Raiola was loved by his clients and made himself a lot of money, but the influence of agents in remains at best mixed for the game.
In the end, he died as he lived: bullish to his final breath and shrouded in controversy. At a human level, the death of Mino Raiola at the age of 54 is obviously a tragedy, and a sobering reflection upon how fragile life can be. And that shouldn’t be forgotten as we pause to reflect upon his life. But he was also one of the most divisive figures in one of the most divisive part of football’s universe, and that cannot be ignored either.
Even his actual passing had an air of hyperreality. His death was first reported in the Italian press early on Thursday morning, only to be contradicted by a tweet from Raiola’s official account which read: ‘Current health status for the ones wondering: pissed off second time in four months they kill me. Seem also able to resuscitate.’ Later the same day, Jose Fortes Rodriguez, a close colleague, told reporters that “he’s in a bad position, but he hasn’t died”. But on Saturday afternoon, his death was confirmed; this time the confirmation came from his official Twitter account and there have been no subsequent contradictions.
Raiola inspired polarised opinions and this is hardly surprising. In one respect, he fitted a stereotype: overweight, usually wearing shades and jogging bottoms, seldom (if ever) seen in a suit, and more often than not with a mobile phone pressed to the side of his face. And he was famously abrasive, with a tendency to berate anybody who got in the way of him negotiating the best deal possible for his clients or those who criticised him. He certainly seemed plenty aware of this perception. When he decided to purchase a property in Miami, he spent €9m on the former home of Al Capone.
But he also polarised opinion because he was amongst the most successful agents, at least in terms of making himself a lot of money. It’s always been the case that the transfer of an elite-level player can change the course of a club’s history, and the growing influence of agents as power-brokers within the game has had a strange effect on others. Raiola found his name being sung by fans of clubs desperate to sign his clients, but has also found himself being criticised live on television in post-match discussions. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the players with whom he was most closely associated and a player with a similarly abrasive way of dealing with the outside world, was a close personal friend.
Those who criticise agents as ‘leeches taking money out of the game’ (or variants thereupon) are almost missing the point; in this day and age, agents are very much part of the game and its inner workings. Consider, for example, the influence of Jorge Mendes at Wolverhampton Wanderers, with the club having won promotion to the Premier League and established themselves in the top half of the Premier League, with European football under their belt. We might not like the fact that agents hold this much influence, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
But the career arc of Paul Pogba does ask questions of whether the influence of the agent is always beneficial to the player concerned. Pogba won four Serie A titles in a row by the time he was 23 with Juventus, but his £89m sale to Manchester United in 2016 has seen his career stall (at least at club level), and it remains likely that he will be leaving Old Trafford at the end of this season with just a Europa League and a Carabao Cup medal to show for the six prime years of his career, although who might now be representing him now is unknown. But the facts are stark. Manchester United didn’t get anything like what they were expecting from him and the player doesn’t seem to have had an especially happy time there, but Raiola was reported to have earned himself €27m from the deal.
Right to the very end, Raiola was understood to be working feverishly to complete the transfer of Erling Haaland to Manchester City, but his death comes with this contract not having been completed and there were even reports that Manchester City had visited him in hospital to get it over the line. What happens to that deal now – or to any of his clients – is a question for another day, but with the end of the season and the opening of another transfer window on the horizon, that other day will have to come sooner rather than later.
There is a case for saying that agents are good for football. Players need representation when contracts are being signed, and few would question that they would be highly vulnerable to exploitation if that representation didn’t exist. And there’s a case for saying that redistributing football’s vast wealth to players is better than it staying in the hands of those who run clubs, even if the distribution of those wages isn’t particularly even. And even criticism of the Paul Pogba career arc should be tempered by the fact that Pogba never asked Raiola to stop representing him. If the player thinks the agent is doing a good job, that’s all that matters, right?
Well… not quite. What the life and death of Mino Raiola exposes is the absurdity of modern football, a world in which an agent will have their name sung from the rafters if he brings a client to your club but is a game-sucking leech if he doesn’t; a world in which transfers are often treated as more important than matches, in which being abrasive and obnoxious is perfectly okay, so long as that person is throwing shade upon someone else that you disagree with; a world in which grotesque inequalities and the commoditisation of people – including children – are simply accepted as if there’s nothing that can be done about them, and in which millions of not-very-wealthy people pay substantial money in season ticket money and pay-TV subscriptions, only for a fair proportion of it to end up with already very wealthy people who often seem to love football while holding it in contempt.
There’s every possibility that, wherever he is right now, Mino Raiola is having a good old laugh to himself over the absurdity of it all – including the reporting of both of his deaths – and he’d be absolutely right.
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