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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Mino Raiola: Agent behind Lukaku and Pogba moves to Man United the 'Donald Trump of football'

From humble beginnings to the most powerful agent in world football, a look at the rise the negotiating "genius".

Mino Raiola has again stepped in to the spotlight due to Romelu Lukaku's impending move to Manchester United. Valery Hache / AFP
Mino Raiola has again stepped in to the spotlight due to Romelu Lukaku's impending move to Manchester United. Valery Hache / AFP

Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans or tracksuit and trainers, it is easy to mistake Mino Raiola for just another chubby football fan rather than the razor-sharp mind who dominates the world transfer market.

Raiola, whose Italian roots and love of pasta is highlighted by his family's pizza restaurant, is said to have been instrumental in orchestrating Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku's latest signing at Manchester United for a reported £75million (Dh355.2m) over the weekend.

Lukaku's transfer from Everton - for a record fee between British clubs - was reportedly supported by another of Raiola's proteges and Lukaku's close friend, Paul Pogba.

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It was Raiola who masterminded Pogba's own record-smashing €105m (Dh440m) return to United a year ago.

He has looked after Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the last 15 years and also manages Italian forward Mario Balotelli, French midfielder Blaise Matuidi and Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Raiola did extremely well out of United last year, making an estimated £40m from Pogba's transfer from Juventus alone while stablemates Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic also moved to Old Trafford.

Raiola was born into humble roots. His family owns a cosy, traditional pizza restaurant in the Dutch medieval city of Haarlem.

Mario Balotelli, left, is another of Mino Raiola's high profile clients.Valery Hache / AFP
Mario Balotelli, left, is another of Mino Raiola's high profile clients.Valery Hache / AFP

He first honed his skills on football and the art of negotiating while waiting tables at the Ristorante Napoli.

"The board of the (now defunct) local football club Haarlem FC used to come and dine there at least once a week," said Edwin Struis, a freelance football writer who worked at a Haarlem paper in the early 1990s.

"Warranted or unwarranted, Mino would chirp in, giving his opinions on the state of the club and football in general.

"It got to a point where they simply said, 'Since you know so much, why don't you just join the board?'"

Raiola briefly worked as technical director at Haarlem FC, but he had much grander ideas: setting up a partnership to transfer players from Italian club Napoli.

Naples is close to the southern Italian city of Nocera Inferiore, from where Raiola moved with his parents when he was one in 1968.

Many in football mistakenly brushed aside Raiola because of his jeans-and-T-shirt uniform.

Romelu Lukaku, right, and Paul Pogba, left are both Mino Raiola clients and will be Manchester United teammate next season. Martin Rickett / PA Wire
Romelu Lukaku, right, and Paul Pogba, left are both Mino Raiola clients and will be Manchester United teammate next season. Martin Rickett / PA Wire

Even Ibrahimovic in his autobiography "I am Zlatan" said he thought Raiola was a character from "The Sopranos" TV series when they first met.

These days, nobody dismisses Raiola, one of the most powerful people in football.

His first big break came with the signing of Czech midfield star Pavel Nedved, a former Ballon d'Or winner, in 1992.

After that, other star names like Ibrahimovic and Pogba - and now Lukaku - followed.

It is not all plain-sailing for Raiola however. The Football Leaks media consortium alleged late last year that the agent had transferred Pogba's multi-million pound image rights to the offshore haven of Jersey. The agent has dismissed the reports as imaginary.

Raiola's own income and tendency to shoot from the hip has earned him the admiration - and ire - of many in football.

Five years ago Barcelona threatened to break ties with Raiola after he criticised then manager Pep Guardiola over his deteriorating relationship with Ibrahimovic.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is another superstar client of Mino Raiola's. AFP
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is another superstar client of Mino Raiola's. AFP

He crossed the line for many in the Netherlands when he called late national football hero Johan Cruyff "demented " for allegedly suggesting that ex-footballers should be given top football industry jobs.

Raiola later apologised to Cruyff, but said he stood by his viewpoints on jobs for friends.

Gael Mahe, a former Pogba representative, calls Raiola a "genius" for his deal making.

"He is the Donald Trump of football, a big mouth who knows how to sell and who has built his own skyscrapers. Each of his players has virtually the value of a Manhattan building," Mahe said.

And Ibrahimovic had only good things to say in his autobiography.

"Shall I spell it out here? Mino is a genius," said the world's third-highest earning footballer in 2016 after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

* Agence France-Presse