Mino Raiola: The agent’s legacy, his stature in an ecosystem he dominated

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Mino Raiola’s first job was at his father’s pizzeria in the Dutch city of Haarlem. They had emigrated from southern Italy to the Netherlands when he was 11, and for years he worked hard, washing the floors and serving the tables. As his father grew older, he realized he had a business knack, and his son was put in charge of the books and negotiating contracts to import the best mozzarella and tomatoes. The offices of the Dutch football federation were nearby and an Italian agent used to drop by.

It was the first contact that Raiola, who died on Saturday at the age of 54, had with football, a world he would transform. For many, he symbolized a lot of what was wrong with the modern game. He was someone who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing, who rotated players from club to club to improve their salary while taking a huge cut for himself without taking much time to think about it. who was good for football. The obsession that his clients, including Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimović, seemed to have with the Ballon d’Or spoke of a focus on individualism that ran counter to the collective spirit on which the most successful teams are based. and the games themselves.

The other view is that Raiola fought fiercely for its customers, bringing market values ​​to a world that was often tied to the ancient rituals of a complacent establishment. In the Netherlands, for example, transfer fees used to be set by a calculation based on the player’s age and a set of statistics; Raiola tore it all apart. The first deal he made was to take Bryan Roy from Ajax to Foggia, after promising the Italian club that by cutting middleman fees he could broker the deal for around half of what he did. he would be with another agent.

Raiola was unorthodox and assertive (he even tweeted in disgust amid premature reports of his death). He dressed with a willful slackness, as evidenced by Ibrahimović’s famous description of their first meeting in his autobiography. “I really didn’t know what kind of person to expect,” he wrote. “Probably some kind of striped guy with an even bigger gold watch [than me]. But who the hell showed up? A guy in jeans and a Nike t-shirt – and that belly, like one of the Sopranos guys. It was one of the reasons why such a wide range of players loved him. He was not part of the costume and he was not part of the establishment. He was on their side.

When Ibrahimović first approached Raiola, through Brazilian full-back Maxwell, Raiola told him to “fuck him”. Ibrahimović immediately respected him. It was the language he spoke. When Raiola then told him to cut back on the bling and work harder, Ibrahimović understood the meaning of what he was saying.

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Raiola’s power was seen as he negotiated the transfer that took Matthijs De Ligt from Ajax to Juventus in 2019 and Italian fans seeing him in Turin chanted his name. Raiola, everyone knew, was someone who could close deals. Even in the days before his death, he was working on Erling Haaland’s possible move to Manchester City – and that despite the major falling out he had with Pep Guardiola during Ibrahimović’s time at Barcelona.

One of his former Man City clients, Mario Balotelli, once called Raiola after he set his house on fire by throwing fireworks into the bathroom. When a player was in trouble, his first instinct was to call Raiola. The officer told him to call the fire department.

Mario Balotelli with Mino Raiola

This anecdote perhaps suggests why agents are needed. Many gamers, siphoned out of “normal” life from an early age, are extremely out of this world. Balotelli, in his farewell tribute to Raiola on social media, called him a “second father”. The idea that these players can negotiate contracts with the lawyers employed by the big clubs is laughable. And that may bring us closer to the truth.

Raiola was a very uncomfortable figure, a personification of the greed of the modern game. Football, it’s probably fair to suggest, would be a happier game if people like him weren’t part of its ecosystem. But he was a symptom rather than a cause. He fought fiercely for his clients, most of whom needed to fight. If clubs were less greedy, the world less driven by profit, there would have been no need for Raiola and agents like him. In that sense, he was simply someone who shunned commonplace hypocrisies, who attacked clubs and institutions and empowered the players who are, after all, the people of football. And he got extremely rich doing that.

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