The warnings agents would take over soccer have been coming for decades.
But this summer it might happen.
Because the most powerful individual in the game will be a 53-year-old law school drop-out and former waiter; Mino Raiola.
This year on his books he has two of the transfer market’s most movable assets: Paul Pogba and Erling Haaland.
Both players are in contract situations which give Raiola the leverage to push for a move and so the super-agent is touting their services to sides with the finances to afford them.
The circus around Haaland ramped up a fortnight ago as Raiola and Haaland’s father, Alfie Inge, were pictured visiting Madrid and Barcelona together, generating huge amounts of speculation about the future of the young Borussia Dortmund forward.
Earlier in the season Raiola’s media-savvy somehow saw him upstage a Champions League match between Manchester United and Paris Saint Germain with an interview about Paul Pogba’s future.
The influence he and fellow super-agent Jonathan Barnett now wield is greater than most clubs.
There is arguably as much prestige being on Raiola’s roster as there is playing for a traditional giant of the game.
Fans might nod appreciatively about the potential of a player on the books of a team like Ajax or Roma, but hear they’re a Raiola player, now that will raise an eyebrow.
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The question is; how did this become the case?
Mino Raiola gets you hits
It’s a measure of how much soccer has changed that people are even aware of who Mino Raiola is.
His picture in a location suggestive of a transfer is highly coveted by the paparazzi and, as last week’s circus showed, can prompt thousands of words of coverage in newspapers around the world.
Raiola likes to toy with the media, he’ll simultaneously stoke the flames of speculation and pour cold water on the rumours.
After the well-publicised European tour with Alfie, he tweeted a video montage of different newspaper articles responding to the trip with the word ‘FAKE’ is plastered all over them.
The overall message is clear: I’m in control.
Fears that super agents like Raiola would take over the game have been there for decades.
In the early 2000s as the cash in the sport rapidly increased, the number of intermediaries went through the roof as did the money they earned.
People were worried about these middlemen operating with minimal regulation.
Back in 2001 British politicians were so concerned they even tried to get the UK government to investigate.
But regardless of the warnings, the role of the intermediary has become even more important.
It can also be a very lucrative line of work.
Spending on agents more than doubled between 2014 ($241.2 million) and 2019 ($653.9 million), according to a FIFA report.
More than a third of the transfer fees paid by Italian and English clubs went to agents in 2019.
The value that agents bring to the transfer process is hotly debated.
Many argue the ever-increasing power of intermediaries has helped distort soccer finances and caused clubs to run up huge debts.
That might be true to some extent, but it ignores the position of the player.
Why players need agents
There is a popular narrative, perpetuated by clubs, about soccer player negotiations.
The idea is that when a contract is up for renewal or a transfer is being negotiated a player’s agent starts making ridiculous demands.
This is often characterised as the player being manipulated by the agent and the club being held to ransom in some way.
Agents are rarely quoted in the media but are often act as good sources for journalists.
Clubs are well aware of this and don’t hesitate in briefing against players to spin the narrative around a particular player.
A classic example was when Raheem Sterling refused to sign a new Liverpool contract in 2015.
The winger wanted to leave, but from the outset of the dispute the blame was being placed on one man; Sterling’s agent Aidy Ward.
He was accused by pundits like Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness of offering “terrible advice” and many commentators suggested Sterling sack his representative.
Fuel was added to the fire when the Evening Standard reportedly broke the unwritten rule that agents didn’t have named quotes and printed an article-disputed by Ward-in which he suggested Sterling wouldn’t sign a contract for £900,000 per week.
Blaming an agent is convenient, but it nearly always involves a selective memory.
Souness and Carragher have had rather less to say as Sterling has developed into one of the leagues best players and picked up numerous trophies under the management of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
There was also a conspicuous absence of criticism of Ward when he helped facilitate the transfer of a teenage Sterling from Queens Park Rangers to Liverpool.
Sterling has since parted company with Ward, but few could argue that he hasn’t benefited both financially and in his development as a player from their partnership.
The fact he’s now dropped him demonstrates how much of a cutthroat business it is.
Loyalty from players’ to agents is just as unusual as it is to clubs, but that it is a reasonable response because they are often treated as commodities by both of them.
Players are promised the world by clubs when they are trying to woo them and dumped on the scrapheap without a second look if they suddenly decide aren’t for them.
Only a very small number of individual players ever get proper leverage over a club and even then, it’s normally only for a short period.
Players’ careers last for only 8 years on average so they have to make the most of their earning potential while they can.
In that environment ask yourself: who would you pick as your representative?
I know I’d choose the person with the track record for getting their clients the best deals, someone like Raiola.