Football

Super agent Raiola - the 'Donald Trump of football'

Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans or tracksuit and trainers, it is easy to mistake Mino Raiola for just another chubby beer-loving football fan rather than the razor-sharp mind who dominates the world transfer market.

Raiola, whose Italian roots and love of pasta are highlighted by his family's pizza restaurant, masterminded Paul Pogba's record-smashing 105-million-euro (S$158m) return to Manchester United in July.

He has looked after Swedish great Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the last 15 years and also manages Mario Balotelli, Blaise Matuidi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Raiola is said to have raked in 35m euros in fees from contracts worth 356m euros this year alone - which includes the Pogba transfer from Juventus to United.

"I don't think Mino was surprised by the deal or the amount," Willem Vissers, a Dutch football writer for the respected daily De Volkskrant, told AFP.

"He's a man who always thinks ahead and he's a perfectionist who's always working unbelievably hard to get the best deals for his players."

Raiola first honed his skills on football and the art of negotiating while waiting tables at his family's pizza restaurant overlooking a canal in the Dutch medieval city of Haarlem - the Ristorante Napoli.

Raiola briefly worked as technical director at Haarlem FC, but he had much grander ideas: setting up a co-operation deal to transfer players from Italian club Napoli.

Naples is close to the southern Italian city of Nocera Inferiore, from where Raiola moved with his parents when he was one in 1968.

Many in football mistakenly brushed aside Raiola because of his jeans-and-T-shirt uniform.

"In the beginning, they all underestimated him because of the way he dressed," said Vissers, who has interviewed the elusive agent.

These days, nobody dismisses Raiola, one of the most powerful people in football.

His first big break came with the signing of Czech midfield star Pavel Nedved, a Ballon d'Or winner in 1992.

After that, other greats like Ibrahimovic and Pogba followed.

It is not all plain-sailing for Raiola however.

The Football Leaks media consortium alleged last week that the agent had transferred Pogba's multi-million image rights to the offshore haven of Jersey. The agent has dismissed the reports as imaginary.

Gael Mahe, a former Pogba representative, calls Raiola a "genius" for his deal making.

"He is the Donald Trump of football, a big mouth who knows how to sell and who has built his own skyscrapers. Each of his players has virtually the value of a Manhattan building," said Mahe. - AFP

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