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19th Jul 2019

Signings – not success – are becoming the real trophies in the new football reality

Wayne Farry


It’s a warm day in Turin. A man emerges from an expensive Mercedes wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sunglasses. There are hundreds if not thousands of people standing behind recently erected barriers. Upon spotting the man, they erupt into chants of his name. They cheer.

He sees them, takes in the adoration, and waves. He even stops for a few selfies. What benevolence to grace us with his presence. What a man. What a star.

The uninitiated – or the sensible-minded – among us would assume that this man is a footballer, or perhaps a manager of a football team based in Turin. That would be understandable.

In fact, he is a man called Mino Raiola, one of the world’s foremost super agents and, by the looks of it, a favourite among Juventus supporters.

Raiola is the agent to a number of the world’s most high-profile footballers, with names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford, Marco Verratti, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mario Balotelli on the books of his agency.

The reason he is so popular among Juventus supporters is because of two of his most prominent clients, Paul Pogba and Matthijs de Ligt.

Raiola was instrumental in Pogba leaving Manchester United in 2012 and joining Juventus for a minimal fee.

Most recently, he played a key role in the transfer of former Ajax captain de Ligt to the Old Lady, convincing his client to join the Serie A side over an arguably bigger side in Barcelona and an undoubtedly bigger wage packet at Paris Saint-Germain.

This involvement in transfers means that Raiola is understandably a talked about figure among Juventus supporters – any manager so integral in such huge moves would be.

But what makes Raiola such a popular figure that he has his own fucking name chanted by supporters of a football team, while someone like Jorge Mendes – a central figure in so many of Manchester United’s transfers in recent years – is viewed with suspicion by fans of the Premier League club?

The answer likely lies in the success of the respective clubs, as well as the success of their signings. Mendes played a hand in the likes of Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria joining Manchester United. Neither player played anywhere near their best football at a club that was then – and is now – in a state of disarray.

United are not a successful club anymore, so their supporters cannot afford the luxury of focusing too much on whether transfers work out. Results and trophies are the endgame.

But for a team like Juventus, trophies are nigh on guaranteed. They were by far the best side in Italy before the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer, winning seven consecutive league titles. Unsurprisingly, they were the best side after signing him and won their eighth title in a row, finishing 11 points ahead of second-placed Napoli on 90 points.

Ronaldo didn’t guarantee them the title – that was already as good as done – but his signing was a victory in and of itself. Many clubs would have coveted the 34-year-old, but only Juventus got him.

The signing of de Ligt is along similar lines. Like Ronaldo, he will increase Juventus’ chances of winning the Champions League slightly, and will increase their likelihood of winning the league from around 95 to 97 percent.

Crucially, like Ronaldo, de Ligt’s acquisition is clearly seen by supporters as a kind of victory. The Dutch defender was wanted by the world’s best teams, but Juventus were the ones to get him.

In a world where supporters are increasingly obsessed with personalities and individual footballers over teams and team accolades, this becomes something – the thing – to cheer about, and it’s a reality exacerbated greatly by a team like Juventus’ dominance.

If domestic titles are almost ironclad in their certainty, they will become boring and expected. As a result, it’s in the thrill and excitement of chasing and acquiring a footballer where a growing number of fans will end up getting their kicks.