Another profitable window for Jorge Mendes, the ‘gatekeeper’ of Portugal

The doors of Club Alfândega remain open, even if one of its former owners has moved on to a bigger stage. Situated in downtown Caminha on Portugal’s border with northern Spain, the nightclub’s establishment in 1989 was inspired by a trip to Ibiza the previous summer.

“What we did was create an innovative space and a new way of exploring the night by inviting public figures, television people and models to be at the door, in the bars and liven up the disco,” said one of its founders Morais Vieira in an interview with a local newspaper in 2014.

It was on one such night at Club Alfândega – which means “customs” in English – that a certain Jorge Mendes famously met Nuno Espírito Santo, the future Wolves and Tottenham manager, who would become his first major client. Mendes was then a 30-year-old entrepreneur who also ran a video shop but he took advantage of his chance meeting with the young goalkeeper at the nightclub he part-owned and soon emerged as the world’s most powerful agent.

Nuno, having been frustrated in his attempts to leave Vitória Guimarães, remembered in an interview with the Guardian in 2016 how a plan hatched with Mendes, which involved pretending he was drunk in front of Vitória’s then president, António Pimenta Machado, ended with a move to Deportivo La Coruña. The rest, as the story goes, is history.

The Gestifute agency established by Mendes a few weeks after Nuno’s 1997 transfer now has Cristiano Ronaldo and José Mourinho among its clients and is estimated to have negotiated contracts worth considerably more than £1bn and earned at least £100m in commissions every year since 2015. In a transfer window that has seen record levels of spending by Premier League clubs, this has been a particularly profitable summer for Mendes despite his failure to secure Ronaldo’s desired exit from Manchester United.

In June he received a healthy commission for overseeing Darwin Núñez’s £85m club-record transfer from Benfica to Liverpool – two months after the Uruguayan had ditched his original agent, Edgardo Lasalvia. Mendes was also involved in João Palhinha’s move to Fulham from Sporting Lisbon for £20m a few weeks later despite a delay after a disagreement over the payment of agent fees with Palhinha’s Spanish representative, Hernan Reguera.

According to reports in Portugal, Mendes also received a 10% slice of the €35m deal that took Fábio Vieira from Porto to Arsenal, and a cut from Vitinha’s €40m move from Porto to Paris Saint-Germain to take his total commission to a cool €13.5m. The remainder of his fee, reports said, came courtesy of an agreement with Porto that in each case if the player were sold for more than €30m, half the difference would be paid to Mendes.

“In Portugal he is really the gatekeeper – any transfer involving the big three is mediated by Jorge Mendes,” says Pippo Russo, a sociologist at the University of Florence who specialises in the business of football. “No one moves without him being involved, especially to the Premier League. It’s been maybe the most important summer in his career as an agent – he has been involved in a lot of transfers. He is really everywhere at the moment.”

Rúben Vinagre’s loan to Everton at the end of July from Sporting was a prime example of how the Mendes network functions. The 23-year-old Portuguese defender – who is officially represented by the Mendes associate Jorge Pires – had two spells in Sporting’s youth team before joining Monaco in the summer of 2014. Monaco’s owner since 2011, the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, is known to be a close ally of Mendes.

Vinagre stayed at Monaco for two seasons before being sold to Wolves, where Mendes has an advisory role and is close to the club’s Chinese owner, Fosun. Vinagre’s next stop was Olympiakos who, like Nottingham Forest, are owned by Evangelos Marinakis. The media mogul and shipping magnate has a strong relationship with Mendes, who was involved in Renan Lodi’s loan from Atlético Madrid to Forest last week.

Vinagre spent only four months in Greece and left to join the Portuguese side Famalicão in January 2021 having made four appearances, partly because of injuries. Famalicão are owned by the Israeli Idan Ofer – another who has close ties to Mendes and is also the largest shareholder in Atlético.

Vinagre was on the move again last summer when he rejoined Sporting on loan in a deal that included a condition that the Portuguese side would pay €10m for 50% of his economic rights if they reached the last 16 of the Champions League. After only 18 appearances, on 1 July he completed a permanent move back to the club where it all began as a teenager. Less than four weeks later, Everton – who appointed Wolves’ former head of recruitment Kevin Thelwell as sporting director in February – took Vinagre on a season’s loan with an option to buy. He has yet to start a Premier League game for Frank Lampard’s struggling side.

“Everton have good relations with Mendes and he is becoming increasingly influential in the Premier League,” says Russo. “There was a time when there was an impression that Mendes was losing his status with some of the biggest clubs. But now he has rebuilt his relationship with many of them and has now been increasing his ties with others, like PSG. Step by step, he is reconstructing his network of power that was affected by Football Leaks and other investigations.”