If you don’t know who Jorge Mendes is, you’ll definitely know the people he represents. The super-agent’s clients include some of football’s biggest names. But his notoriety in recent years hasn’t come from the wheeling and dealing of the latest big-money contracts for say, Jose Mourinho or Cristiano Ronaldo, but his cloak and dagger involvement with Wolverhampton Wanderers FC.
Indeed, the perception that Mendes’ relationship with the club runs too deep – breaching football league regulations – has prompted several Championship teams to urge the governing body to investigate the super-agent’s influence.
Wolves deny the agent’s influence
There is little doubt that Mendes has played a part in Wolves’ player and coaching acquisitions in recent years. The head coach, Nuno Espirito Santo, is a Mendes client. He has been for years. And players transferred in recent time include Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro who are each represented by the Portuguese agent.
Wolves deny Mendes has any involvement in transfer policy. Managing Director Laurie Dalrymple has said it would not be “within the rules” to allow the super-agent to influence player recruitment. But he had to admit that the Portuguese was a “known associate of the owners” but that Wolves look at players from various sources not just via “Jorge [Mendes] and [his agency] GestiFute.”
Yet, while Mendes’ name rarely appears on transfer paperwork, there is little doubt he has played a key role in acquiring the services of many of Wolves’ current squad. In fact, you only have to look at the long-term relationship between Wolves’ manager and Mendes to see how the super-agent is keen to look after his investments.
Following the end of Nuno Espirito Santo’s playing career, his coaching appointments have come as the result of Mendes’ connections. He was at Spanish club Valencia where the super-agent was a business associate of owner Peter Lim. There are other examples too such as at Portuguese clubs Rio Ave and Porto where Santo has enjoyed managerial roles.
It didn’t take long for the Mendes influence to show itself following Santo’s unveiling. The club signed Roderick Miranda, a 26-year-old Portuguese defender, from the head coach’s previous club Rio Ave. While the published list of intermediaries who completed the deal does not feature Mendes’ name, Miranda’s agency is GestiFute.
While this set-up passed EFL regulations at the time of the Chinese takeover, questions have arisen about its validity, particularly from rival teams witnessing Wolves’ soaring success on the pitch.
Is Jorge Mendes’ influence on Wolves football club a problem?
Some cynics believe the Portuguese’s objective is to use Wolves as a shop window for players he represents
It comes down to rules around third parties and their involvement with players and clubs. Regulations set out a club’s requirement to ensure decision-making processes are conceived and enforced by no one other than the club’s own management. The club must not enter into an agreement that allows a third party to influence policy or the performance of players in matches.
Clubs, allegedly including Aston Villa, Derby County and Leeds United, have expressed concern that Mendes’ influence on Wolves falls outside these regulations. While those critics of the arrangement accept that the Portuguese agent has the right to seek the best for his clients, the sheer number of footballers represented by Mendes at the Championship club as well as his commercial relationship with Wolves’ owners Fosun International puts Mendes in a uniquely powerful position.
With the huge amounts of money invested in football around the world, agents’ reputations outside of those profiting from their work are largely unsavoury. They’re seen as money-hungry egocentrics whose opportunism is rarely for the betterment of the game, rather to line the pockets of people football fans will never see.
For many, Mendes’ powerful position within Wolves is another indication of football agents impacting the beautiful game for their own self-serving means. Taking money from hard-working fans and lining their own pockets.
Some cynics believe the Portuguese’s objective is to use Wolves as a shop window for players he represents. Once they’ve proven themselves in the English league, he can find them more lucrative deals at cash-rich clubs.
It is alleged that more than 10 players signed in the past 18 months have come from Mendes’ agency GestiFute. And while this has seen success on the pitch, there are fears Wolves will become a revolving door where players come and go as more “attractive” big name clubs come calling.
Wolves’ success proves there’s a winning formula at play
The team has assembled a squad capable of winning the Championship with games to spare
Mendes’s involvement with Wolves can be traced to July 2016 when Fosun International, the Chinese conglomerate, completed its £30m takeover. His relationship with Fosun goes back many years and is underlined by the super-agent selling a minority share of GestiFute to Fosun in 2015.
Since Fosun’s takeover of Wolves, the team’s fortunes on the pitch have greatly improved. They’ve enjoyed league and cup success with fans looking forward to the club mixing with the English Premier League’s biggest teams once again. So what’s the problem?
In the short term, it’s not a problem for Wolves or its fans. Through Mendes “advising” Fosun on player recruitment, the team has assembled a squad capable of winning the Championship with games to spare and the chance to take on the likes of Manchester City, Manchester Utd and Liverpool with confidence.
But rivals, those without the influence of someone like Mendes to oversee player recruitment, have struggled to match Wolves’ ambitious transfer policy or its attractiveness to talented young international footballers. Therefore, if the Portuguese’s involvement with Wolves is deemed within the rules, could the formula work for others?
Clearly, if a football agent had talented players on his or her books alongside a vested interest in a particular club, then that club would, in all likelihood, get the first choice on talent. With the potential for a good return on investment, if performances lead to big-money moves, the speculated formula arranged by Mendes could bring more success. This would particularly suit smaller top-level teams and those in other leagues vying for promotion.
The legality of Wolves’ management structure will remain in question as long as Mendes maintains a direct or indirect commercial interest in its fortunes on and off the pitch. Yet, the perceived formula has worked to catapult Wolves back towards the Premier League. It has brought success and, in addition, the envy of rivals who may seek to emulate the formula in future if football’s governing bodies continue to consider it within the rules.