It is a long time since football was pure fun and games. As the modern game started to get a foothold in England a couple of centuries ago, the development has been incredible. The launch of the Premier League and the Champions League meant the final push from sport to entertainment business. Football was suddenly not so much about the tribes and local pride as it had been and a lot more about money and commoditization. In all markets, the need (or opening) for people who “make things flow” is always there, whether you talk about stock brokers, fruit dealers or real estate agents. Jorge Mendes saw that opportunity in football, and with current Valencia manager Nuno Espirito Santo as his first client, the former dance club owner has risen to be one of the biggest powerhouses in international football, moving players for over 200 million British pounds this summer only.
When Manuel Llorente was finally pushed out of the president’s chair at the club, Amadeo Salvo was selected by the local politicians to take over and ensure that the club’s financial challenges and, in turn, their stake as guarantor did not end in bankruptcy and huge payments due from the local government to the creditors. Salvo has a background from building up a successful company (PowerElectronics) and came to the club as much as a fan as he did as a president. But Salvo also came with market understanding and a vision. He wanted to take Valencia back to it’s rightful place in the top of European football.
Through his connections he contracted Louis Douwens for the marketing directorship at the club and Jorge Mendes to help him out in the sportive section. Now, Mendes seems to have a portfolio of clubs he prefers doing business with; Manchester City, PSG, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Monaco for the biggest names. Atletico and Manchester United have also entered the fray, while Benfica and Porto complete the “tier 2”. Sporting Lisboa, Braga and Deportivo La Coruna at tier 3. Valencia entered the last group seemingly, with Helder Postiga as an example.
Enter Peter Lim, the Singaporean billionaire who is friends with Mendes, Cristiano Ronaldo and many others in football. With him, Valencia have moved from some way down the pecking order to be one of Mendes’ most important clients. Lim’s company and new Valencia owner Meriton have already invested or agreed to invest in a host of Mendes’ players. In addition to Rodrigo, Andre Gomes and Joao Cancelo already at Valencia, Depor-loaned Ivan Cavaleiro and Monaco-loaned Bruno are also in that category. Now it might seem Benfica will be forced to sell at least Enzo Perez, and maybe also Nicolas Gaitan to Valencia. The question is; Has it gone too far? And, have we made a deal with the devil?
Evil tongues would have it that Mendes is the de facto sports director of the club. A more nuanced view is that Rufete still has an important role in defining the club’s targets, but that Mendes certainly has Lim’s and Salvo’s ear when it comes to the bigger names. For me, Mendes represents opportunities, but also obligations. It is his job to move players and to make money, like it or not, for both himself and the clubs he represents and work with. Sometimes it will be the club who asks him to help out, sometimes it will be the player and I do not doubt; sometimes he will initiate a move. Ask Atletico who get top striker after top striker, but who can never seem to keep hold of one longer than a couple of years. Ask Benfica who without cash enjoyed Mendes-fuelled success in Europe only to see player after player be moved out when the cash ran out. Opportunities and obligations.
How this will play out for Valencia is difficult to say, but neither Salvo nor Lim are the kind of people to be controlled totally by people like Mendes. I believe we will see a mix of transfers, both from and to Mendes’ portfolio and outside it. Salvo has strong belief in Rufete as an important resource for the club and Roberto Ayala have identified some important prospects (though you could say we ended up signing the wrong ones and missed out on for example Vietto). What is most certain is that the final word lays with the board of directors no matter what, and they are ultimately responsible for any action they take and decision they make. I firmly believe the club will make use of the opportunities that a connection with Mendes gives, and I am equally certain that at one point we will have to pay him back for his services/favours.