It was a move that caught many people off-guard.
It was swift, it was sudden, and it came as if from nowhere. Wolves, on Friday, with minimal warning until less than 24 horus beforehand, announced the signing of Portuguese duo Pedro Neto and Bruno Jordao from Italian outfit Lazio - for a combined fee of £18million.
Significant money for two players who were largely unheard of outside of Portugal and Italy, and two players who between them had barely racked up 100 minutes of senior football. From the outside, it looks like a confusing piece of business, perhaps even a rip off if you will, and a sign of the market spiralling completely out of control.
Are these signings simply Jorge Mendes at work?
How can two such inexperienced youngsters with still a lot to prove be worth 20 million euros? Is potential really that valuable? It’s a stark contrast to the 5 million pounds paid for Joao Moutinho by Wolves just one year ago, the highly experienced and talented midfielder at that point in time just 31 years of age and still a regular for the Portugal national team. Is potential really worth that much more than proven ability?
In truth, certainly not. but Wolves are living in unusual times within a market of their own. And the reason for that is quite simple: Jorge Mendes.
It is no coincidence that reports of Wolves’ interest in the Portuguese pair only arose earlier on in the very day that they signed for the club, catching many off guard. It may have come as a surprise at the time, yet there is something shockingly unshocking about these two signings. In hindsight, this was actually a rather predictable move, one that unapologetically proves the significant impact Jorge Mendes has at the Molineux club.
Mendes, depending on who you ask, is either a legendary figure, or the epitome of what is wrong with football. Both, despite running completely counter to one another, are understandable and credible opinions to hold, but it is indisputable that he has played a substantial role, whether officially or otherwise, in helping Wolves get to where they are today, his sheer power in the market central to affording Wolves access to some of the most talented and promising players in the Portuguese game to go with one of the country’s most respected managers.
If any were somehow still unsure as to whether Mendes was critical in those signings, that doubt has to surely be erased by the latest two signings in Pedro Neto and Bruno Jordao. They are, without question, the definition of Mendes manufacturing what is essentially his own market.
You don’t have to look much further than their careers to see that, so far, they have followed an exact trajectory that you would expect of Jorge Mendes clients.
Indeed, one method that Jorge Mendes has used that has fundamentally underpinned the success he has had as a businessman is the way in which he has found a way to stockpile players at different clubs. He has strong connections with 4 or 5 different teams across the continent where his players will then often move to, frequently by design.
He obviously has several clubs in Portugal, for example, that he uses to get players on his books who he can then help to sell on, the likes of Benfica, Porto, Braga and Rio Ave the most obvious examples. But then also across the rest of Europe there are other clubs that he has grown a close relationship with where he can create small contingents of his players, offering them a platform to perform and show what they can do before then potentially seeing them sold on for a profit.
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 having passed through there in recent years, the likes of Helder Costa, Ivan Cavaleiro, Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho, Ruben Vinagre, Rony Lopes etc. Andre Silva came close to being another name to add to that list, while Joao Mario is likely to be the latest Portuguese to make the journey to Monaco.
Spanish duo Valencia and Deportivo are two other excellent examples of clubs Mendes has on his portfolio, and Lazio of Serie A are, uncoincidentally, another, in addition to England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were perhaps the final piece of the puzzle to ensure that Jorge Mendes had maximum control of the transfer market.
With all this in mind, you can see why it was characteristically - and perhaps somewhat confusingly - both surpising and unsurprising to see both Pedro Neto and Bruno Jordao both join Lazio back in 2017 from Portuguese outfit Braga for what would eventually prove to be for a jaw-dropping fee of 26 million euros. That becomes even more stunning when you bear in mind that, at the time, they were still just 17 and 18 years of age respectively. Incredibly young and unproven players that ultimately cost a couple of dozen million pounds.
It was seen as a rather strange move at the time, greeted with some scepticism as two very young players who were largely unheard of outside Portugal made their way to Italy for significant fees, hence the surprising element of the transfer. But, of course, in reality, the transfer really isn’t remotely surprising, and you don’t have to do much digging or know much about Portuguese football to discover that. After all, it was quite apparent from the very onset that there was one man who was heavily involved in these deals - Jorge Mendes.
It was the Portuguese superagent who oversaw the negotiations that took Neto and Jordao from Braga to Lazio, Mendes himself benefiting financially from the deals in the process, and therefore seeing the duo move on again, this time to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who are managed by Mendes’ first ever client Nuno Espirito Santo and boast a wealth of other Gestifute players, is highly unsurprising.
It is also common knowledge that Pedro Neto came close to joining Benfica earlier this summer - very close, in fact. It was a potential move that was questioned by much of the Benfica faithful, his lack of senior experience unequivocably concerning compared to the fees being quoted for the acquisition of his services (in excess of 17 million euros), yet it was seemingly inevitable, what with the power Mendes has in football.
In the end, though, Benfica instead ended up signing Carlos Vinicius from Monaco for about 15 million euros. You don’t have to look very far to see that he too is a player that is represented by Jorge Mendes, having previously played for both Rio Ave and Monaco. Him moving to Benfica for big bucks therefore meant that Pedro Neto had to go elsewhere.
With a move to Lisbon never materialising, Mendes turned elsewhere, and tried to send Neto and Jordao to Monaco, another club Jorge Mendes has close ties to. That move also fell through though, limiting Mendes’ option even further. And that’s where Wolverhampton Wanderers came in.
As if on cue, Wolves proved to be the solution to Jorge Mendes’ growing problem, and they swiftly completed the acquisition of both Neto and Jordao in a package deal. Indeed, it is no coincidence that there was so little time between Wolves’ interest coming to light and the signing of the duo becoming official; if anything, the speed at which the process was completed only further emphasises the role in which Jorge Mendes will have played in completing the transfer.
To answer the initial question, therefore - ‘Are these signings simply Jorge Mendes at work?’ - the answer surely has to be a firm yes. Had they not been Portuguese, and had they not been Jorge Mendes clients, would they really have been worth 20 million euros? And would Wolves really have signed them? They are hypothetical questions, of course, which cannot be proved either way, though my guess is that the answer is ‘no’ to both.
Are they good enough for Wolves?
But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t strong additions for Wolves that should improve the team over the course of this season, and coming seasons. After all, even if Jorge Mendes was pushing forward the transfer of the duo to Wolverhampton Wanderers, ultimately had Nuno not wanted them, they likely wouldn’t have made the move.
That’s more difficult to prove though, of course; the very nature of the relationship between Nuno and Mendes makes it difficult to decipher whether this move was a mutual decision, or one that Mendes pushed for, and Nuno simply obliged.
In any case, while the fee paid for them is somewhat extortionate, they are two players who come with solid reputations in Portugal and they could have very bright futures too.
Pedro Neto is the signing that can be deemed particularly exciting. The 8-time U19 Portugal international was one of the top talents that was excluded from Portugal’s Euro U19 squad earlier this summer, and perhaps his inclusion would have helped convert Portugal from finalists into champions.
Able to play on either flank or as a second striker, Neto is a versatile player who has shown great capabilities when on the ball, a technically gifted player who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and running at the opposition backline.
A hard-working player, Neto’s skill and determination has often been on show, happy to pick the ball up from a deeper position and take on his opponents with quick footwork and pace, while he can also cut inside and take on a shot from the edge of the box.
He is therefore a very entertaining player to watch, and with time on his side, he could prove to be an excellent acquisition for Wolves.
Jordao, meanwhile, is now 20 years of age, and while he perhaps isn’t quite as highly regarded as his compatriot, has also shown himself to be a talented footballer. A central midfielder, Jordao is also a technically gifted footballer, calm and composed on the ball and happy to carry the ball forwards before laying it off an opponent.
He has also shown to have good movement, able to contribute to the attack with his good link-up play, and has also shown himself to have great passing range and ability, able to spray the ball around the field and play some well-placed through balls to get his teammates into the game in the attacking third of the pitch.
So they are two signings who have a lot to prove, but also a lot of potential, and their acquisition ultimately also comes with minimal risk; if they fail to prove their worth over the next couple of seasons, they’ll likely move on again, and with the help of Jorge Mendes, Wolves will still be able to recuperate a significant proportion of the money they spent on them in the first place, if not even make a profit.
And, of course, the benefit of signing two players is that there is an increased chance that at least one of them will come good; even if one fails to have any sort of impact at the club, if the second proves to be a star, this will immediately have been another worthwhile deal by Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Ultimately, Wolves fans should be cautiously excited and optimistic; they are two signings that, with the right training and nurturing, could develop into excellent footballers, potentially future Portugal internationals, possessing excellent natural ability. And even if that fails to come to fruition and they do both prove to be underwhelming signings, Wolves will always be able to sell them on and consider this a punt that was worth taking that just didn’t pay off. It is the former, though, that seems more likely.