•Mino Raiola brokered the £89m Paul Pogba transfer to Manchester United •His stable of clients includes Romelu Lukaku and Henrikh Mkhitaryan •The agent made more than £30m from deals this summer alone •He talks exclusively to Sportsmail on his clients and the world of football
You need to have big balls to complete a world record transfer and Jose Mourinho has those balls…
Mino Raiola is telling it straight, as he likes to. ‘It’s not just a case of spending the money,’ he insists. ‘It’s shouldering the responsibility of spending that money and saying, “yes, this is my man’’. Arsenal have the money but do they have the balls?
‘I respect Arsene Wenger. He has a philosophy that says these figures don’t match what I want to do, so that’s OK. Real Madrid? The will of Zinedine Zidane was strong but we were not sure it was the will of the club.
‘Yet I think Manchester United showed the world this summer that they were not going to stand still, they want to be the best.
‘They sent out a message with the transfers they did that this is the biggest club in the world.’
Raiola is in a T-shirt and jogging pants, standing barefoot on the balcony of a towering new apartment block overlooking Chelsea Harbour. His teenage son is sharing the view.
We are discussing his busy summer as agent to some of the biggest names in football.
This is the man who brokered the world record £89million transfer of Paul Pogba to Manchester United and boasts a client list that includes , Mario Balotelli, Romelu Lukaku and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
He made more than £30m from deals this summer (including about £20m from the Pogba transfer), his players are wanted by the world’s biggest clubs, so what gave Manchester United and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward the edge?
‘I always say to my players we go where we are needed. United will always be one of the biggest clubs in the world whether by reputation or balance sheet.
‘Yes, Manchester United had no Champions League and weren’t champions but they needed us the most.
‘United had been talking to us for two years about Pogba,’ confides Raiola.
‘They had taken my player Sergio Romero and we had kept the lines of communication open.
‘We knew we had interest, we spoke to Juventus, they really wanted to try for the Champions League, they gave him the No 10 shirt and we said we would give it one more year.
‘Then I worked on an exit plan. We had two offers from the Premier League and two outside.
‘Paul said United was in his heart, Woodward wanted him at United a year ago and Mourinho had wanted him at Chelsea too, so when the two combined we knew it was right.
‘For the player, Real Madrid would have been easier, La Liga, Champions League, but he wanted the greater challenge.
‘Mkhitaryan was more complicated. We had almost agreed with another Premier League club but Dortmund wouldn’t let him go, then United pushed it over the line.
‘With Zlatan, he fits the Manchester United brand perfectly. He is the personification of fearless and has that winning mentality combined with class.
‘He is 34 but he is the most talked about player in the Premier League. His reunion with Mourinho gives that feeling of “we are Manchester United, now come try to f*** us’!’’
Being politically correct is not Raiola’s forte, he has a penchant for being direct, a quality he credits to his Dutch heritage, but rather than the truculent image many perceive, there is a tongue-in-cheek humour to what he delivers.
‘I love in England when you ask someone, “how are you?” They say “oh, not so bad, I could be worse.’’ What does that mean? I’m Dutch, we say as it is. In Holland we are either “good’’ or “bad’’. It’s funny.’
Born in Italy, Raiola’s family moved to Holland when he was an infant. His father, a mechanic, re-trained with the help of his grandmother to set up the family restaurant business.
‘I worked hard, I cleaned dishes, waited on tables, I was a barman but I never baked a pizza in my life — despite what has been written.’
The Italian in him underpins his strong family values and the tight-knit bond with his players. Listed by Forbes magazine as one of the most influential agents in sport, today he is spending valuable time with his son, Mario.
‘It’s nice to see my son,’ says Raiola. ‘When he was little I can recall him looking up at Zlatan in awe.’
He mimics a small boy, mouth agape, slowly looking up at the sky to take in a figurative giant.
‘Zlatan used to drive him around in his Ferrari. I see Mario more now than I used to, I barely saw him growing up, I’d be away.
‘That’s this life, you have to do the work to get here, do the miles. I like to go and talk to the clubs, meet everyone. We all have different methods.’
To illustrate his point, he tells a joke about a man with a stammer who sells more Bibles than his boss by simply threatening to read them to customers unless they buy.
‘The boss says: “What’s your secret?’’ “I r-ring the d-door bell and s-s-say: “H-H-Hello, d-d-do you w-w-want t-t-to buy th-th-this B-B-Bible, or d-d-do you w-w-want m-me t-to READ it t-t-t-to you?’’’
His own sales pitch is not for all, though he is quick to explain United’s Manchester derby defeat and criticism of Pogba and Mkhitaryan.
‘It’s true Pogba is not playing his best yet, he is taking time to adjust but people don’t always see the bigger picture. He will dominate for 10 years. He is United’s lost son.
‘Mkhi was the best player in the German league the last two seasons. He has a strong mentality and will be an asset once fully fit.
‘Sometimes it is better to lose because you realise you are not what you thought. I still think United will win the league though as they now have the quality.’
Raiola on Ferguson
The dispute between Sir Alex Ferguson and Mino Raiola was never an obstacle to Paul Pogba’s return to Old Trafford.
The two clashed over the teenage Pogba’s contract and future role at United. It triggered the midfielder’s departure to Juventus in 2012 and prompted Ferguson to remark his dislike for Raiola, saying they were like ‘oil and water’.
‘It was never an issue,’ says Raiola. ‘Moving in 2012 was a necessary step because Paul wouldn’t have progressed the way he did otherwise.
‘I had two meetings with Mr Ferguson. The first was nasty on his part but the second, I’d never had so much fun in my life! Mr Ferguson is entitled to his opinion and, though I don’t have to agree with it, I have a great deal of respect for him.
‘He is an iconic manager but I still believe the value of Paul today confirms I was right to do what I did. We had different ideas of where Paul was.
‘Maybe it’s just as well he didn’t like me because then he would have slapped me. What people don’t realise is that I did everything to try and persuade Paul not to go to Juventus.
‘Serie A clubs were not known for developing young players at the time. The last had been Paolo Maldini at AC Milan in 1985. I didn’t think it was right.
‘So three months down the line, he is at Juventus and I said we started a bad relationship here, everything I say you don’t listen to me and Paul just said, “It’s not that I don’t listen, it is just everything I have done in life, I have done the hard way. I want to do it the hard way”.
‘Similarly, this time when it was about returning to United, he knew there was no Champions League and it was the greater challenge. Paul Pogba doesn’t give up.
‘One thing I see though is that Mr Ferguson was made a Sir — maybe I too should be a “Sir’’ for bringing Paul back!’
Raiola on Mario Balotelli
Allowing Mario Balotelli to leave Manchester City was Mino Raiola’s biggest mistake.
‘I should not have given him his way when he asked to leave City. It is the one big mistake I made,’ admits Raiola.
‘Mario was unhappy and I should have said, “You’re feeling s***? You don’t like your job? Tough, grow up, get on with it.” I needed to be cruel to be kind but I was too nice.
‘Mario’s flaw was that he was looking for love. He needed to be egocentric. He needed to eat, sleep, s*** and f*** football, no one else.
‘Football needs to be his priority, not a fiancee, not even a wife. To be a top athlete, you make the sacrifice and after 11 or 12 years you redress the balance then lead the life you want.
‘Pavel Nedved, who was one of my first players, had that focus to be a success and he was a model family man. Mario didn’t have that focus, then he got a reputation and if you have a reputation you don’t have credibility. That makes it more difficult.’
Balotelli scored a brace on his Nice debut after a disastrous spell at Liverpool.
‘Mario and Jurgen Klopp never had a chance because Klopp never gave him a chance,’ insists Raiola. ‘I said Klopp acted like a piece of s*** towards him and he can’t deny he made Mario an outcast.
‘I had experience with Klopp at Dortmund. He can’t tell people that he treated Mario like a human being at Liverpool.
‘If you want to sell him it’s up to you but he is still a Liverpool player and, while he is, show him respect. He needed 90 minutes in friendlies but he trained outside the first team. What did he do wrong in the last two years?
‘Mario said he made a mistake joining Liverpool. I don’t regret choosing Liverpool although I’m not sure Brendan Rodgers wanted him.’
Though Everton showed interest in the summer, a deal failed to materialise — yet Raiola maintains a return to England beckons.
‘Italy is unlivable for him because of the attention he gets. If he proves he can become stable at Nice and score goals then imagine how attractive he would be to a Premier League manager next summer as a free agent.
‘France needs him, like they needed Zlatan.
‘He is good for the league but he will absolutely return to the Premier League.
‘What would a real manager rather do? Gamble £100m on a striker or take Balotelli? Because no one can tell me he is not a world-class talent.’
Raiola on Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku is discussing a new contract at Everton and could yet stay beyond next summer.
‘We are talking, yes it is possible that he could stay,’ says Raiola. ‘This year the message was clear that he was not for sale and he is really happy there at the moment.
‘We are happy with what the club is doing now, we will see how the season goes.
‘I spoke with him after his hat-trick against Sunderland (last Monday night). I said you were rubbish, you should have scored six!
‘There was talk of Juventus but no one can afford him in Italy. Outside of England, realistically the only clubs that can afford him are Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
‘The beauty for Everton is the chairman Bill Kenwright. This man is one of the most amazing men I have met in my 35 years in football.
‘I would like to have him as owner of my football club. He knows what players really need, I believe. He is a great character who loves his club. It is a great strength.’
Raiola on not buying Al Capone’s house
He may be known as the ‘Godfather of transfers’ and have been likened to a character from The Sopranos by his friend Zlatan Ibrahimovic but buying a former gangster’s home was taking the connection too far for Mino Raiola.
‘My family came to me and said, “Why have you bought this house without telling us?”’ says Raiola.
‘It was in the papers that I had bought Al Capone’s former house in Miami for £7million. I said to the family, “Sure, go get the keys off the agent and take a swim in the pool,” but I’d not bought it. I’d been asked if I was interested but I was never there.
‘The house became world famous because I supposedly went to buy it. It was just the agent drumming up publicity. I could have sued but I have more important things to consider.’
Raiola has a mixed view of the media but recognises its importance. ‘The media needs to create content. Sometimes it is not fair.
‘Sometimes they do not know what is behind the image. A player I’d have loved to represent was Paul Gascoigne. Gazza was my kind of player and personality. When I see images some of the media carry of him now, it’s not right.
‘Yet press is important now. Imagine being in water polo. You would love to have the attention football has. I can criticise media but it is an important part of the industry. It promotes the Premier League, it feeds the monster.
‘The Premier League is the most important brand. People in Italy say, “Ah, they spend money like water in England,” but it was what people in England were saying about Italy 20 years ago. Serie A is old now.
‘Money can make you lazy, the key for clubs here and the Premier League is not to get lazy. Continue growing and investing in big players — whether you are Manchester United or Burnley — it only makes the brand stronger.
‘The greatest threat to the Premier League I believe is UEFA with the Champions League. That’s why I can see a breakaway league with greater competition and variety. Too many of the same clubs are getting richer.
‘UEFA shouldn’t be arranging commercial fixtures and having a transfer window that runs while the season has started. It should be from April to July.
‘Running in August, after Champions League qualifiers, allows teams in the Champions League to buy players they wouldn’t normally do and some of them stay on the bench. It strengthens the Champions League but it is detrimental to the domestic league.’
Raiola on ones to watch
‘I believe Etienne Capoue will have a great season. He is a top, top player and has the ability to play in the best teams in the Premier League or Europe.
‘Things didn’t work out for him at Tottenham but sometimes that happens. He has started well and I think he will show how good he is this year.
‘Gianluigi Donnarumma is in the national team at 17 so he will continue to get better with Italy and AC Milan, Moise Kean is doing well at Juventus but one who I am excited about is already with a Premier League club and that is Donyell Malen at Arsenal.
‘He is a very talented young Dutch player with lots of ability, he is at a very good club with a great manager and I think he can be a revelation.’