The ‘super-agent tag’ rests comfortably on the shoulders of Jorge Mendes. Over the years he has developed a hugely successful business based on identifying talent from his native Portugal and maximising the value of their subsequent careers as their representative in transfers and commercial deals.
According to Forbes he and his company GestiFute has been responsible for $1.18bn (€1.08bn) of active contracts and both the scale of the operation and the launch of a specialist division to advise on and handle players’ commercial rights has helped create a mega-business far removed from the one-man bands which once characterised the world of football agents.
His clients include Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most marketable sporting talents of all time, as well as manager Jose Mourinho, whose career has seen him blaze a lucrative trail around some of Europe’s top clubs.
His work with Fosun, the Chinese owners of English club Wolverhampton Wanderers, was critical to the club’s promotion to the Premier league and qualification for the Uefa Europa League.
Mendes is notoriously private but took time to answer SportBusiness’s questions after winning the Agent of The Year category at the Globe Soccer Awards.
How has the football talent management business and the role of agents evolved over the years?
Today an agent has an important role in providing advice on both professional and personal matters.
That’s because it is increasingly necessary to keep players away from the inherent hazards of the profession. These include approaches by so-called ‘friends’ who, among other things, often entice them with business opportunities that turn out to be ruinous.
There are several cases of players who, due to their successful careers, have gained financial independence and no longer needed to work but ended up losing everything. This is one of our concerns.
The other, of course, is to find the mechanisms needed to get (a player) a move to a better club. Sometimes that doesn’t necessarily mean that a larger club is ideal for that player.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always maintained that the coach is, in the end, the most important component in any transfer. Cristiano Ronaldo is a perfect example. Every club wanted him (when he was playing in Portugal) but they all wanted him to have another season at Sporting (Lisbon).
The only person who seemed willing to take him on immediately was Sir Alex Ferguson and at that time I had no doubt it was the best solution. My decision, made without a second thought, was that Manchester United was the ideal club for him. I’m sure that if Cristiano Ronaldo had stayed at Sporting, he wouldn’t have played half the games he played for Manchester in the first season, at the end of which, by the way, he was voted the team’s best player by the fans.
How do you support your clients in a new commercial environment where many players are brands in their own rights and can develop significant earnings/revenue beyond their club contracts?
Within our group we have Polaris Sports, a company which is exclusively dedicated to this. Players are now global stars; therefore, their commercial rights are valuable. It’s a complex reality and somewhat different from negotiating sports contracts. So, to give the best service to our clients, we decided to have specialist staff available to them exclusively dedicated to providing this service.
Agents are often the fall guy in football. Do you think their role is misunderstood by the media and fans?
We think this perception is unfair. Transfers are a very important part of today’s football. They keep the fans interested in – and connected to – football during a period when there are no competitions, and this has been one of the factors behind the growth in football worldwide. As agents we are an essential part of market dynamics and, at the end of the day, a transfer only happens if both the clubs and especially the player are happy. Therefore, if we work with honesty, seriousness and competence and we defend the interests of our clients the final balance can only be positive.
How is Gestifute changing the image of the talent representation business in football?
Gestifute has played – and continues to play – a very important role in the internationalisation of Portuguese football, as well as in capitalising on the value of young talent.
It’s important to note that lots of highly talented young players are unable to cement their position in their Portuguese clubs, and they end up finding the places they deserve in some of the best European clubs.
This contributes decisively to their development and to them achieving high levels of performance to the point they become ever-present, both in the clubs they play for and in their national team.
Bernardo Silva is a shining example. At one time, there was no space for him at Benfica and today he’s not just the best player at Manchester City, he’s one of the best in the world.
How has Gestifute developed as a business and how it is structured – what was your vision when you launched the business?
It actually all started with Nuno [Espírito Santo], ex-goalkeeper and Portuguese international and now the coach of Wolverhampton, the first Gestifute player.
Between then and now we have taken firm steps forward following the growth in football, establishing the company’s place in the market. We opened the door to the English market in 2003 when we transferred Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United, and in 2004, when José Mourinho, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira all went to Chelsea. At that time, I dedicated my time to watching players and making contacts with club presidents, with a great deal of persistence, patience and dedication.
It’s now completely impossible for me to see as many matches as I used to, or to have lunch and dinner with players every day. My priority is to maintain a relationship of trust with the largest European clubs and, by doing so I’m ensuring that players will have the best career options in the short and medium term.
That’s the reason why we’ve implemented a structure that meets all our needs. Gestifute and Polaris Sport have a total of nearly thirty staff.
Will you ever look beyond your core football agency to develop the business?
Our business area is football, but it’s not just about placing this or that player. It’s about doing so while taking care to do what’s best for him and ensuring he achieves his potential in various aspects of both his professional and his personal life.
I often say we’re a family business in which the players are an integral and very important part. The people around them have added responsibilities within the process of their growth. We aren’t nice just for the sake of it. We have to tell the truth, make constructive criticism, support them, to help them to grow and develop, so they have the conditions they need to work in a determined and highly ambitious way and to move into the world of elite football.
Would you consider becoming a club owner?
No. They are incompatible activities, so as long as I’m an agent this is not a possibility.
Would you consider becoming active in other sports?
Our main focus is on football. However, we are a talent agency and if we identify a special talent in other sports, we have the capacity to work with them. We have done that mostly by helping Portuguese talent to develop in other sports, such as tennis, motorsports, running or roller hockey and we are open to looking at working with international stars in other sports.
With so much achieved, what are your remaining ambitions in the football business?
That depends on the opportunities that come up and our belief that with a lot of work, professionalism, dedication, integrity and honesty, nothing’s impossible.
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