NEW YORK • The football economy is reeling. Every week there appears to be a new, dizzying figure highlighting the financial crunch the industry is facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than US$115 million (S$156.4 million) in losses at Barcelona alone. Hundreds of millions more in rebates to television rights holders. Across Europe, losses are expected to climb as high as US$4.5 billion.
But the crisis has created a few winners. Among the biggest has been Jorge Mendes, Portuguese businessman and agent of Cristiano Ronaldo and others, who for the last two decades has regularly taken a healthy slice of the US$7 billion-a-year player transfer market.
Mendes appears to be doing better than ever. In the transfer window that closed on Monday in Europe, Mendes sent Benfica’s Ruben Dias to Manchester City for US$80 million, then replaced him in Lisbon with another client.
He eased James Rodriguez out of Real Madrid and into a starring role at Everton, and arranged for Wolverhampton to sell Irish defender Matt Doherty to Tottenham (US$20 million) and Portuguese forward Diogo Jota to Liverpool (US$53 million).
And even as he completed those last two sales, Mendes persuaded Wolves to spend some of the money they received in his own shop. Wolves replaced Doherty with another Mendes client, Nelson Semedo, and used most of the money from Jota’s sale to recruit two rising talents from Porto.
From the unheralded signing to the headline-grabbing move, Mendes left his imprint across Europe again. This summer’s deals have produced hundreds of millions of dollars in players sales, and – perhaps more important to Mendes and his agency, Gestifute – millions of dollars in commissions.
“It seems he is not touched by the crisis,” said Pippo Russo, author of a book that charted the rise of Mendes, 54. “We can say the economic power network of Jorge Mendes resisted the coronavirus. It is as if he has the vaccine.”
The Mendes business model is built upon relationships. Operating in an unstable marketplace, he worked with financially stricken clubs looking to balance their books and cash-rich outfits who saw opportunity amid uncertainty.
The roots of his business are so entrenched that in some cases he and his company are represented on all sides – buying club, selling club and player – of a deal.
In an example – the move of Doherty – the guiding hand of Mendes touched every facet of the deal.
It seems he is not touched by the crisis… It is as if he has the vaccine.
PIPPO RUSSO, author, on the power of Jorge Mendes.
Wolves are owned by Fosun International, a Chinese conglomerate that holds a minority stake in Gestifute. Doherty left a club managed by Mendes’ first pro client, Nuno Espirito Santo, to join a team coached by one of his most high-profile clients, Jose Mourinho.
Wolves’ relationship with Mendes has been the subject of scrutiny, with rival clubs complaining about his close ties to Fosun, to Espirito Santo and to a handful of the players on the team’s roster.
An investigation by the Football League found that there were no breaches in how Wolves – bolstered by a clutch of Mendes-linked players from Portugal – secured promotion to England’s top flight in 2018. But his dealings with the club, and others, run deep.
Wolves – and Mendes – were also at the centre of two curious trades this summer involving Portuguese champions Porto, who have a two-decade link to the agent.
With large debts coming due, Porto turned to Mendes to find buyers for some of their up-and-coming stars. Mendes convinced Fosun to pay what could be as much as US$70 million for two highly rated but untested youngsters: Vitor Ferreira, a 20-year-old midfielder, and Fabio Silva, an 18-year-old forward.
A quarter of the US$47 million fee for Silva ended up in agents commissions, Porto announced, with most of it going to Mendes.
Mendes was required in 2017 to explain how his business operated at a court hearing in Spain, where the authorities charged a number of his clients, including Ronaldo and Mourinho, with tax evasion.
Mendes told the court he knew nothing about their tax arrangements, saying he hired professionals to deal with those affairs. His focus was on guiding their careers.
This year, when football ground to a halt, he remains the agent ready with a solution, provided clubs can afford his fee.