The world of football is a glamorous place. The most gifted players get exuberant salaries and often move around clubs in blockbuster trades. What fans don’t see (and usually don’t care about) is the work of football agents. However, they play a crucial role as practically every professional contract and every transfer has been negotiated by one of those often shadowy figures.
A lot of players have dedicated agents, who are often family related. When Ronaldinho accepted his second FIFA World Player of the Year award, he specifically mentioned his brother and agent Assis as his idol and major influence in guiding his career.
While most agents do have a defining influence is most footballer’s careers, most of them remain unknown to the wider public. Two names, however, have been part of an extraordinary number of deals and transfers and have become famous in their own right – Jorge Mednes and Pini Zahavi.
Portuguese Jorge Mendes is probably the most in-style agent today. He is managing the affairs of the most famous Portuguese and South American players including Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Pepe, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and numerous others. His portfolio of contracts also includes two of the most prominent coaches in Jose Mourinho and Felipe Scolari.
Overall, Mendes has been behind more than €1 billion worth of football transfers in his career, including the current transfer record of €94 million for the Cristiano Ronaldo move from Manchester United to Real Madrid.
Mendes’s career began in 1996, almost by accident. He met Vitoria Guimaraes’s goalkeeper Nuno in a bar and subsequently arranged his transfer to Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna. The agent later signed other Portuguese players. His career really picked off with his first major transfer outside Iberia when he brokered Hugo Viana’s €12 million transfer from Sporting to Newcastle United.
Mendes has been reported to be a constant presence at youth academies in Portugal, always looking to sport young talent yearly. This is how he managed to sign players like Crisitiano Ronaldo and Quaresma. Mendes’s business strategy is generally similar to what any aspiring agent does – looks for exceptional local talent which to promote to the world.
Pini Zahavi’s story is different. He works from offices in his native Tel Aviv, Israel, which is hardly known for its rich football talent pool. Zahavi, however, has been described as “footballs first and only super-agent” because of his ability to engineer some of the most expensive, but also controversial, transfers.
Zahavi began his agent career began in the early 1990s, when international players were hardly known or used in English football. His first major deal was Israeli player Eyal Berkovic move from Maccabi Tel Aviv to Southampton and subsequently to West Ham. This helped him make acquaintances with Rio Ferdinand, who was then a youngster with the Hammers. Zahavi first arranged his transfer to Leeds for 18 million pounds and then to Manchester United for 30 million pounds, a record amount for a defender.
Zahavi has achieved success by being involved in most big moves in the English Premier League by keeping close contacts with both players and managers. Some of his work has drawn controversy. He was involved in Chelsea’s alleged approach of then Arsenal player Ashley Cole in contradiction to Premier League rules. Although Zahavi denied any wrongdoing, Chelsea was fined and Ashely Cole did end up at Stamford Bridge.
Zahavi has gained prominence as an agent who is not only able to sell football players, but also football clubs. Using his connections in the former Soviet Union through the Israel immigrant community, he was the main driving force behind Roman Abramovic’s acquisition of Chelsea and Alexandre Gaydamak’s acquisition of Portsmouth. That work brought more work, as he was behind every major transfer of the two clubs since then.
Zahavi and Mendes actually interacted when Jose Mourinho joined Chelsea, Mendes as the coach’s agent, and Zahavi working on behalf of Chelsea. It is safe to say it was three special ones involved in this deal.