In the best works of literature and film, the best characters are those that are shaded in mystery, equally a villain and hero with no real distinction. These characters rarely exist in reality, as it is hard in this modern world to live in a grayish zone as so many actions are recorded in the public commons. Mino Raiola, one of soccer’s greatest agents, lived in that zone, evoking hatred from fans and love from players.

One of sport’s greatest enigmas, Mino Raiola changed the world of sports agency and player power in ways that few in soccer had. In light of his recent passing, it would be useful to look at the legacy of a man who fans and clubs hated, but helped give players a new found sense of power.

Soccer is, in a way, a sport ruled by old norms and ideas where players are seen as a commodity and ideas like data analytics are witchcraft. While he can’t be credited solely for the rise of player power, Raiola nevertheless played an important role in the post-Bosman era of transfers. In such a stagnant world for players and their worths, Raiola demanded more for players and himself.

So much has been made of Raiola’s brash and mobster-like personality, with multiple managers and club owners railing against him, but it was a role he had to play. This role of a tough negotiator that was in it for the money, as it was the only way for him to grab the attention of clubs. Raiola broke from the conventions of other soccer agents and operated more like basketball agents.

Photo: Mauro Ujetto/Shutterstock

Raiola’s importance in modern soccer history will likely forever fly under the radar, but he will forever be remembered by his unwillingness to compromise for his players. He had to play a character, no matter the backlash from fans, managers and owners to get the most for his players.

So much of Raiola’s criticism from fans stem from his ability to force club’s into paying large contracts for players and compensating them properly for their worth. Ultimately his legacy in soccer history will be due to his ability to empower players to fight for their worth.

The Bosman ruling has to be the place to start when discussing Raiola’s legacy, as this ruling fundamentally shifted the power back towards players in terms of transfers. To simplify the ruling, it allowed players to leave for free when their contracts were up to new teams without their previous team receiving a fee. This was monumental for players, as it gave them a freedom to leave without the clubs extorting others for a fee.  

This ruling allowed for Raiola to get a start in the world of soccer agency, as it opened up a new era for player empowerment and made it easier for clubs to snatch players on the free. Pavel Nedvěd would be his first big name player and would see his moves to Lazio and then Juventus. First making a name in Italian transfers, Raiola’s reach by his death reached across Europe and his players commanded large fees wherever they’ve gone.

Player empowerment is harder to find in soccer where the archaic unwritten rules have limited players in ways that the NBA hasn’t. For the most part, players can only rely on their agents to seek some form of power and ability to find the best moves for themselves.

To keep comparing European soccer to American sports, particularly the NBA, players have a lot more individual and collective power as their union is able to negotiate rule changes with the NBA. There doesn’t exist in soccer a framework for this, as FIFA and UEFA can overrule leagues, negating the ability for players to form a collective group. Meaning that players themselves have to take it upon themselves to force changes for themselves, inviting in agents to be their only ally. 

Photo: Reuters

Raiola’s role in this is important, as he has allowed players of his to move on free transfers to better situations or moving for massive fees when their values rise. Of course, he always got his cut of the transfers and contracts, he wasn’t an altruistic force who was there to be purely a vessel for players. That being said, his work allowed for players to command moves and contracts that matched their worth.    

While Raiola himself isn’t solely responsible for the slow shift towards more power empowerment, his role as a superstar agent mirrors that of Klutch in the US. His legacy will be defined by the moves he orchestrated and the impacts of the players he represented.

When someone buys a house that once belonged to mobster Al Capone, they are clearly buying into the image of the infamous gangster. Raiola played into this role, earning condemnation from fans and managers, but for the players he represented, he was their ally.

Most fans when they think of Raiola’s moves, they are reminded of the leveraging that he did in the summer of 2016 for Paul Pogba’s move to Manchester United. That move and his actions, where he would  tease both sides promising them that  the move was both happening and not, was the way he acted. Of course, this angered fans as it kept them in a limbo and glued to the phone waiting for news about the transfer and whether to get rid of an old kit or get a new one.

For club owners and managers, he was even more of an enemy to them, as his constant meddling with his players complicated the plans of clubs. Managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola saw him as someone who was only in it for himself, using his players as pawns in Raiola’s schemes. Club owners were even more vicious towards Raiola as he affected their money with the players’ contracts and transfer fees, leading to Napoli owner Dino De Laruentiis to openly attack him.  

With many seeing him as an enemy of the sport, it’s always interesting to see how players viewed him more as a father figure who helped them navigate the perilous business that is soccer. He had to play the role of the bad guy in order to get his clients what they deserve. Raiola’s impact on the players he represented will live on for as long as they play. 

Photo: VI Images

Perhaps the two most touching tributes to him were those of Matthijs de Ligt and his Juventus teammate Moise Kean where both players noted the positive impacts that he had on their lives. De Ligt thanked him for being the “bad guy” to help him and vowed to take care of his family. Kean’s message was just as touching, thanking him for saving him from a life on the streets and helping him live his dream.

Raiola’s “bad guy” role had to exist in order for him and his players to be taken seriously to get their fair share of the pie. The way fans, managers and owners viewed Raiola is totally opposite to the way he is regarded by those he served. 

Mino Raiola’s legacy was always going to be complicated, as for so many he was seen as a villain but for his players he was a hero. His importance in shaping modern soccer is not felt by most, but it is felt by the players he helped and the business as a whole. One of the most interesting characters in modern sports, Raiola’s personality and love of the sport will be missed.


Featured Image: Jonathan Moscrop/Getty

  • Changing of the Guard

    In 2003, Chelsea rewrote the Premier League’s DNA. Roman Abramovich’s takeover…
  • The Forgotten Star

    At one point, David de Gea stood atop the goalkeeping world. One of the best shot-stoppers…
  • To Solve An Unsolvable Problem

    After a season full of controversy over clubs’ finances, the Premier League is poise…
  • With A Whimper

    Paul Pogba should have been remembered as one of the best talents football produced in rec…
  • The Clock Strikes Midnight

    When the confetti settled after the 2017 Europa League final, all signs pointed towards a …
  • The Summer That Made and Broke United

    Paul Pogba’s impending suspension will bring an end to a career that should have see…
Comments are closed.

Check Also

A Project In Collapse

Almost ten years ago, Southampton became the darling of every Premier League neutral. A fu…