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Aston Villa and agent Jorge Mendes: a relationship evaluated

Aston Villa’s dealings with the agent Jorge Mendes have been few and far between since Nassef Sawiris, Wes Edens and CEO Christian Purslow took over the running of the club in July 2018.

There isn’t a single player in the current squad represented by Gestifute, the agency Mendes created back in 1997 after taking on his first client, the former goalkeeper Nuno Espirito Santo, who would go on to become the Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur manager.

Not since Anwar El Ghazi (who has since changed representatives) and Andre Moreira (more on him later) were at the club have Villa had a player directly attached to Gestifute, despite the close links Mendes forged with the Egyptian co-owner, Sawiris. The pair met in footballing circles and are now friends.

Mendes, it is suggested, was important, along with other agents, in helping Villa get through a period of transition between recruitment models in 2018 following the takeover.

El Ghazi and Moreira both joined during Jesus Garcia Pitarch’s time as sporting director in 2018-2020.

Pitarch had a history of putting together deals at Valencia and Atletico Madrid with Mendes, but always insisted he was just “one of a number of agents” he had a good relationship with.he

When Johan Lange arrived as Pitarch’s replacement in the summer of 2020, Villa carried out a more extensive recruitment process. Villa have since worked with a long list of agents but not so much with Mendes.

Now, though, the Portuguese fixer, who has a stack of top clients, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva, is back on the scene.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Jorge Mendes

Jorge Mendes, far right, when his client Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Juventus in 2018 (Photo: Valerio Pennicino/Juventus FC via Getty Images)

Mendes was the intermediary between Villa and Villarreal when Unai Emery was appointed as the new manager. His relationship with Emery has been tight for some years, stretching back through his earlier years in Spain and particularly at Valencia. However Mendes does not act as Emery’s day-to-day agent.

So the interesting part is whether Mendes will become influential at Villa to the point where his players become genuine targets again and are signed up more regularly.

Emery has identified the need to strengthen and Villa are active in the market. Already the Atletico Madrid attacker Joao Felix — a Mendes client — has been linked with a move to Villa and it’s our understanding there is some interest even if a move at this stage remains unlikely.

Emery is also very independent when it comes to signing players and is expected to have more of an influence on the immediate incomings. Having Mendes so close might help.

All parties were satisfied with how the deal to bring in Emery was put together, which was made clear when Villa played the Spaniard’s former club Villarreal in a recent friendly. Purslow also thanked Gestifute for the role they played when he spoke publicly at Emery’s official unveiling last month.

In time it will become clear whether a stronger connection blossoms between the club, currently in 12th place and seven points behind sixth-placed Liverpool, and one of the world’s most-recognised agents.

Mendes is heading for another busy and profitable period himself with Matheus Cunha moving from Atletico Madrid to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

He was also tasked with finding Ronaldo’s next club after his exit from Manchester United. He signed for the Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr yesterday.

Mendes has well-known ties with a number of clubs, including Wolves, Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Olympiacos and Monaco and has been strengthening relationships with others. Nottingham Forest — who, like Olympiacos, are owned by Evangelos Marinakis — have turned to him regularly in recent years.

In the last transfer window, plenty of other big deals went through Mendes, too. Darwin Nunez’s £85million ($103m) move from Benfica to Liverpool was the market leader; Fabio Vieira cost Arsenal around £30m ($36m) as he switched from Porto; and Joao Palhinha’s £20m ($24m) move from Sporting Lisbon to Fulham was another.


Anwar El Ghazi, represented by Jorge Mendes, during his time at Aston Villa (Photo: James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

High-profile departures from Portugal are usually put together by Mendes. He is known to be the gatekeeper of his native country, often facilitating for clubs including Benfica, Porto and Braga, as well as helping other agents drive up the price and demand for their players, and in turn taking a share of the commission.

He will no doubt have plenty of interest in the Benfica striker Goncalo Ramos after his stunning start to the season and eye-catching hat-trick in Portugal’s 6-1 win over Switzerland at the World Cup, but this is nothing new for a master negotiator at the top of his trade.

There’s no suggestion that Villa are going to build links with Mendes in the way Wolves have done over the years. Mendes is a close associate of Fosun International, who own Wolves, and the Chinese investors boast a stake in Gestifute.

At Villa, he is respected by Sawiris, the more hands-on of the two majority owners. Now Emery’s arrival could strengthen the relationship, but it’s worth noting that Villarreal didn’t do many direct player deals with Gestifute during his time in charge. Plus Villa already have strong connections elsewhere.

Some of Villa’s recent business, for example, has involved Kia Joorabchian as an intermediary. He helped negotiate Douglas Luiz’s contract extension and he was the main agent involved in the deals that saw Villa sign Philippe Coutinho and Diego Carlos.

Villa also have good relationships with other major players: Stellar (who they worked with to sell Jack Grealish to Manchester City for a record £100million), Wasserman, Base and Unique Sports Group, among others.

And for those wondering what happened to Moreira, he’s now the goalkeeper at Grasshopper Club Zurich, who have a long-standing partnership with Wolves.

He is a classic example of how the Mendes network works; starting out at Atletico without making a single appearance, moving on loan to six different clubs, five of those Portuguese, the other being Villa, before joining Belenenses, then making the switch to Grasshoppers, who share a link with Wolves through Fosun.

Moreira’s short spell at Villa still remains something of a mystery as he confusingly turned up at the club’s Bodymoor Heath training facility alongside the owners in July 2018, on a day they were visiting to take in Villa’s pre-season game with West Ham United at Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium.

Coaching staff at the time knew nothing about the goalkeeper’s arrival, and Moreira would play just two Carabao Cup games. He looked completely out of his depth and was moved on in the next window.

Fortunately Villa got it right thereafter by signing Emi Martinez, now one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

(Top Photo: Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images)

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