Football agents. Not many of us know what they really do, but we'd all quit our day jobs to join their ranks, right? We have a vague notion of the job description—negotiating contracts, playing clubs off one another, taking a slice of the pie—but by and large they work under the cover of darkness; their slick suits providing all the anonymity they'd ever need. Except for one man—Mino Raiola.
The mere mention of his name elicits all the trappings one typically associates with agents—the clothes, the money, the powerful friends and, I don't know, expansive wine cellars—but what is it about Raiola that makes him so well known? Why does he standout from the crowd?
Well, take a look at his client list and you have your answer:
- Paul Pogba (Valued at €110 million)
- Erling Haaland (Valued at €88 million)
- Marco Verratti (Valued at €83 million)
- Lorenzo Insigne (Valued at €66 million)
- Gianluigi Donnarumma (Valued at €60 million)
- Kostas Manolas (Valued at €32 million)
- Hirving Lozano (Valued at €28 million)
- Moise Kean (Valued at €25 million)
- Justin Kluivert (Valued at €22.5 million)
And that's just a smattering of his current clients. Raiola has also represented heavyweights like Zlatan Ibrahimovic (still with him), Mario Balotelli (still with him), Robinho, Mark van Bommel, Pavel Nedved, Frank Rijkaard and Dennis Bergkamp.
According to Forbes, Raiola has negotiated more than $700 million worth of player transfers and has an estimated net-worth (as of September 2019) of $70.3 million. Needless to say, when it comes to player agents, you won't find many more well-know and more successful than the 53-year-old Italian.
And you don't become that successful (particularly in a business as nebulous as sports agency) without serious ambition and serious salesmanship. A player has their choice of dozens of agents and/or agencies, so to lure clients that talented and that famous requires a strong pitch—a definitive plan on how Raiola can increase their value, their brand and their lifestyle.
Raiola has clearly mastered the art of assembling an impressive client list, but what if his ambitions extended to the club level? What if he wanted to apply those same skills to building an actual football club?
What if Mino Raiola bought Roma?
It sounds absurd, but the rumor has existed for several years now. During a 2016 interview with the Corriere dello Sport, Raiola stated in no uncertain terms that he would be interested in buying Roma:
If Roma was for sale, I could buy it together with a group of investors because it would be an interesting project. The Americans have done little for the Giallorossi and I don’t believe in their project. Just like I didn’t believe in Inter’s.
At the moment I’ve heard of a project for building a stadium, but I haven’t seen investment on the scale of Paris Saint-Germain or [Manchester] City.
I’ve seen them buying players, but also selling them. They have a sporting director [Walter Sabatini] who is good at seeking out talent, but if you first build something up then knock it down, how can you grow?
We should take his jabs at Roma with a grain of salt because, in this sense, he's no different than us. Criticizing Roma's business decisions is easy from the outside (we do it all the time!) but we can only speculate—actually running the club is far more complicated than talking about running the club. Raiola may not believe in the American's project, but to move this from rumor to substance, he'd need a legitimate plan to make Roma the behemoth we all hope they can be.
Then there's the matter of finance. With a rumored net-worth of $70.3 million, Raiola would come up well short on his own, but thanks to his decades worth of wheeling and dealing, and his prior life as an entrepreneur and attorney, and the fact that he speaks seven languages, he's about as well connected as any outsider can be in football, so he could presumably put together a group of investors rather easily.
Roma, on name recognition and reputation, should be right up there with Barcelona or Mardrid or PSG. So in that sense, Raiola is (or was) drawn to Roma for the same reasons as James Pallotta was back in 2011...because it's fucking Rome. With a name and a history known the world over, the appeal of AS Roma is obvious, and whoever can modernize the club and capitalize on that reputation stands to earn a lot of praise and adulation, not to mention a healthy profit. To people like us, and the venture capitalists of the footballing world, Roma are a sleeping giant waiting for the right person to stir them from hibernation.
Raiola is no stranger to the spotlight and, as one who deals in the reputation and potential of clients, could conceivably apply those same skills to boost Roma's credibility on the global footballing stage—to wake that sleeping giant, as it were—but what exactly would a Raiola-led Roma look like?
Well, as we just alluded to, Raiola would merely be the mouthpiece for a larger investment group. Even if he were to invest his total net-worth into this purchase, he's still only about 10% of the way there, if we take the rumored sale price of €780 million at face value, so he'd better hope he can string together a cadre of investors as quickly as he thinks he can.
But I think that is precisely his appeal. As perhaps the top player agent ever, Raiola not only has connections all over the footballing world (and likely the business world), but he has a finely tuned appreciation for player value and development. Furthermore, and this is admittedly a bit harder to quantify, but as one who essentially deals in speculation and perception (if we view players purely as investment properties), Raiola could potentially use those same skills to inflate the value and belief in the “project” much in the same he boosts the value and reputation of his clients.
Given those front-facing skills, investors could feel safe in casting their lot with Raiola. If he can scale up his player-focused approach to the club-level, Raiola would be the ideal face of a 21st century football club.
In terms of the nuts and bolts, Raiola would most likely have to sever official ties with his clients, but the relationships and connections he's cultivated over the past twenty years—with players, other agents, scouts, directors of sport—could serve him well in building Roma up to a mega brand.
Having the world's glitziest agent running the club wouldn't render FFP moot of course, but if he can help get Roma back to square one, who better than Raiola to sell the world's top players on the promise of Rome?
With Roma's current financial lot, it's unlikely that he'd be able to convince all his mega clients to join up immediately (We'll settle for just one of Pogba or Haaland), but he has dozens and dozens of clients of all ages and in all leagues around the world, so it wouldn't be hard for him to steer some of them towards the Eternal City.
But the salient (and I suppose speculative) point here is what we've suggested throughout this piece: Football as a business is deeply rooted in speculation and perception, two trades in which Mino Raiola is remarkably skilled.
The chances that one person walks up to James Pallotta and hands him a €1 billion check are practically nil, so Roma will very likely be run by a consortium of sorts if Pallotta does indeed sell. And as we've seen over the past several years, when the face of that group is foreign to the sport and the business of football itself, progress moves at a slower pace.
We'll likely never know if Raiola could be the man to raise Roma's fortunes, but it's an awfully intriguing concept, isn't it?