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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

Fergie may despise him but 'the s**tbag' and 'fat idiot' is the dealmaker at Old Trafford these days

Mino Raiola represents Romelu Lukaku and also has Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahmovic as clients.

Image: AMA/Corbis

WHEN YOU PULL the thread of Manchester United’s most recent transfer activity, it leads to a rotund Dutch-Italian man called Carmine Raiola.

He was already a millionaire by the time he turned his hand to representing professional footballers. When he was just 19, he bought a McDonalds franchise, sold it to a property developer and made a fortune.

His family had emigrated from Italy in the late-1960s and set up a successful restaurant in Haarlem, where Raiola grew up. He worked in the family business and soon channeled his linguistic and professional skills into a company of his own – Intermezzo – which specialised in helping Dutch businesses gain a foothold in Italy.

Raiola had always loved football. He had been a player at youth level but wanted to involve himself in the business side of the game. Using the Intermezzo model, he helped Bryan Roy move from Ajax to Foggia and, from there, he has scarcely looked back.

Having immersed himself in the Italian game, he used a friendship with former Foggia boss Zdenek Zemen to push through Pavel Nedved’s move from Sparta Prague to Lazio – Zemen’s new employers – in 1996. Later, he facilitated the same player’s move to Juventus. And, the start of a 16-year relationship with Zlatan Ibrahimovic began in 2001 when the Swede was still in Amsterdam.

His clients all think the world of him. Ibrahimovic has acknowledged Raiola’s unique ways by calling him a ‘wonderful fat idiot’ but also refers to him as ‘a genius’.

Soccer - Amsterdam Tournament - Ajax v AC Milan Zlatan Ibrahimovic pictured in 2001 while playing for Ajax. Source: Adam Davy

In his autobiography, Ibrahimovic details their first encounter.

I didn’t really know what sort of person to expect, probably some sort of pinstriped fella with an even bigger gold watch. But who the hell turned up? A bloke in jeans and a Nike T-shirt – and that belly, like one of the guys in The Sopranos.”

Raiola says there’s a method to his madness and that he dresses in such a way because it usually leads to executives underestimating him.

He’s had that for the bulk of his career, beginning with an aborted meeting with key Italian football executive Luciano Moggi when he was still figuring out the finer details of how Serie A worked.

Raiola – an exceedingly punctual guy – had been kept waiting for a long time before he eventually stormed out. He later bumped into Moggi in a restaurant and criticised him for his behaviour. Moggi warned him that he’d never do any business in Italy with that attitude. Years later, Moggi – at Juventus by that stage – phoned Raiola to set up the Nedved deal.

He has his critics, of course.

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His biggest has been Sir Alex Ferguson, who recently described him as a ‘shitbag’. Before that, during negotiations about a new contract for Paul Pogba, Raiola says Ferguson called him a ‘twat’. He’s also incurred the wrath of Jose Mourinho while the Portuguese was in charge at Inter due to his handling of Mario Balotelli – another of Raiola’s clients.

But, Raiola has to play the game. This was evident when he took on Milan on behalf of Gianluigi Donnarumma – his teenage superstar – and instructed the player not to sign a new deal. The stand-off worked and the 18-year-old is now expected to pick up £100,000 per week as part of a new Rossoneri contract.

But the biggest development in the last 12/18 months is how Raiola has embedded himself so firmly in the fabric of Manchester United.

It seemed he had destroyed any relationship that previously existed because of Pogba’s switch to Juventus but since Ferguson’s departure, and primarily Ed Woodward’s arrival as CEO, Raiola is now the club’s kingpin.

Romelu Lukaku File Photo Source: Martin Rickett

He has been involved in bringing Pogba back to the club for a world record fee while also overseeing Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mykhitaryan sign for United over the same period. He also represents Sergio Romero, United’s reserve goalkeeper, who was signed during Louis van Gaal’s tenure.

There is also Romelu Lukaku’s expected capture – a deal Raiola is thought to have engineered by tipping United off about a breakdown in conversations with Chelsea.

Should that signing go through, Raiola – the wonderful fat genius – will have presided over the three biggest deals United have made in the last twelve months.

And nobody keeps him waiting anymore.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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