PARIS, France, Dec 5- Two decades ago, he was a simple entrepreneur making a living from managing a video club and discotheques.
That was then. Today, at the age of 50, Jorge Mendes operates in the rarified upper stratosphere of the hyper-moneyed world inhabited by top sportsmen as agent to the stars — including Cristiano Ronaldo.
That status has placed him at the eye of the storm of the “Football Leaks” media investigation into alleged soccer corruption in the highest echelons of the world game.
Nicknamed “the shark” by rival agents, the diminutive Mendes has a penchant on the whole for being discreet — he rarely gives interviews.
When he does surface he is generally seen phone in hand or clamped to his ear wheeling and dealing for his stable of some 100 players or coaches whose interests he manages.
Yet Mendes has been front page news since an international consortium of media organisations highlighted a huge data leak purporting to show that Ronaldo and others, including Jose Mourinho, kept millions of earnings out of the taxman’s reach in havens.
Mendes, whose company, Gestifute International, is registered in Ireland, has vigorously denied any wrongdoing. Yet his methods have raised eyebrows in the past and are being questioned again after the data dump as reported by the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) media consortium.
He was one of the first to exploit player rights through third parties such as investment funds — a practice FIFA has now made illegal.
Mendes Quality Sports Investments, based in the tax haven of Jersey, offered rich investors the chance to buy a percentage of players’ “economic rights” with a view to making a killing when they were eventually sold on for a hefty transfer fee in jurisdictions operating ultra-low corporation tax.
Such a practice has long been common notably in South America although the English Premier League and also UEFA leagues have officially condemned it.
– Self-made man –
Mendes appears to be an archetypal ‘self-made man.’ Born to an oil industry worker in Lisbon he left the Portuguese capital aged 19 to enter the business world in the northern provincial town of Viana do Castelo.
A video club which he opened became a successful venture and soon he would meet Portugal keeper Nuno Espirito Santo in a disco he was also running.
A former semi-professional footballer himself, Mendes set about cultivating close links to players, creating his own network and starting to look after their interests. He branched out beyond Portugal as he progressively established contacts with representatives of foreign sides.
“Having established good contacts, it is obvious now that the priority is to preserve rapport of confidence with major European clubs,” he told Expresso newspaper in 2011 – ironically, one of the papers in the leak consortium.
“He works hard with players and looks after them constantly,” Real Madrid president Florentino Perez once said of Mendes in allusion to his dealing with Ronaldo’s 94 million euro move from Manchester United.
“I have every confidence in him. He is like a big brother for me a father figure in the world of football and godfather to my son,” said Ronaldo in a 2012 documentary which coincided with 15 years of Mendes’ agency work.
– Mourinho a fan –
“Jorge Mendes is for me a great friend, more than an agent,” Jose Mourinho said of their relationship.
“Our careers started at the same time and happily things have gone well for both of us,” said the man now in the Old Trafford dugout who after leading Porto to the 2004 Champions League took several Portuguese stars with him to Chelsea.
Another Gestifute client is Monaco’s Colombian star Radamel Falcao. Mendes’ links with the Principality side go back to his working on the transfer to the French top flight club of Portuguese international Costinha in 1997.
Asked about his style of doing business Mendes once said: “I am not one of these agents who races after players making promises….” adding that he represents players’ interests and intervenes when clubs would prefer to do deals behind their backs.
Sometimes their (transfer) situation is almost sealed and they themselves know nothing of it,” which is where he comes in.
As the controversy has gathered pace since last Friday, Gestifute has rejected allegations of facilitating tax evasion.