Raiola: ‘Ge­nius’ and ‘big mouth’ best friend to the stars

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

HAARLEM:

Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans or track­suit and train­ers, it is easy to mis­take Mino Raiola for just an­other chubby beer-lov­ing foot­ball fan rather than the ra­zor-sharp mind who dom­i­nates the world trans­fer mar­ket.

Raiola, whose Ital­ian roots and love of pasta is high­lighted by his fam­ily’s pizza restau­rant, master­minded Paul Pogba’s record-smash­ing 105-mil­lioneuro ($111 mil­lion) re­turn to Manch­ester United in July. He has looked af­ter Swedish great Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic for the last 15 years and also man­ages Mario Balotelli, Blaise Ma­tu­idi and Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan. Raiola is said to have raked in 35 mil­lion eu­ros in fees from con­tracts worth 356 mil­lion eu­ros this year alone-which in­cludes the Pogba trans­fer from Ju­ven­tus to United.

“I don’t think Mino was sur­prised by the deal or the amount,” Willem Vis­sers, a Dutch foot­ball writer for the re­spected daily De Volk­skrant, told AFP.

“He’s a man that al­ways thinks ahead and he’s a per­fec­tion­ist who’s al­ways work­ing un­be­liev­ably hard to get the best deals for his play­ers,” Vis­sers said.

HUM­BLE ROOTS

Raiola was born into hum­ble roots. His fam­ily owns a cosy, tra­di­tional pizza restau­rant on a cor­ner over­look­ing a canal in the Dutch me­dieval city of Haarlem. The Ris­torante Napoli has been a land­mark for decades. It is a mix of Dutch-Ital­ian style with ter­ra­cotta floors and linen-decked ta­bles, old paint­ings and FC Napoli para­pher­na­lia adorn­ing the walls. Raiola first honed his skills on foot­ball and the art of ne­go­ti­at­ing while wait­ing ta­bles at the Ris­torante Napoli.

“The board of the (now de­funct) lo­cal foot­ball club Haarlem FC used to come and dine there at least once a week,” said Ed­win Struis, a free­lance foot­ball writer who worked at a Haarlem paper in the early 1990s. “War­ranted or un­war­ranted, Mino would chirp in, giv­ing his opin­ions on the state of the club and foot­ball in gen­eral,” Struis told AFP. “It got to a point where they sim­ply said, ‘Since you know so much, why don’t you just join the board?’” said Struis.

Raiola briefly worked as tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor at Haarlem FC, but he had much grander ideas: set­ting up a co-op­er­a­tion deal to trans­fer play­ers from Ital­ian club Napoli. Naples is close to the south­ern Ital­ian city of No­cera In­fe­ri­ore, from where Raiola moved with his par­ents when he was one in 1968.

‘SO­PRA­NOS LOOKA­LIKE’

Many in foot­ball mis­tak­enly brushed aside Raiola be­cause of his jeans-and-T-shirt uni­form.

Even Ibrahi­movic in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy “I am Zla­tan” said he thought Raiola was a char­ac­ter from “The So­pra­nos” TV se­ries when they first met. “In the be­gin­ning they all un­der­es­ti­mated him be­cause of the way he dressed,” said Vis­sers, who has in­ter­viewed the elu­sive agent and been a keen fol­lower of his ca­reer. These days, no­body dis­misses Raiola, one of the most pow­er­ful peo­ple in foot­ball.

His first big break came with the sign­ing of Czech mid­field star Pavel Nedved, a for­mer Bal­lon d’Or win­ner, in 1992. Af­ter that, other greats like Ibrahi­movic and Pogba fol­lowed. It is not all plain-sail­ing for Raiola how­ever. The Foot­ball Leaks me­dia con­sor­tium al­leged last week that the agent had trans­ferred Pogba’s multi-mil­lion im­age rights to the off­shore haven of Jersey. The agent has dis­missed the re­ports as imag­i­nary. —AFP

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