There’s a good chance that somewhere in Mino Raiola’s possession there is a Wheel of Fortune-style contraption.
The fortune in question concerns the future of Matthijs de Ligt and everyday world football’s most notorious agent spins it, feeding the outcome to whichever journalist or club chairman that comes to him first on his WhatsApp contacts list.
Depending on what day you have picked up a paper in the past month or so, de Ligt has either been on the brink of signing for or has rebuffed an offer from one of, or all of, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United or Paris Saint-Germain.
Indeed, the Dutch defender has become the subject of the summer’s defining transfer saga and it’s obvious who is pulling the strings.
Raiola has made a career, and a reputation, from this sort of thing. This is a man who reportedly threw a chair across a boardroom to ensure Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United went through three years ago.
A man once described by Sir Alex Ferguson as a “s***bag.”
The Italian, who was slapped by FIFA with a transfer ban earlier this year only for that ban to be suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week, would argue he gets the best for his clients. But, what he’s doing for de Ligt this summer certainly isn’t in the best interests of the Ajax defender.
At just 19 years old, de Ligt has world football at his feet. Already considered one of the very best in his position, he has the pick of Europe’s elite. Barcelona’s interest in the Dutchman is long-standing and Camp Nou would seem to be the best place for him, such is the alignment between the Catalan club’s famed philosophy and the playing style of the teenager. That isn’t to say that de Ligt will necessarily end up at Barca, though.
According to recent reports, Barcelona have been priced out of a move, with Man Utd and PSG now leading the pursuit. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Raiola is just using the interest of other clubs to draw the highest possible contract offer out of the club that clearly suits de Ligt best, Barca. But the Italian agent has a history of guiding his players to the highest bidding team.
Just look at how Paul Pogba ended up at Manchester United in the summer of 2016.
It has been suggested since that the French midfielder, ready to move on from Juventus, had his sights set on a move to Real Madrid only for Raiola to carry him to England on the promise of higher wages. Had Pogba signed for Real Madrid, he would have been a multiple Champions League winner by now. Instead, he has stagnated at Old Trafford.
De Ligt faces a similar situation. Raiola, it seems, has sparked a bidding war for his client, determining the Dutch defender’s future pathway not on the basis of footballing perspective and reasoning, but on money.
That is never a solid foundation for such an important decision.
Few players have had the choice de Ligt has now. There is barely an elite club in Europe that hasn’t made their pitch to the 19-year-old. This choice mustn’t blind de Ligt, though. Mature beyond his years, the teenager might even have to stand up to Raiola in order to get the move that will see him progress as so many expect him to.
Agents are widely seen as the scourge of the modern game. In this discussion, Raiola gets mentioned more than most, and with good reason. The Italian embodies the worst of football’s underbelly, while de Ligt, his client, is the vanguard of a new generation. Raiola mustn’t be allowed to threaten that.