Mino Raiola’s recent nomination for agent of the year at the Globe Soccer Awards left club owners, particularly at Manchester United, choking on their cornflakes.
United are furious and their fans have urged Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to drop the Frenchman despite his fabulous goal at West Ham on Saturday.
Mino Raiola (left) has caused a stir at Man United by declaring Paul Pogba’s time there is ‘over’
Raiola already has a turbulent relationship with Manchester United and this will add to that
Pogba, pictured here with his outspoken Italian agent in 2016, has angered United supporters
Raiola won’t care. He didn’t care when Sir Alex Ferguson branded him a ‘s***bag’ for ending Pogba’s first spell at United. Raiola is happy as long as his star-studded clients headed by Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic continue to love him, and they do.
Ibrahimovic adores the eccentricities and bullish nature of man who has guided his glittering career. ‘A guy in jeans, a Nike T-shirt and with a stomach like one of the guys in the Sopranos,’ says Zlatan.
Raiola’s modus operandi is aggression. Not just with clubs when negotiating top dollar – but also his own players. He won Ibrahimovic early on at Ajax by demanding he sold his watches and cars and focussed exclusively on becoming the world’s best striker.
The ‘mafioso’ image is celebrated. He celebrated his cut of Pogba’s move to United in 2016, reported as anywhere between £20million and £40m, by splashing out on the Miami beach house once owned by gangster Al Capone.
Born in Italy, Raiola moved to Holland young when his parents opened a pizza restaurant in Haarlem. He learned his work ethic from them working up to 18 hours a day.
Legendary ex-United boss Sir Alex Ferguson branded Raiola as a ‘s***bag’ after past dealings
The young Raiola earned pocket money waiting tables before studying law and discovering he was a natural linguist – picking up Italian, Dutch, French, English, German, Spanish and Portuguese.
It proved invaluable in the inter-connected world of football. His break came in 1993 when he was an interpreter in Dennis Bergkamp’s move to Inter Milan. Soon, he was finding his own clients. The first big one was Czech and Juventus superstar Pavel Nedved, later to be eclipsed by Ibrahimovic.
He signed Pogba at 18. The Frenchman was an FA Youth Cup winner at United but Raiola forced a move to Juventus, rattling Ferguson’s feathers.
‘There are one or two football agents I simply do not like and Mino Raiola is one of them,’ said the United manager. ‘He and I were like oil and water.’
Raiola had an answer, as usual. ‘I put Pogba’s interests first and we decided to go to Turin. Maybe Ferguson only likes those who obey him,’ he hit back.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is among the high-profile names that the outspoken Italian looks after
He won the Swedish star early on during his time at Ajax by demanding he sold his watches and cars and focussed exclusively on becoming the world’s best striker
Raiola’s recent influence at United has seen Henrikh Mkhitaryan (left) and Pogba play for them
United received less than £1m for Pogba and had to pay £89million to re-sign him when Jose Mourinho was in charge.
Raiola is not svelte – negotiations can take place over mounds of pasta – and not suave like some other super-agents. You are more likely to find him in shorts or a tracksuit rather than a pinstripe.
But you can’t underestimate the street smarts and intelligence. He understood early on the increasing importance of individual brands following the emergence of social media. Ibrahimovic has long since become ‘Zlatan’, an expensive gun for hire for leading clubs around the world. Those who work with him also note a keen sense of attention to detail.
United turned to Raiola for help during the post-Ferguson years but came to regret giving him a power base by signing several of his clients; Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pogba.
When things turned sour, he also had the capacity to keep targets away from Old Trafford – most notably striker Erling Haaland.
Raiola is not svelte and not suave like some other super-agents but he is street smart
So far, Raiola has not been able to force Pogba out of United despite strong links to Real Madrid and Juventus, but the saga has damaged the club.
The player has been beset by injury, illness and loss of form over 12 months. United valued him at £150million but would be fortunate to receive half that amount now.
‘Paul is our player and not Mino’s,’ said Solskjaer trying to take the moral high ground during one spat. ‘Paul is not mine and for sure not Solskjaer’s property,’ retorted Raiola who can handle himself in a verbal brawl.
Raiola’s latest grenade dropped this week, claiming ‘it is over’ for Pogba at Old Trafford, seemed to back Gary Neville’s long-held view: ‘That agent has messed United around for years.’
Insults towards Raiola have poured in but they won’t bother him. Even his rows with friends like Ibrahimovic are legendary. Once the Swede rang to get sympathy after he’d been substituted, Raiola just told him he’d been terrible.
Raiola has been in a public war of words with United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer over Pogba
The unorthodox anti-hero approach has worked. Raiola’s plush offices are based in Monaco. Though some clients like Lukaku have left and others such as Mario Balotelli disappointed, a new generation have headed to his door including Juventus and Holland defender Matthijs de Ligt and AC Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, tipped to become the world’s best goalkeeper.
A picture of James Bond hangs on Raiola’s wall. ‘I’m a big fan. When he says: “My name is Bond, James Bond”, all the ladies get out of their clothes. Haha,’ he told Business Insider in a typically un-politically correct interview.
Forbes magazine estimates his client list is worth £500m. Those players choose him because he fights head-on. The latest battleground is an image rights one with Ibrahimovic among the stars who feel they are being exploited by FIFA.
Raiola got Ibrahimovic moves to AC Milan, Inter Milan, Barcelona, PSG, Manchester United – and MLS. In return, he drove Zlatan’s Porsche around town like a made man.
This week’s instalment of the Pogba soap opera shows that Raiola continues to carry real weight in the football world, not just on the scales.
He has some of the youngest stars in Matthijs de Ligt and Erling Haaland in his £500m stable