The Championship season is now coming to a head with Wolverhampton Wanderers looking like their bringing the title to the Midlands.
Wolves have been a class above this season, currently sitting top of the league on 82 points, 26 better off than they were at the end of last year.
They’ve also scored 69 goals so far this campaign, 15 higher than they managed throughout the whole of last season, whilst additionally having the equal lowest number of defeats at home, really proving their credentials as potential future champions.
TABLE: Here’s how the @SkyBetChamp is currently looking.
Did your side move up the standings today? pic.twitter.com/O3scIuxs20
— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) March 17, 2018
Now with stats like that they seem unstoppable, so you’d think they’d be receiving many plaudits but that hasn’t been the case of late and rightly so in my opinion.
This sudden change in Wolves, has been in large part down to pedigree and quality flowing through the spine of their team. Since the beginning of the season they’ve brought in a wealth of talent, including defender Wily Boly and midfielder Ruben Neves from Porto, whilst also securing the arrival of striker Diogo Jota on loan from Atletico Madrid.
These players all have one interesting detail in common, the identity of their super-agent Jorge Mendes, who has been the catalyst for much of the club’s negative criticism of late.
Criticism, that has most recently been channelled through Leeds United chairman Andrea Radrizanni, who feels like me that the Portuguese agent has too much influence and command over the day to day dealings of the club.
We have our own problems but we should play in a fair competition. Not legal and fair let one team owned by a fund whom has shares in the biggest players agency with evident benefits (top European clubs giving players with options to buy ..why the other 23 teams can’t have same
— Andrea Radrizzani (@andrearadri) March 7, 2018
Now a football agent’s role is to negotiate and procure employment opportunities for a particular client and no more. However this definition has been blurred by Mendes with his role as an agent seemingly extending merely beyond a man who simply looks after the financial and media interests of his players.
“The most powerful agent in football” as he has been called in the past, seems to fit his description perfectly as he continually perpetuates the dealings of a football club, for which he should be involved with, only for the employees he represents.
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However with Fosun the business conglomerate who have owned the club since 2016, being directly advised and persuaded to purchase the club by him during the time of the takeover, it’s clear that Mendes’s influence perhaps extends a lot further than that of a contract negotiator looking for a nice side deal.
His sphere of influence has been carefully constructed like a road map, since the day he walked through the entrance doors at Molineux. He arrived in his common suited to the nines look, as then manager Paul Lambert wouldn’t have to wait long before walking out of the corresponding exit door, citing disagreements with Mendes about the transfer policy. Six months would then be the length of time until a new manager was appointed, a strange decision by a club with such stature to be without a coach for so long. This was until you realise who the new appointment would be, the now manager Nuno Espirito Santo, Mendes’s first-ever client as an agent. It was certainly a long wait but Fosun finally got their man, or should we say Mendes got his man.
Lambert left due to disagreements with Mendes over transfer policy, but why would that have been an issue, after all he is just an agent right? Wrong. Mendes dosen’t just control the man at the helm in the form of Espirito Santo but also allegedly half of the 25 players signed by Wolves in the past 18 months with it rumoured that they all belong to the agent’s firm called Gestifute. So how ever you want to look at it, the man with the most cards in-play at that football club for me is Mendes, with transfers depending very much on whether he has any connections to them.
Now The EFL rules clearly state: “No club may enter into an agreement which enables any party, other than the club itself to influence materially the club’s policies or the performance of its teams or players.” – the rule which Radrizzani wants clarification on.
Mendes would constitute as another party, separate from the club, as he has no known ties to the ownership of Wolves, but yet still appears to be largely influencing the pattern of recruitment. In my eyes this has to be surely seen as “materially influencing club policies” with a team’s recruitment methods being a part of “club policy”.
Therefore suggesting Mendes could be guilty of breaching EFL rules, given the influence and direction he seems to have over the in-comings and outgoings of the club, discrediting claims of him undertaking simply an ‘advisory’ role, as set out in a statement by Wolves throughout all of this controversy.
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Judging by the transfer movements and changes in personnel since Mendes first became a known figure, walking the hallways at Molineux, he seems to have a desire to control every movement the club makes. From the outside looking in, it is the Mendes model, no highway option, an approach that Lambert will now remember all to well.
What if it’s legal?
If it is legal, following a review of Radrizzani’s complaint, it could represent a real benefit to the rest of the league. It may well see a host of other clubs welcoming players of a similar stature by employing the same methods through the use of an agent, which could ultimately serve to raise the profile of the league if the quality increases.
“Ruben Neves is going to be easily 1 of the best players in the Premier League. I haven’t seen passing and vision in a player like that for a long time. No disrespect to @Wolves but he needs to be in a world class team.”#WWFC
— Tom (@WolvesAyWe90) March 17, 2018
What if it’s not legal?
Now as I’ve said what the club are doing looks very much illegal but we will see. Now if it is, you can impose all the bans and point’s deductions you like but the real questions have to be asked of the EFL. Will there be any trust in our football governing bodies, highly unlikely, if a club has been allowed to act wrongfully for so long without any real thorough investigation.
Mendes clearly has an overarching role at the club, as many of the personnel Wolves bring in seem to have a relative connection to him. The Midlands club seems to be tied up in the ‘Mendes web’, so to speak because whether it be through the players, the manager or the board, he has influence at every level. Therefore begging the question that if he holds this much power how can his role be seen as purely ‘advisory’?
My answer is, it simply cannot.
My congratulations go to Wolves on a fantastic season, but I just hope it’s been carried out in a fair and just manner, as this hope currently feels like a distant and strained reality for myself and all those watching on from the outside.
Wolves are on the march.
The Championship leaders win again.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) March 17, 2018
Check out my Championship Promotion Podcast Special with fellow Park Life Sport reporter Joseph Rose: