Hours after Jorge Mendes was named ‘Officer of the Century’ at a Globe Soccer Awards gala in Dubai, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur face off in the Premier League a few thousand miles north-west. It does not appear to be a special match: in the desolate Molineux Stadium, both teams have to settle for a draw on the last Sunday of 2020. Yet Mendes follows the game with great interest. At the ‘Wolves’ there are no fewer than seven Portuguese in the base. In addition, Portuguese playmaker Vitinha can replace his trainer and compatriot Nuno Espírito Santo in injury time. The manager of the home club is warmly embraced by Spurs coach José Mourinho afterwards.
The Portuguese invasion of the Premier League – and the Wolves in particular – is attributable to agent Jorge Mendes. He is the super-agent involved in numerous major transfers in the foreground and background, one of the most powerful figures in football who can completely control clubs in a short time. Who is he and how far does his influence in football reach?
Jorge Mendes (55) grew up in Lisbon. As a boy, he worked in a Cornetto factory and sold old clothes at a flea market. His big dream was to become a brilliant left winger, but he turned out to have more talent as an entrepreneur: he opened a successful video store, a bar and a nightclub – where he also occasionally DJed. There he met Nuno Espírito Santo, a Portuguese goalkeeper. That meeting would change Mendes’ life. The two became friends and Nuno decided to let the charming nightclub owner run his business. Mendes drove to Spain and arranged a transfer for the keeper to Deportivo La Coruña. He has been an official agent ever since.
His first major transfer was from Hugo Viana to Newcastle United in 2002, but the agent made a real international name for himself when he brought the young Cristiano Ronaldo, his stable’s showpiece, to Manchester United the following year. Mendes’ increasing influence and the fact that players left their agent and switched to him sometimes caused bad blood: famous is the story of a confrontation between Mendes and José Veiga. At Lisbon airport, there was a scuffle between the two agents, Mendes is said to have hit his colleague on the back of the head with a cell phone – he always carries three with him.
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In 2012 wrote The Guardian moreover, that agent Gonçalo Reis had filed a complaint with FIFA because Jorge Mendes allegedly stole a player who accompanied Reis, Bebé, shortly before a lucrative transfer. A day after Bebé broke up with Reis, he signed with Mendes, who would eventually earn €3.6 million from the player’s transfer to Manchester United. The amount was so high in part because the agent owned part of the attacker’s ‘economic rights’.
At the beginning of this century, Mendes’ office Gestifute started to coach more and more famous players and trainers. The agent had the wind in his favor: Portuguese football was in good shape internationally after FC Porto had won the Champions League in 2004. Many of Mendes’ clients were in demand at top clubs, for example, Trainer José Mourinho – and several Portuguese players in his wake – signed with Chelsea. Once the agent has his foot in the door at a club, it usually doesn’t stop with one player. “He wants to have a direct relationship with clubs and sort of colonize them,” said Pippo Russo, an Italian journalist and sociologist who wrote a book about Mendes in 2016. “Not everyone is served by that, Chelsea, for example, currently has no more Gestifute players.”
snow white smile
Mendes was popping up more and more in skyboxes around the world – tanned, with a snow-white smile chiseled across his face. He had already left his mark in his homeland for some time: Mendes claimed, according to The New York Times having been involved in 68 percent of the transfers of the ‘big three’ in Portugal – Sporting, Benfica and Porto – between 2001 and 2010. “Many local clubs depend on him to keep their finances in order. A chairman of Vitória Guimarães once said that Portugal should be especially grateful to Mendes because he ensures that money comes in,” said sports journalist Marcus Alves from Lisbon.
A partnership with Mendes can propel a club in record time. A good example is Famalicão. In 2018, a majority stake in the puny club – then number 14 in Portugal’s second tier – was bought by billionaire Idan Ofer’s Quantum Pacific Group. The Israeli, also a shareholder of Atlético Madrid, hung out with Mendes; together they ensured that Famalicão was promoted to the top division a year later. With reinforcements from, for example, Valencia, Wolves, Atlético Madrid and Benfica – four clubs from the extensive Mendes network – the ‘Fama Show’ started: after a few weeks, Famalicão was at the top. In the end, the newcomer finished sixth, a feat that attracted attention across Europe.
The question regularly arises whether the Portuguese does not wear multiple caps at some clubs. The same goes for Wolverhampton Wanderers, where his influence is perhaps most noticeable. The club was bought in 2016 by the Chinese Fosun International, which has a subsidiary with shares in the holding company of Mendes’ Gestifute, according to the report. of the mirror. In the years after the takeover, Wolves, like Famalicão, was reinforced with players from Atlético, Benfica and Porto, thanks to advisor extraordinaire Mendes. The crowning glory of the Portuguese invasion was the appointment of a new head coach in 2017: Nuno Espírito Santo, Mendes’ first client. He has since been succeeded by compatriot Bruno Lage.
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Mendes’ influence is also a topic of conversation with the national team of Portugal. In 2008, his client, national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, gave him unlimited access to the players’ hotel during the European Championship. A few months earlier, Mendes had visited the national team coach at the players’ hotel to talk to him about the lack of playing time of one of his clients, according to local media. The two national coaches after Scolari, Carlos Queiroz and Paulo Bento, were also in Mendes’ stable. Bento was regularly asked about his agent’s influence due to the large number of Gestifute players on the roster, but denied that the agent interfered in any way with the team.
The current national coach Fernando Santos, who became European champion with Portugal in 2016, is not a client of Mendes. However, that does not mean that his role with the national team is over. More than half of the Portuguese selection at this European Championship is under contract with Gestifute. In addition, there are still players that Mendes does not officially supervise, but has helped with transfers. As an intermediary, he interfered with Bruno Fernandes’ transfer to Manchester United, of course against a considerable commission.
Carousel of players
How much the Gestifute boss earns from a transfer is not always clear, unless a club makes this public. For example, it turned out that the transfer of defender Rúben Dias from Benfica to Manchester City resulted in Mendes receiving a commission of five million euros. The same day Nicolás Otamendi took the opposite route. “He creates a kind of circuit in which players circulate,” says sociologist and author Russo. It is also compared to a carousel, in which Gestifute players constantly go around a select group of clubs that frequently collaborate with the agent. In football terms: Mendes provides the cross and the goal.
The Portuguese agent will probably spend this summer traveling, calling and arranging again. As in recent years, Mendes will again orchestrate a number of major transfers for his clients, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes behind the scenes. He is now also active outside the football world: the Portuguese has already represented the interests of tennis player João Sousa and Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc. This year it was announced that he is getting into cycling with his company Polaris Sports. Revealed at the beginning of this month Negocios moreover, that Polaris will also be involved in NFTs, a way of linking ownership to digital objects via a unique code.
Mendes expands his playing field. It’s the only logical option for someone who’s played out the football world.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 23, 2021