Jorge Mendes: A closer look at one of the most powerful men in football
With the power to both control and manipulate the transfer market, Jorge Mendes has helped redefine what being a football agent is all about, building an empire worth hundreds of millions of pounds in the space of just two decades of work.
He is the man that was once given a Greek island as a wedding present by Cristiano Ronaldo, who has overseen some of the biggest transfer dealings in world football, and has built his football agency, Gestifute, from the ground up.
Having become one of the most powerful figures in the game, Jorge Mendes is a man that has changed the dynamic of football in his home country - sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse.
Influence on Portuguese football
Jorge Mendes’ influence on Portuguese football is both impressive and fascinating in equal measure, most notably due to the sheer contrast his presence has when you compare his impact on Portuguese football internationally, to his impact on club football domestically.
Domestically, because Jorge Mendes has such significant control over such a large proportion of Portuguese talents, what you often see is Portuguese clubs ultimately selling their very best players very early on in their development, while they are still very young, to some of the biggest clubs in Europe - the heavyweights of continental football that are regularly competing in the Champions League - for tens of millions of euros.
This is, of course, brilliant for the clubs on a financial level, allowing the traditional Big Three in Portugal to gain substantial profits season after season, before they have even fulfilled their overall potential. This money could then also be reinvested in their youth facilities to improve their world-renowned academies even further and further their chances of nurturing young stars for future economic gains. As a business model, it is nothing short of spectacular.
But there is undoubtedly a huge downside to this; what we have seen in the past 15 years is Portuguese clubs gradually become less and less competitive when it comes to performing on the European stage and is why we are very unlikely to see a Portuguese club win, or even reach the final or semi-final of Europe’s most illustrious club competition within the next two or three decades.
We are becoming accustomed to seeing the best players in Portuguese football leave the country while they are still very young. They come through the academy, they are given an opportunity on the biggest stage with the senior side, and are then sold on for million of pounds to clubs in the some of the biggest footballing nations - the likes of Spain, England, France, Germany etc.
What this means is that Portuguese football has, in many ways, stagnated by the way in which our football clubs are never able to be quite as competitive as they have been in the past, and it is why the last Champions League winner we have seen emerge from Portugal was Porto in 2004, and it is looking increasingly unlikely that we will see another, at least for the foreseeable future.
Portugal, with the help of Jorge Mendes, have filled that very niche gap in the transfer market, becoming something of a factory for talent that serves the purpose of providing the bigger fish with superstar players. So Portuguese clubs - namely the Big Three - produce excellent young players using their excellent youth facilities, eventually bring them into the senior side, give them the platform to perform and show what they can do, before they are then sold on for millions of pounds.
But, for the national team, what we see is a completely different story. Rather than getting weaker competitively, the influence of Jorge Mendes means that Portuguese football is never short of talent.
With Jorge Mendes’ assistance in getting young Portuguese players the chance to compete at the highest level in several different countries, it means that we have Portuguese stars plying their trade all across the continent - from England to Spain, Germany to France, Greece to Turkey etc. This is a huge positive for the Portuguese national team, meaning that we have a much larger national pool than we have had in previous years, and it is no coincidence that the rise of Jorge Mendes has coincided, and gone in parallel, with the rise in Portuguese football at national level.
If you think before the turn of the century, Portugal were relative minnows of world football. If you look at it now, Portugal are reigning European champions, ranked 7th in the FIFA World Rankings, and have qualified for every single major tournament since the year 2000. And it is certainly down to the sheer increase in the size of the national pool, with the massive influence Jorge Mendes has had in getting his clientele all over the continent.
The Wolves Project
And it is not just the Portugal national team that Jorge Mendes has had a hand in helping improve in recent years. As is well reported in Portugal, Wolves’ rise from the Championship to the Premier League has been partly built around an impressive core of Portuguese players, a contingent that has only grown since promotion was achieved last campaign.
Attracting Champions League calibre players to a side competing in the second tier of any country is a near-on impossible task; even if there is that potential route into the Premier League as a result of the drop down, the competitive nature of the Championship combined with its huge demand, hectic schedule and notorious physicality makes it come across as a less than lucrative proposal. And it is no doubt that Jorge Mendes, who has an excellent relationship with the Wolves ownership, had a significant part to play in helping the West Midlands club attract some of the stars of the Portuguese League.
It was borderline impossible to truly believe what was going on; having already seen Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro arrive at the club from Benfica and Monaco respectively, Wolves kicked it up a notch, first by bringing in ex-Valencia and Porto manager Nuno Espirito Santo, who arrived with an outstanding CV despite his relatively short managerial career, before then recruiting players with big reputations including Portugal U21 international Diogo Jota from Atletico Madrid and Porto’s Willy Boly on loan, as well as the youngest Champions League captain in history in Ruben Neves, who had been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe in previous seasons.
All three players had, unsurprisingly, played under Nuno Espirito Santo the previous year at Porto. These signings, combined with the additional arrival of both Ruben Vinagre and Roderick Miranda, showed a clear trend of signing either Primeira Liga players, or Portuguese players from abroad. The common link between them all though was no one other than Mister Jorge Mendes himself. With all those signings on the books of his infamous Gestifute agency, his role in getting high-calibre players to the club was clear for all to see, and played a significant part in helping Wolves achieve the ultimate goal of promotion.
A model others will look to copy?
I think it’s clear that Wolves’ approach of having a superagent on side is something other clubs will be looking at and wanting to mimic themselves, and we have seen other clubs choose to recruit Jorge Mendes clients in a bid to have success, the likes of Monaco and Valencia, for example, have tried it in the past. But because of what has happened with Wolves and the sheer positive trajectory they have been in since Mendes’ involvement with the club, even more clubs may be glancing over and seeking to follow that model.
What you could also point out is that there was some discontent among certain Championship clubs last season about the ‘unfair’ advantage that Wolves were getting as a result of the Jorge Mendes factor. It was the Leeds owner that suggested that he would consider following Wolves’ model in the future because of the great success that they have had. He did initially seem to claim that he felt that it was something that gave Wolves an unfair advantage but that, if it is legal, he would like to do the same thing. Which is understandable, considering how much success Wolves have had with Jorge Mendes on side.
One thing to say, however, is that there will be no other English clubs that are able to have the success that Wolves have had with Jorge Mendes clients; his relationship with the owners there, the fact that Nuno Espirito Santo, his first ever client, is at the helm there, means that Wolves are very much his main project in England and, if other clubs were to look to him for assistance in signing players, they would likely not get the same level of attention as Wolves have had.
What makes Jorge Mendes different?
I think, firstly, you would be hard pushed to find any agents that came before Jorge Mendes that were quite as determined, hard-working and driven to succeed as he was. He started from a modest background, hopped from one career to another, and took some risks along the way. And when his big break in the football world finally came along, the effort and work he then put in to try and make it work and get Nuno Espirito Santo his big move to Deportivo back in the 1990s was clear to see, and the drive and motivation to succeed he demonstrated is likely unrivalled.
But one other thing that has helped Jorge Mendes succeed is the way in which he is stockpiling players at different clubs. He has strong connections with 4 or 5 clubs across the continent that his players will often move to. He obviously has both Benfica and Porto in Portugal that he uses to get a lot of players on his books which he can help to then sell on, but then also around Europe he has some other clubs that he has grown a close relationship with where he can create a small contingent of his players, give them a platform to perform on and then make a profit for them if they are then sold on. Monaco in France is one such example of a club he has a good association with, a lot of his clients and Portuguese players in general have passed through there in recent years, the likes of Helder Costa, Ivan Cavaleiro, Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho, Ruben Vinagre, Rony Lopes etc. Another one is Lazio in Italy, while in Spain, he seems to have a good relationship with both Valencia and Deportivo too.
And with Wolverhampton, he perhaps has his final piece of the puzzle; he finally cracked into England where he has a club that he can use to put his players in and give them a chance to perform in the Premier League. So that’s one way that he’s been successful, able to build these small groups of connections that has given him the chance to put players on the biggest stage before they are then potentially sold on for a lot more money.
Is he destroying the very soul of football?
I think describing Jorge Mendes as misunderstood would be something of an understatement. Often we are given this impression that Jorge Mendes is a villain of football that has destroyed the very soul of our beloved game. But what we have to remember is that football is a business, that is a fact, and superagents like Jorge Mendes are a consequence, rather than the cause, of this. There is a huge amount of money in football nowadays - the transfer fees are extornionate, prize money has gone through the roof - it’s all spiralled out of control a bit. But superagents are just a result of this rather than a direct cause of football becoming more of a brand instead of just being a sport.
His intentions are also often misunderstood; often he’s perceived as this egotistical person who only has his own interests at heart. Now of course, his main intention is to make as much money as possible, this is a business and he is an entrepreneur who wants to make as much money as possible from controlling his empire. But at the same time, that doesn’t paint the whole picture, and Mendes undoubtedly also puts his client’s own desires at the forefront of any negotiations and wants to get the best deal possible for them. And I think if you were to talk to his clients, you would get that impression a lot more than you would do from the media in general.
For example, if you hear Nuno Espirito Santo - as previously said, Mendes’ first client - talk about Jorge Mendes, you will get this completely different picture; he discusses how Mendes is more than just his agent and has become a good friend, he expresses how much gratitude he has for what his agent has done and the fact that he has always been there for him in the most important moments of his career. And that seems to then be reciprocated; you hear Jorge Mendes refer to his list of clients as his second family. So his morals and intentions are often, to some extent, misunderstood, and there is a great respect between him and the players he has on his books.