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TAX EVASION

Spain’s Tax Agency puts the spotlight on soccer super agent Jorge Mendes

Cristiano Ronaldo’s representative faces mounting legal problems and a depreciating player portfolio

On June 27, Jorge Mendes, one of the world’s leading soccer agents, who can boast of having Cristiano Ronaldo among his clients, will have to appear before a Madrid court to give evidence as part of an investigation into the Colombian soccer player Radamel Falcao’s alleged tax evasion.

Jorge Mendes has clients including Cristiano Ronaldo and José Mourinho.
Jorge Mendes has clients including Cristiano Ronaldo and José Mourinho. ZUMAPRESS.com

Falcao, who played for Spanish team Atlético Madrid from 2011 to 2013, is just one of six of Mendes’s clients accused of creating webs of shell companies to avoid paying their taxes in Spain. Among the others is Ronaldo himself.

The Spanish Tax Agency has accused the Real Madrid striker of avoiding paying €14.7 million in tax. In response, Ronaldo has allegedly threatened to leave Real Madrid.

Mendes wants to be the Gordon Gekko of soccer

Unnamed soccer agent

The investigation will be looking into the affairs of Mendes’s company, Gestifute, which has emerged over the last two decades as one of the most influential businesses in global soccer.

The 51-year-old Portuguese national has some 200 players on his books, but transferring soccer players long ago ceased to be Gestifute’s main line of business, and it now functions as a consultancy that puts investors and clubs in touch, playing a key role in the strategy of some of the leading companies that control global soccer.

Mendes helped design Real Madrid’s sporting policies, along with those of Atlético Madrid, Manchester United, Paris Saint German, and Monaco. He also oversaw the purchases of Spain’s Valencia, Monaco in France, and Wolverhampton Wanderers in England through his contacts with entrepreneurs in China, Russia, and Singapore.

“Mendes would be ashamed to be considered a mere intermediary,” says a soccer agent who prefers to remain anonymous. “He finds the ups and downs of soccer boring. He wants to be the Gordon Gekko of soccer. The problem is that there comes a time for soccer players when these types of personalities are no longer credible. Soccer players love guys like Mino Raiola, who get their hands dirty and are prepared to make a fool of themselves if necessary to look after their interests. Which is why Mino has, right now, the most important portfolio of players in the market,” adds the agent.

French striker Kylian Mbappé turned down the overtures of Jorge Mendes.
French striker Kylian Mbappé turned down the overtures of Jorge Mendes. AFP

Mendes struck gold when he signed Ronaldo and José Mourinho a decade ago, and was able to use them to build an empire that has dominated the market. Among his biggest signings have been Pepe, Carvalho, Falcao and Nani. But in recent years his stock has fallen.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s fitness is a constant worry, while Mourinho is looking past his sell-by date. At the same time, signings such as James, André Gomes or Renato Sanches have failed to join the ranks of the global elite. Aware of the risks he faces, Mendes has tried to sign hot property Kylian Mbappé. But the father of the Monaco striker and French international, who is also his manager, has turned down the deal.

Augusto César Lendoiro, former president of top Spanish team Deportivo La Coruña, who worked closely with Mendes, remembers him from the early days: “In 1988 he was on top of everything, he took his time and focused solely on his players. He took a lot of risks for them. He earned the trust of the clubs because he sold them players who performed, and this allowed him to carry out huge operations, because he could always find a way out for the players who didn’t cut the mustard. He controls the Russian market, the Chinese, Turkish, Gulf States… He is much more than an agent. He has the support of financial groups and investment funds and has taken part in the purchase of clubs. There has never been a more influential agent.”

There was never a more influential agent

Augusto César Lendoiro, former Deportivo president

In 2016, he sold part of Gestifute to Chinese magnate Guo Guanchang, the owner of the Hong Kong-listed Fosun pharmaceutical and entertainment empire. He then advised Fosun on its acquisition of Second Division Wolverhampton for some €51 million. The Chinese company wants to see the team promoted to the Premier League.

Last summer, under Mendes’s supervision, Wolverhampton bought 28 players for some €40 million, the majority of them signed directly or indirectly through Gestifute.

Most agents slow down once they have established themselves. But not Mendes, who is determined to continue expanding his business empire.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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