Last season Wolves stormed the Championship, racking up 99 points after making a huge number of signings from top European clubs that shocked the league – including securing the services of Ruben Neves from Porto for a Championship record £15.8m.
So far this summer it looks as though Nottingham Forest are going through a similar process, having already made nine signings in total with just under a month of the transfer window still to go.
The common denominator between the two clubs? A slightly shady link with football’s super agent Jorge Mendes.
Perhaps one of the only agents that football fans know by name (alongside controversial Dutchman Mino Raiola of course), Mendes was once just a failed footballer, DJ and nightclub owner. Now though, his agency Gestifute manages contracts worth nearly $1bn per year, according to Forbes.
Among the clients of Mendes and Gestifute are Jose Mourinho, James Rodriguez, Diego Costa and the greatest player on earth right now – Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mendes’ route into the glamourous world of football agency came after a chance meeting in a bar with a little known goalkeeper who played for Vitoria S.C. in the Portuguese league. Mendes signed the keeper and subsequently brokered a deal with Deportivo de La Coruna for his transfer.
That keeper was current Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo.
It was no surprise at the end of the 2017/18 season that central-midfielder Ruben Neves was nominated for the Championship Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season awards and was included in the EFL Team of the Season.
Neves and Wolves had torn apart the Championship and secured promotion back to the Premier League in boss Santo’s first season in charge of the club. It was not without controversy though. The outlandish signings that Mendes had clearly helped his first ever client secure were investigated by the EFL towards the end of the season after Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani kicked up a fuss. The powers that be cleared the relationship to continue though as Mendes did not have an official role at the club and so didn’t need to pass an owners test.
Santo’s transfer dealings also managed to avoid breaking Financial Fair Play regulations, with Mendes securing a number of the deals on loan with options to buy the player at the end of the season.
Rather than last season being a one off, Nottingham Forest’s current transfer dealings this summer would suggest that Mendes has managed to wriggle his way into another Championship club and is brokering deals that will line his pockets, but will ruin the competitiveness of England’s second division.
Mendes is no longer Karanka’s acting agent but the two have clearly retained a friendship and a working relationship.
The obvious similarities between the dealings done by Wolves last season and those done by Forest this year are there for all to see and it begs the question who is in charge of the transfer policy at these clubs?
Last season Wolves signed Portuguese left-winger Diogo Jota on loan from Atletico Madrid, this season Forest have signed Portuguese left-winger Diogo Goncalves on loan from Benfica – both, unsurprisingly, are managed by Gestifute.
As previously mentioned, Wolves also signed Ruben Neves last summer. This season, midfielder Joao Carvalho became Forest’s record signing and you can probably guess his home country.
Strangely, there are even similarities with the players who have signed but have no links to Mendes or Gestifute. Benik Afobe for Wolves and Lewis Grabban for Nottingham Forest are reasonably similar players and John Ruddy and Costel Pantillimon are both experienced goalkeepers who signed for the respective clubs at similar stages of their careers.
These may be coincidences but the players linked to Gestifute are certainly not. Mendes now has an influence over Championship clubs that no non-staff member has had before and the deals that are being done are severely affecting the competitiveness of the league when other clubs would have to spend bigger to sign the kind of quality that Forest are securing this summer.
Does this mean Forest will win the league? Absolutely not, but fans of all other Championship clubs will hope that one club receiving favours from an agent isn’t a regular occurrence. While Mendes is probably currently the only agent who could have this much influence, if the EFL do not crack down on these relationships soon then we could see a number of football’s businessmen sniffing around clubs in the second tier.
If fans were already disenfranchised with the parachute payment system, this latest development could be a serious problem for the EFL.