Will Wolves Sign Ronaldo Next?
Wolves’ return to the top flight was emphatic, but not without controversy – the exact nature of super-agent Jorge Mendes’ involvement with Wanderers has come under intense scrutiny
The enigmatic agent is key to all that Wolverhampton have done
Having put a fair few noses out of joint while waltzing to the Championship title last season, Wolverhampton Wanderers are about to do it all over again in the Premier League. Prepare for some red-hot bickering. The Molineux outfit seem set to establish themselves in the top flight with some comfort in 2018-19, but with the influence of renowned Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes again evident in their transfer dealings, some familiar complaints – this time from newer rivals – are surely in the post. Wolves have already been through this in the past year as their star soared. Eyebrows were raised following the $28 million acquisition of feted midfield star Ruben Neves from Porto last summer, and the season’s home straight (by which time their Premier League return was a mere formality) was marked by complaints from competitors, led by Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani. The Italian contacted the FA, Premier League and Football League seeking clarification on the link between Mendes and the Midlanders. The League’s subsequent investigation into Mendes’ involvement at Molineux, which delivered its findings in late April, concluded that the super-agent “holds no role at the club”. However, it is clear that there is a relationship. Fosun International, Wolves’ owners, purchased a minority stake in Gestifute, Mendes’ player management agency, back in 2015. The club acknowledged this shortly after the appointment of manager Nuno Espirito Santo, Mendes’ first-ever client, at the start of Fosun’s second season in charge. But Wolves were quick to clarify that Mendes was simply “available as an adviser to the owners, in the same way that many other agents and influential figures in football are.” For now, Wanderers fans couldn’t be happier, and understandably so. In that spectacular sophomore Fosun season they had style and substance, and if the club has let it be known that they don’t expect a torrent of transfer activity to take place before their Premier League opener against Everton on August 11 , it’s because they already look like they’re on top of things. Few who watched Wolves during 2017-18 are in any doubt that they’re likely to rise above some of the top tier’s bottom-half dross. They’ve built on that momentum with the arrival of Raul Jimenez – the most expensive player ever purchased by a Portuguese club – on loan from Benfica, and addition of Mendes client and Portugal No.1 Rui Patricio from Sporting. Where Wanderers go from here is interesting, though. Onlookers across Europe are wondering what Mendes’ end game is in his close involvement with the three-time First Division champions. And the relationship is discernibly different to other clubs he’s had ties with, like Benfica or Monaco, with an explicit link beyond that of preferred clients. The closest comparison would be Spanish outfit Valencia, bought by Mendes’ friend Peter Lim in 2014. Nuno was named the manager and enjoyed an encouraging first season at Mestalla, returning the club to the Champions League with the aid of new talent often sourced from Mendes-connected spots, such as Andre Gomes and Rodrigo. Many locals felt that this strong base wasn’t sufficiently built upon as the team subsequently sagged. The sensitivity of Valencia’s ownership to perceived negligence was underlined back in November. Via the club website, parent company Meriton delivered a stinging rebuke in a statement to their critics as Los Che’s fortunes rose again under new coach Marcelino. It blasted “fake fans” for spreading “fake news and lies” about the way the club was run. That the regime has globally improved Valencia’s position, after years of crippling debt, is difficult to dispute. The outlook for Wolves is different for number of reasons. Firstly, despite their upward trajectory, it’s still hard to realistically envisage them reaching the Champions League any time soon. What’s a lot easier to imagine is their best players attracting interest from other clubs in the division, and there are few better ways of making money in football than selling players between English sides. Neves could be a prime example. Should he come anywhere close to reprising his sensational debut English season in the top flight, he could be sold on for something north of $90m. As long as a decent amount of that money stays with the club, it’s hard to foresee too many objections. Monaco are perhaps the best example of a club that is essentially an elite-level player market but still a competitive concern, with manager Leonardo Jardim expertly reconstructing teams by developing new players as previous linchpins move on. Benfica are another club who consistently prove that selling prolifically and continuing to win are not mutually exclusive concepts. Resistance will undoubtedly be met, especially if Wolves really hit the ground running in the new Premier League campaign. They may well point to the example of Watford, with the Pozzo model upsetting traditionalists while largely working well. For Wolves, we may have to wait a few years to work out exactly where they’re going.