Mention of agents around football supporters generally does not end well, with many feeling they interfere too much in the lives of the players they represent. Mention super-agents, such as Jorge Mendes, and that feeling only intensifies. They're seen as opportunists and entrepreneurs who have used business nous to take billions out of the game to line their pockets with.
And yet, as money continues to talk with more and more volume within the beautiful game, agents unsurprisingly gain more power. So much so that someone like Mendes has been able to get his claws into a series of clubs around Europe, the latest of which being Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Wolves take on Manchester City in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday evening as Championship leaders and heavy favourites to complete a promotion that would make trips to the Etihad Stadium an annual occurrence. Backed by Chinese millions, Mendes — who represents Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho, among others — has acted as an advisor to the club’s owners on player transfers, and the Molineux outfit are reaping the benefits. For now.
Since the Fosun conglomerate took over Wolves in 2016 they have twice broken the Championship’s transfer record, with Helder Costa arriving for £13 million from Monaco in January before Ruben Neves — the youngest captain in Champions League history and full Portugal international — bought from Porto for a fee of £15.8m. Both are clients of Mendes.
Others such as Ivan Cavaleiro, star man Diogo Jota and manager Nuno are represented by Mendes's business, Gestifute, though his name rarely, if ever, appears on the transfer paperwork. It would be illegal for an outside influence such as an agent to manage transfer policy on an official basis, but there is no doubt Mendes has been able to coax both the club and the players to come together.
"Jorge Mendes is not in charge of the recruitment of this club," managing director Laurie Dalrymple said in June. "He can't be. That is point one. It is not within the rules.
"However, is he a known associate of the owners? Yes he is. He is a friend and he has been for some time. There has never been any secret about that. We have a team who look at players from any number of sources, including Jorge and Gestifute.”
Some cynics claimed Mendes was using Wolves as a shop window for some of his players to prove themselves in the English game before being tempted away by the Premier League's millions. That may well be the case, but for the time being the good times are being brought back to a club that suffered back-to-back relegations to League One in 2012 and 2013.
The recent 2-0 victory over Aston Villa saw a crowd of 30,239 pack into Molineux to record the club's biggest home attendance since 1981, and with Wolves having moved two points clear at the top of a highly competitive Championship after 13 games, the signs are that a return to Premier League football is just around the corner.
For all the adulation, however, there is trepidation. While Mendes's involvement seems to have not broken any laws as yet, there is the risk that one false move could land him and club in piping hot water. Fans have also expressed concern at potential Financial Fair Play implications, though the money earned through promotion would potentially offset some of the club’s outgoings.
There is also the worry that all the star names Mendes has facilitated bringing to the club will jump ship at the first sign of more money elsewhere and Wolves will quickly become a revolving door for foreign imports. As such, they could lack the consistency of culture or selection to make a real go of trying to reintroduce themselves at the top table of the English game.
It is perhaps ironic that the first test of their Premier League mettle comes against City, who, despite Pep Guardiola likely making a series of changes, will still field a side packed with international talent. Many questioned whether the takeover at City could bring about sustained success, and while silverware has not arrived every season, they have not fallen away as some naysayers might have hoped.
Whether Wolves's very different approach to spending big in a bid for success can see them one day challenge City is another question, but things are certainly on the up. And however the story ends, no doubt Mendes will walk away an even richer man than he was before.