Published On: Tue, Jun 6th, 2017

Jorge Mendes FC: How Ronaldo's agent made Wolves his plaything

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If it wasn’t for a chance meeting at the Luz do Mar nightclub in northern Portugal in 1995, the footballing landscape would be very different.

The venue's owner, Jorge Mendes, enjoyed hobnobbing with the footballers that visited from nearby teams – namely Porto, Braga, and Vitoria Guimaraes – and particularly struck a chord with a goalkeeper whose ambitions would, on first glance, appear unrealistic. The youngster toiled for minutes behind the leaky defence in Guimaraes, but single-mindedly wanted to represent dominant champion Porto, where the world class Vitor Baia reigned between the sticks. The entrepreneurial Mendes had found his first client.

Nuno Espirito Santo eventually went on to represent Porto – via a move from Deportivo La Coruna that his self-elected agent brokered free of charge – while Mendes improved his outreach in Portugal by voraciously adding clients over the next few years. Now, in 2017, he's acquired a day care for those stationed well below Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Angel Di Maria, and Diego Costa in his prosperous player portfolio at agency firm Gestifute, and Nuno is his nanny.

In the advisory role at Wolverhampton Wanderers he undertook last summer, Mendes has kept his clients in the shop window. Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa now call the Black Country home, while other deals have been struck with Atletico Madrid, Benfica – clubs Mendes has tight affiliations with – and Manchester United, another outfit where he has close ties and which employs one of his marquee charges in manager Jose Mourinho.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

In a recurring theme in his career, Nuno – who openly credited Mendes for getting him gigs at Valencia and Porto – was handed a favour by his representative when he was unveiled as Wolves manager last Wednesday.

Five months into Mendes’ alliance with Wolves, a Football Association investigation found no issues in the working arrangement. The country’s football governing body wasn’t able to uncover any wrongdoing in transfer dealings where an agent can execute deals for his own players to a club, and therefore keep them in work and, in turn, line his pockets.

Wolves’ board members haven’t been guarded about the relationship either.

“(Sporting director) Kevin (Thelwell) will have some homework to watch players and maybe make Jorge’s clients more prioritised, so I or he will tell Jorge do you think it’s possible, then we’ll talk,” said Wolves director Jeff Shi. “That’s the process. I think it’s worked well.”

The FA allowing Mendes' association with Wolves is more stunning when his business partnership with Fosun International, the club's owner, is explored. A subsidiary of the Shanghai-based investment company, Foyo Culture and Entertainment, formalised a strategic partnership with Gestifute in January 2016 intended to assist on players' agent services and image rights, and help boost the Chinese game. As part of the deal, 20 percent of Gestifute was shuffled under the Fosun umbrella.

(Photo courtesy: Gestifute)

A few months later, Fosun founder Guo Guangchang completed a takeover for Wolves. His immediate credentials fit at Molineux. Locals in the old coal-mining area could identify with his working-class background, and the fact that he was now a multi-billionaire, looking to take Wolves to the next level (and obviously take a cut of coin himself) after Steve Morgan's wise investment before him, made his takeover popular with many.

And does it really matter that Guangchang has enlisted the help of his business associate? There was no discernible improvement in the typically competitive Championship in 2016-17 – under the guidance of Walter Zenga and then Paul Lambert, Wolves finished a place below the previous term’s standing of 15th – but the chief purveyor of entertainment was undoubtedly Mendes’ client Costa.

Without Guangchang and Mendes, picking up the Portuguese youth international for a reported £13-million fee wouldn’t have been possible. Costa’s surging runs at Liverpool in January’s shock FA Cup fourth-round progression brought him to the country’s attention, and established him as one of the better talents outside the Premier League.

But then there’s the other side of the spectrum. Cavaleiro was just another of Wolves’ sorry ranks of misfiring forwards, and not a fine advertisement for Mendes’ Gestifute roster.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

Whether there are more Costas or Cavaleiros on Wolves’ horizon remains to be seen, but it’s difficult to envisage Mendes’ focus being on an unfashionable, industrial town in the West Midlands when he’s in the midst of the summer’s frenzied transfer activity.

Rodriguez wasn't named in Real Madrid's matchday squad for Saturday's Champions League win over Juventus, so will surely seek pastures new. Chelsea's Costa is unabashed about his love for Atletico Madrid and has been repeatedly linked with a lucrative switch to China. Andre Gomes and Renato Sanches had difficult first seasons at their respective clubs.

The riches gained from brokering one of those moves – Mendes’ rival Mino Raiola apparently pocketed around €49 million for Paul Pogba‘s transfer to Manchester United last year – are much more rewarding that sending an underused Benfica player to Wolverhampton.

For now, an 140-year-old club with three league titles and solid bonds with the local community seems to be little more than a shadily convenient side-hobby for Mendes.

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