• The man Zlatan Ibrahimovic once described as ‘like one of the guys in The Sopranos’ will once again revel in pulling all the strings that influence United’s dealings in the transfer market this summer.
• United will probably end up being grateful that their striker Romelu Lukaku, who also wants to leave Old Trafford, switched agents from Raiola to Federico Pastorello earlier this year.
When Sir Alex Ferguson opened things up to questions from the floor after giving a motivational talk to the Sale Sharks rugby team back in 2017, their enormous prop Brian Mujati didn’t pull any punches.
“Why was no one able to acknowledge the undeniable talent that is Paul Pogba? asked Mujati, referring to Manchester United’s decision to allow the 19-year-old Frenchman to leave for Juventus on Ferguson’s watch in 2012.
Fergie, sharp as a tack, fired back before the final syllables had even left Mujati’s lips. ‘Paul Pogba? He just had a bad agent. A s***bag.’ Laughter all round. Ferguson’s disdain towards the agent in question, Mino Raiola, is well known. But the fact a clip of his ‘s***bag’ remark has once again surfaced on Twitter reflects the reality that Raiola looks set to dominate yet another United off-season.
The man Zlatan Ibrahimovic once described as ‘like one of the guys in The Sopranos’ will once again revel in pulling all the strings that influence United’s dealings in the transfer market this summer.
After Pogba used a promotional event in Tokyo with his sponsor Adidas last month to suggest now would be ‘a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else,’ a United source described it as a ‘typical Mino Raiola move.’ Thus the starting pistol was fired on a summer transfer saga that will probably again end up with Pogba and Raiola joking about in a swimming pool after clinching a £150million move to Real Madrid.
That was the Instagram post by Pogba, captioned ‘we say it all by saying nothing at all’, as they holidayed together in Miami ahead of his return to United in 2016. Raiola will hustle about strategically, say the right things at the right time, play the various parties off against one another, eventually get what he and Pogba wants, and boost his already considerable personal wealth in the process.
United will probably end up being grateful that their striker Romelu Lukaku, who also wants to leave Old Trafford, switched agents from Raiola to Federico Pastorello earlier this year.
For two of the last three summers, Raiola has been the central figure in United’s transfer dealings and, whether they like it or not, it’s about to become three out of four. United’s relationship with the Dutch-Italian super agent has certainly fluctuated in that time but it looks set to sour to Ferguson-era lows if Pogba is spirited away to Real or Juventus.
And the ironic thing is that Raiola was banned from football activity for three months this summer by FIFA before the suspension was lifted when he appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In a 2016 interview with the Financial Times, Raiola claimed that he had identified United’s lack of direction in the summer of 2015 when they signed Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay.
“So already last year I told the people at United, ‘You’ll have to put in a guy like Zlatan to restore the balance.’ Then the attention goes to Zlatan,” Raiola said.
His client Zlatan duly arrived in the summer of 2016, coinciding with the appointment of Jose Mourinho to replace the hapless Louis van Gaal as manager. Mourinho is, of course, closely associated with another prominent agent, Jorge Mendes, and he’d clashed with Raiola during his time in charge of Inter Milan. Yet in his first summer, Mourinho had come to depend on Raiola to rebuild.
But with hindsight, the signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan - another Raiola client who spent just 18 months at United - was just an inducement to seal the Pogba deal.
Despite having to pay a world-record fee of £89m, United needed a figure like Pogba to kick-start their new era under Mourinho after three seasons of stasis after Ferguson’s retirement. It was Raiola who advised Pogba to make a triumphant homecoming to Manchester rather than sign for reigning European Champions Real, where he could have played under his idol, Zinedine Zidane.
It was only when Football Leaks revealed that Raiola’s share of the £89m Pogba fee was an eye-watering £41m it became clear why United had won the contest.
No doubt Raiola, who likes to treat his clients akin to members of his family, made clear to Pogba at the time that Real’s interest would remain three years down the line. He would be proved right.
At that time, United’s relationship with Raiola was at an all-time high. It had certainly come a long way from the time Ferguson called him a ‘t***’ to his face in 2012 after he’d advised the teenage Pogba to reject United’s terms.
Raiola later recounted that conversation.
He had said: “This is an offer that my chihuahuas don’t sign.”
Ferguson: “What do you think he needs to earn?
Raiola: “Not that.”
Ferguson: “You’re a t***”
Raiola was unruffled because he didn’t know what the word meant.
As Ferguson recalled: “Our first meeting was a fiasco. He and I were like oil and water. From then on, our goose was cooked.”
Mourinho would ultimately come to a similar realisation. In 2017, the summer started with Lukaku expecting to leave Everton and return to Chelsea. United had started pursuing alternatives, such as Alvaro Morata.
Then Raiola stepped in and Lukaku was suddenly heading to Old Trafford. Ironically, Morata ended up at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho had little choice but to admit Raiola ‘played his hand well’ during the Lukaku negotiations - the transfer fee was £75m plus £15m in add-ons - but started to again distrust the agent.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived, United have embarked upon another rebuilding job but appear to be following a policy of signing promising young players such as Aaron Wan-Bisska and Daniel James. Unfortunately for them, Raiola continues to loom large over the club and their transfer dealings.
Events of the past few years have made them look naive and gullible in their transfer dealings, parting with huge sums of money and reaping the scant reward. They would be well advised to steer clear of a bidding war with Barcelona and Juventus for another Raiola client, the young Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt, this summer.
Raiola was on talkSPORT radio on Tuesday, saying that Pogba ‘had done nothing wrong’ in asking for a new challenge. It was yet more mind games, another play in Raiola’s masterplan to engineer Pogba’s exit. It’s how he operates. Solskjaer was quickly sucked into the debate as he spoke in Perth ahead of the start of United’s pre-season tour.
“We are Man United and we don’t have to sell. It’s business as usual.”
Unfortunately for United, it’s business as usual for Mino Raiola as well.