Sometimes in football, clubs just have to dance with the devil and in the eyes of many chairmen and executives across the continent there is nobody more troublesome to deal with than Mino Raiola.
It can seem as if Raiola views unrest between his players and their clubs as an achievement rather than a deterrent. Earlier this year, he brazenly announced Paul Pogba was finished at Manchester United. Recently, he was strutting in front of the cameras in Spain as he held talks with Barcelona and Real Madrid over Erling Haaland’s future, much to Borussia Dortmund’s chagrin.
But look at the names of those players – Pogba and Haaland are two of the biggest in the sport. And there are so many more under his guidance – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mathhijs De Ligt and Marco Verratti – the list goes on. There is a reason why Raiola represents these figures.
So what sort of character is he to deal with? Why do players love him and clubs loathe him? And is there a way to win him over and have him on your side? Sportsmail takes a closer look at the man who seems destined to play a central role in this summer’s transfer window.
Mino Raiola (centre) is loathed by many throughout football but there is a reason why so many of the game’s best players choose him to represent them across the course of their careers, such as Henrikh Mkhitarytan (left) and Paul Pogba (right)
Raiola is pictured with Pogba, who faces an uncertain future at Manchester United
WINING AND DINING
Even just a cursory skim through the expanding array of stories of meeting Raiola will show that he likes wining and dining. It’s something that extends to his childhood, where his father ran a pizzeria in Holland and from the age of 11 he’d help wash the dishes. As he got older, he would wait tables and oversee more of the day-to-day running.
Back in January 2020 in a pre-pandemic world, he was pictured by Sportsmail outside a Mayfair restaurant with all his fellow ‘super agents’, such as Jorge Mendes, Jonathan Barnett and David Manasseh. Those photographs would not have gone unnoticed in the boardrooms of many major teams across Europe.
And his appetite for good food is seemingly unabashed, regardless of the company he keeps. The story goes that in his very first meeting with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he ordered enough pasta to feed six people and wolfed it down while showing the Swede how his scoring stats were ‘trash’.
Raiola allegedly ate enough pasta to feed six people when first met Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left)
Raiola with fellow agent Jonathan Barnett outside a Mayfair restaurant in January 2020
DON’T BE LATE
If you’re meeting him in a cafe, restaurant or at the training ground, don’t keep Raiola waiting. He doesn’t like it at all.
In an interview with the Financial Times back in 2016, he claimed he twice walked away from meetings with Luciano Moggi in Italy due to bad timekeeping. The first in the early 90s was when Moggi was at Torino and Raiola was unknown. He happened to bump into Moggi later the same day at a restaurant and confronted him.
‘If you’re this unpleasant to me, you will never sell a player in Italy,’ Raiola claims Moggi said. We all know how that prediction went.
Years later, Moggi was on the phone to Raiola expressing Juventus’s interest in signing Pavel Nedved.
They agreed to meet at midday in Florence, with Raiola saying he told Moggi: ‘I’ll be there at 11.50am. But I’m leaving at 12.10pm, and then the price doubles.’
Moggi wasn’t on time and Raiola left. Nedved eventually joined Juventus in 2001 for around £32million.
Former Juventus supremo Luciano Moggi clashed repeatedly with Raiola over the years
They say that the modern-day footballer doesn’t take so well to the ‘hairdryer treatment’ that Raiola’s nemesis Sir Alex Ferguson was so famed for.
Yet, despite their well-chronicled fall-out over Pogba, it seems Ferguson and Raiola aren’t exactly a thousand miles apart when it comes to delivering a rocket.
Ibrahimovic says in his autobiography that they had their first meeting when he was an Ajax player and Raiola brandished his scoring record ‘trash’ in comparison to Serie A strikers such as David Trezeguet, Filippo Inzaghi and Christian Vieri. They had all scored over 20 goals in their last 25 or so matches while Zlatan had a tally of five in the same period.
‘Do you think I’ll be able to sell you with stats like that?’ Raiola scoffed. They left the meeting without an agreement but Ibrahimovic claims that by the time he was back in his car, he had decided he wanted Raiola on his side.
‘I want to begin working with you right away,’ he said on the phone.
‘If you’re going to work with me, you must do what I say,’ was Raiola’s retort. ‘Sell your cars and your watches, and start training three times as hard. Because your stats are trash.’
Raiola was brutal to Ibrahimovic in his Ajax days, labelling his scoring record with them ‘trash’
Romelu Lukaku admitted he was disarmed by Raiola’s honesty during their first meeting
In fairness, it has worked. Ibrahimovic has signed a new one-year deal with AC Milan that will see him play into his 40s. He has just returned to the international fold with Sweden. And his work-rate off the pitch to keep fit and fresh is legendary.
That exchange is a fascinating insight into Raiola’s methods, though, and makes you wonder just how much he must think Haaland is worth with such a relentless scoring record at Dortmund.
He took the tough love approach to Romelu Lukaku, a former star client, in a meeting in 2015 after the Belgium forward had just signed for Everton.
‘He said stuff to me that no one would say,’ Lukaku told The Guardian. ‘Mean things like, “You play like a woman, you play like a girl who has never played the game before. You are too timid”. Then he would take examples of Zlatan and Bergkamp, all those players, and say, “You want to aim for the top? Well, you are not playing like a top player”.’
This season Lukaku, now managed by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation agency, has scored 27 goals in 40 games for Inter Milan, with Inter on course to win Serie A.
Coincidence or not, Ibrahimovic and Lukaku have found super form after working with Raiola
DISDAIN FOR THE ELITE
Raiola is as clear about his antipathy towards football’s ruling powers as he was to Ibrahimovic about his scoring record. He hates FIFA.
He recently gave an interview with fellow agent Barnett to The Athletic and the publication itself even remarked on how he made a beeline to slate the organisation, saying: ‘Raiola, it quickly becomes apparent, intends to give FIFA an almighty going over. It is part of the reason he and Barnett wanted to do this interview.’
The man himself said, among many other things, that FIFA is ‘the non-transparent, strange organisation that is in Switzerland for reasons that everybody understands… FIFA should not exist. My dream, and hopefully I live to see it, is to see a new football system, a more honest system.’
But it’s not just FIFA that he so vehemently dislikes. He sees power and authority as something to challenge, be it an organisation as big as FIFA, a football club like Manchester United or a powerful chairman or director, like his old friend Moggi.
According to Time on the Ball, Raiola went into Moggi’s office and sat in his chair, behind his desk before the then Juventus director arrived for negotiations over Ibrahimovic’s contract.
His dislike of the corporate world runs so deep that Raiola is never seen wearing a suit. According to the FT, he believes it is an advantage not to because it means people underestimate him.
Raiola doesn’t believe in wearing a suit and feels being underestimated works in his favour
HE DOES BURY THE HATCHET
His duels with Moggi over the years show that for all Raiola’s fearlessness when it comes to upsetting important people, he will move past arguments if it’s in the greater interest of those he represents.
He didn’t just move Nedved to Turin, he also oversaw Ibrahimovic’s switch there in 2004, once his scoring record had picked up at Ajax.
Another of Raiola’s bitterest feuds came when the Swede was at Barcleona and was marginalised by Pep Guardiola.
‘It’s like you bought a Ferrari and drive it like a Fiat,’ he said of Guardiola during Ibrahimovic’s two-year spell at the Nou Camp from 2009 until 2011.
Raiola’s fall-outs with some of football’s big names are notorious – he is a fearless negotiator
He is set for a busy summer with Europe’s major clubs circling around Erling Haaland
In 2015, he reopened the row by saying to Gazzetta dello Sport: ‘He is a nasty piece of work as a man, but a great coach. Guardiola was the man who took Ibra to Barcelona and later he treated him very badly.’
And yet Raiola has still offered his players to City while Guardiola has been there. The City boss himself sensationally claimed that Raiola offered both Pogba and Mkhitaryan to City in January 2018.
Raiola didn’t exactly deny it, either. ‘I never spoke to Pep Guardiola,’ he said to the BBC. ‘I would not speak to him about players, I would speak to Manchester City. They are a fantastic club with a fantastic manager.’
Sportsmail reported in March that City were prepared to make Haaland their No 1 transfer target this summer, with Raiola prepared to talk to the blue half of Manchester over a deal. By the start of next season, maybe he will have become friends with Guardiola after all.
Raiola was in Spain recently to talk with Barcelona and Real Madrid about Haaland’s future