If you spend any amount of time reading the sports pages during soccer’s transfer window, you’re pretty quickly going to come across the name Jorge Mendes. He’s the pre-eminent player agent in soccer, responsible for brokering some of the biggest transfers in the game’s history: Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid ($120 million), Angel di Maria to Man United ($89 million) and Diego Costa to Chelsea ($53 million) to name just three.
Here’s what you need to know about the man who pulls the strings during transfer season:
1. He’s Cristiano Ronaldo’s Agent, and They’ve Made Each Other Very Rich
Jorge Mendes has been Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent since the Portuguese was a young, badly dressed prospect at Sporting Lisbon. He’s guided Ronaldo from gap-toothed, ill-quaffed teenager to the most marketable and recognizable face in world soccer, making both of them a lot of money in the process.
First, he brokered Ronaldo’s transfer to Man United for roughly $20 million in the summer of 2003. Several pay raises later, he oversaw the then world record $120m transfer of Ronaldo to Real Madrid, netting roughly $12m for himself in arrangement fees. In 2013 he negotiated Ronaldo a mind-bending $206m contract to remain at the Santiago Bernabau until 2020, while he also arranges Ronaldo’s dizzying array of endorsements, sponsorship deals and image rights.
It may not be the last time Mendes makes serious money out of his most high-profile client: rumors persist that Ronaldo will make a “sensational” (to use the proper transfer rumor parlance) return to Manchester United this summer, likely netting Mendes another seven-figure arrangement fee.
2. His Player Roster is a Who’s Who of Elite Soccer
It’s not just Ronaldo who Jorge Mendes counts as a client: his player roster would make one of the most powerful XIs in world football. How about this for the spine of a team: David de Gea in goal, Eliaquim Mangala in central defense, James Rodriguez in and Joao Moutinho the middle, Angel di Maria and the aforementioned Ronaldo out wide and Diego Costa partnering Radamel Falcao up front. Oh, and Jose Mourinho calling the shots. Pretty frightening, right?
Mendes makes it his business to know which players are about to break onto the scene. His agency’s website holds the names of dozens of young players you’ve not – yet – heard of, as well as the various established superstars of the game. He’s the go-to guy for any self-respecting oligarch looking to build his fantasy football team in the flesh. Just witness AS Moncao and their Russian sugar daddy Dmitry Rybolovlev: when the fertilizer mandate took over the principality’s team, the first man he called was Mendes, who duly delivered Rodriguez, Falcao and Moutinho to his doorstep (in return for a combined fee north of $150 million).
3. He’s Earned More Than $150 Million from Player Transfers, as Well as Player Ownership
Mendes is estimated to have arranged more than $1.5 billion worth of transfers throughout his 15-year career. However, the 49-year-old not only facilitates transfers, but also the acquisition of talent himself. Mendes was involved in the establishment of a company called Quality Sports V that acquires economic interests in players, to which he is an advisor.
Third-party ownership of players – as opposed to 100% ownership solely by the club for whom the player performs – is a murky area frowned upon by FIFA. The fact that Mendes continues in his capacity as an agent only muddies those waters further: when he pursues a transfer for one of his clients, is he acting in their best interests – as he should – or in the interests of the investment vehicle he advises? FIFA have not commented on the matter to-date.
4. He Used to be a DJ & Nightclub Proprietor
Prior to becoming the pre-eminent “super agent” of his generation, Mendes owned a video store in his native Portugal and ran a nightclub, and it was in the latter that his break into the world of soccer came. Portuguese goalkeeper Nuno – then at Vitória Guimarães – happened into Mendes’ establishment and began telling the then 30-year-old of how his dream of a big transfer to city rivals Porto was being blocked by the club. Mendes took it upon himself to arrange a transfer for Nuno to Deportivo la Coruna in Spain, which he duly delivered.
Nuno says Mendes paid for everything, adding: “Jorge never took a cent from me, although we’d agreed he’d get a bonus. He tore up the cheque under my eyes, saying he’d never cash it.” Six years later, in 2002, Mendes sealed Nuno’s dream move to Porto. Now a manager, Mendes remains his agent.
5. He Convinced Sir Alex Ferguson to pay $10 million for Bebe
Perhaps the most stunning coup of Jorge Mendes’ career isn’t the vast swathe of talent under his control, or the eye-watering transfer fees he’s generated for his star-studded roster, but his quite astounding achievement of convincing Sir Alex Ferguson – one of the most successful, grizzled and tight-fisted managers in the history of the game – to part with $10 million for a 20-year-old nobody called Bebe. This is what rocked up at Old Trafford:
Ferguson hadn’t even seen the former homeless Portuguese play in the flesh before sanctioning the seven-figure move, so trusting was he of Mendes (a man the Scot describes as “the best agent I dealt with”). Bebe played just two games for United in four years at the club, before being sold to Benfica in 2014.
Not that Mendes cares about such details: as well as being his agent, he had a 30% stake in Bebe’s economic rights, and pocketed $4.5 million from the deal.