agency for whom Raiola worked would have made good money and Raiola had the sense to see that, if he was going to spend his life wet-nursing footballers, better to do it for himself than for someone else's company.

Not that he would have seen the stint in Foggia as hardship. It was there he met the woman who would become his partner and, anyway, he was helping a footballer, something he enjoyed.

As for the men who ran the game, he did not think much of them. He would meet club presidents and chief executives and often it became a battle of wits. That meant the advantage lay with him.

Ajax liked him when he was helping to get big transfer fees for players they were ready to sell, but were less enthused by his part in facilitating Zlatan Ibrahimovic's move to Juventus in 2004.

Ajax did not want to lose the Swedish striker and his agent had to force the issue. His tactics were revealed in a secretly-taped telephone conversation with Luciano Moggi, Juve's managing director at the time.

"You and Ibra continue to make trouble. Don't send him to training," Moggi advised. Raiola replied: "Tomorrow, I'll keep the player at home all day; he won't show up for training. I then have an appointment with the directors of Ajax at noon, but I'll come at two."

Raiola is not just a hard-headed, money-grabbing middleman. There is another, more idealistic side to the agent amid his 25-year career. He wants to work with a small but elite group, players who are serious about their careers, though how he ended up with the problem they call Mario Balotelli is a mystery.

Perhaps this is proof he has a soft side, a weakness. At least he is aware of it. Before the Italian forward's move from Liverpool to Nice last year, Raiola explained to the club's president why it would be a mistake to take the player.

Ibrahimovic, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pogba are more his type - earnest footballers who are almost obsessive in their desire to be as good as they can be. What they like about Raiola is his refusal to genuflect before them while being intensely loyal to them.

Their victories are important to him and his gratitude is reflected in the intelligent way he guides them from club to club.

They end up with different managers but he is their mentor, more important to them than any manager.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2017, with the headline 'Super-rich Raiola not just agent but mentor too'. Print Edition | Subscribe