The super agent talks to AS about the hottest player in football, as well as the European Super League, FIFA, Ibrahimovic, Guardiola, Pogba and more...
Mino Raiola's entire headquarters in Monaco radiates optimism. Bright colours contrast with the white walls, covered with entertaining works of modern art. Raiola himself is just the same. He dresses casually and is lively, sharp of mind and fast of tongue. He talks to us in perfect Spanish - he speaks six languages. He understands every facet of the football industry and talks about each of them with confidence. And he’s got the footballer of the moment in his hands…
How did you discover Haaland?
I saw him for the first time on the TV, in a Molde game.
And you went after him.
I did. I don’t fall in love at first sight very often, but when I see a player and I like them, I say: “He’s the one”.
What’s Haaland really like?
Like all the greats. For him, it's football first then everything else. Cristiano, Ibrahimovic… They all made football the centre of their lives. Haaland doesn’t know what restaurants there are in Dortmund, he studies hard to get better, he trains hard. The great champions, in my opinion, are the most straightforward people. And it’s important to have a good woman by your side, it’s key, to create your inner circle…
You surprised everyone with your tour of Madrid and Barcelona with Haaland’s father…
If I tell you the reason for the trip you won’t believe it. Haaland’s dad had to go to Marbella. He wanted to travel and I did too, because I had to congratulate Laporta and then go to Madrid. We did it all in one go. Because, look, 99% of the times when I’m travelling, nobody knows where I am.
Well, it seemed like a marketing tour...
What’s weird is there’s no Private Terminal in Barcelona. There’s paparazzi there 24 hours a day. I think they were waiting for an actress. It wasn’t a sports paparazzi. But look, I also don’t have anything to hide, I talk a lot with the directors of Barça and with José Ángel Sánchez.
Has Haaland told you where he wants to play?
No, because I'm not interested in him telling me at the moment. He needs to tell me when everything is clear in my head and I can create a menu for him, and put the things on his plate: we've got this, that and the other... And at the moment we can't. What we know as of today is that Dortmund spoke extremely solemnly to us and said: "We are not selling him". That's the situation, definitely.
They don't want to sell him this summer?
That's what they've said. Now let's see if that desire is still there through to the 1st of September.
Does it not also depend on whether they are in the Champions League?
You're the one saying that.
Man, I'd guess that...
Of course, we can guess at a lot of things. Today, the official stance of Dortmund is this. But I've got another view, I think that if a good opportunity comes up and everyone would be happy, we'll put it on the table.
How do you pick the right time to leave?
Nobody knows. Staying is a risk, leaving is too.
But I see you're open to the possibility of Haaland leaving.
It's in my head, not in Dortmund's.
Is there anything signed to facilitate the departure of Haaland in 2022?
Look, in this agency of mine there are some rules that are like the rules in a law firm. If a footballer trusts me, he also trusts that everything that happens in his life goes with me to the grave. If he wants to talk about it he's free to do so. I can't and I don't want to. Because, among other things, it's not important.
"The stance of Borussia is clear, they don't want to sell him this summer"
What's more important than any clause is whether a player wants to leave or not. Ibra doesn't have a clause, Pogba neither. In Spain there are clauses of 400 million euros...
But if there's something signed for 2022, then Borussia Dortmund would be interested in selling him this summer for more money.
That's something you'd have to ask Dortmund.
Does the style of the Premier League or LaLiga suit Haaland more?
Haaland is interested in two things. Scoring goals, because he’s a little bit like Cristiano or Zlatan… it’s his obsession, in a positive way. And winning titles. No doubt he’ll pick somewhere where he feels those two things go together best for him. It's really hard to lie. When a club like Barcelona or Real Madrid comes in for you, with so much history and being such a big club, it's hard to say no. PSG is getting into his group of big clubs, City is trying, Juve have always been there. The league they play in is important too. PSG plays in the worst league of the big clubs. Bayern are in an attractive league, but we know they always win it. In Spain there are three clubs with a chance...
Can Madrid afford Haaland?
I don't know if they can afford him, because I've haven't studied their books. But I think they can. I think they all can. The question is different: Can Madrid afford not to buy Haaland? And Barça?
Man, in principle it's harder for Barcelona.
It's difficult, but not impossible. That's the job of one of the club's directors. It's the same for the clubs as it is for the players. A train goes by and what do you do? Catch it or let it go? That's the big question.
"The 14 biggest clubs in Europe want Haaland"
Madrid seem more focused on Mbappé this summer.
That's the problem for the big clubs. Mbappé has a year left on his contract. PSG can do one of two things. What Borussia did with Lewandowski years ago, don't sell and let them leave for free, which is a brave stance, or sell them now. It depends on the club, on the player...
But the future of Haaland, if it is to be at Real Madrid, depends to some extent on Mbappé.
The future of a footballer never depends on other footballers, it depends on himself. In the big clubs, you can have great players together: Neymar and Messi have been together, Ronaldinho was with great players, Haaland could be alongside Mbappé or not. Great players always play together.
Does Haaland think that he's set to be one of the greats?
I think the whole world does, not just him. He's shown it. You're only ready for a big club when the big clubs come for you. You need to let the market talk...
And what does the market say now?
That he's ready.
What teams have called him?
Every big team you could want...
All the Super League teams?
All 14 big clubs want him, yes. Now it's important to know which is the best option.
Will Haaland go where they pay him the most money?
No, no... my job is to maximise the economic performance of the player, but it needs to be a major project. You can't buy a footballer without having a plan or a project for the future. Real Madrid and Barcelona have changed a lot in this sense. They had an era when they bought players who had little future. They had to leave soon after. The rotation of players was too quick.
Madrid are at a critical juncture now, they need to rebuild the team.
And it's vital to choose well. It's just as important as buying at a good price. If not, you're looking at a problem for a number of years. This change Madrid will carry out needs to last 10 years, and that's why Haaland is important, because he's really young, but you would be buying a youngster with elite experience. The same with Mbappé. But you only get one chance to buy them. Right now you have the chance to buy them for the next 10 years. The same happened with Cristiano and Messi. Then, once they are in a big team, they don't let them go.
What do you most like about Haaland?
As a Scandinavian he's always liked Ibrahimovic, as an example. Zlatan did so much for the Nordic countries. There are no stars there because the country itself won't accept it. They are well-educated, relaxed... You can't drive around Malmo in a Ferrari. And Zalatan showed people there that you can be what you want. Haaland has learnt from that. He knows he can be what he wants to be.
Could Haaland produce the same economic returns as Pogba, for example?
I think it's different. I had a Ballon d'Or, Nedved who in terms of marketing was a zero. Whereas, imagine Balotelli with Messi's head, because he's got the quality. And Paul [Pogba] is the number one at this. If he'd played at Madrid or Barça, he'd be the player generating the most amount of money.
After Haaland, is Pogba one of Raiola's main concerns for this transfer window?
When a player asks you, what are we going to do?, it's an enormous responsibility. That's when you stay up all night thinking about what's best... My aim is to make it a process alongside the player to see what they really have in their heart. Ibrahimovic knew I was against him going to Barça, he wanted to go because it was an incredible Barça side. And although people might think differently, I think that [this failed move] was really important, not a major disaster. Because he learnt so much more in six months than in major stretches of his life.
With Pogba, what’s really important too is what Manchester United want, what project they are proposing for Pogba. Pogba has always been interested in one thing, winning the Champions League, titles, that’s his objective. And we’ll see if that’s possible at United or at other big European clubs.
Why is Pogba not already at Real Madrid?
It's a question for Madrid. At one time, Pogba felt a lot of love for, and trust in, United, and there are various other clubs... Afterwards, it's really hard for United and Madrid to reach an understanding on a massive transfer, because big clubs don't like selling great players to other big clubs. And I'm not going to kid you, for Pogba, playing at Madrid was always a really attractive option, because of Zidane too. He's Pogba's childhood hero.
Is it still a possibility?
I don't know. I think nothing is impossible, but football depends on the day. Just like that. And you need to be flexible to think about all the possibilities. What if tomorrow Madrid want to do a swap, Hazard for Pogba. It's just an example. And it all four parties like it, why not?
What's your opinion of Real Madrid?
There's a truth about Florentino, and it's that he created the Galáticos brand, which people of my generation still think about. It was an amazing idea. The story of Madrid as a club is incredible. For a footballer, to play there is fantastic. But in comparison with Barcelona you have to recognise that Madrid is built around great players. Whereas Barcelona is built around a philosophy.
And that affects which players end up moving there?
I think so. If Ibrahimovic had gone to Madrid he’d still be playing there today. Because Zlatan isn’t built for a philosophy, he's built around the strength of being a great player, like Benzema, Cristiano, Di Stéfano or Puskas. They function on pure talent, Barcelona on a philosophy, an idea of how to play. You could substitute you for me, if you’re part of the system. Another difference, for me, is that Madrid let Cristiano go. Barcelona didn’t let Messi go, because he’s fundamental to their philosophy.
What's your relationship like at the moment with Florentino Pérez?
I have a relationship with José Ángel Sánchez.
Not with Florentino?
Not especially. I like to deal with sporting directors or general managers, like José Ángel Sánchez. I'll speak to a president if they have similar functions... I'm thinking about Gino Pozzo, who's president, sporting director, coach, striker, central defender... Then there are other cases, such as Agnelli, who's my friend and who I speak to a couple of times a year, sometimes about other things. But at Juve I deal with Paratici, and at Milan with Maldini.
You've been in this business for 30 years, how's your job changed?
Nowadays, footballers have an economic strength that's out of the ordinary. And they need to be protected in a lot of areas. Football now isn't just a sport, it's an industry. People don't like to say it because it's not romantic, but it's true. Before, football was just football.
In my own case, I think I play a big part in the Calciomercato (transfer market), because of the things I say about players, the things I do… In America the Calciomercato is called the Draft and it’s the most important part of the game, it’s a show. If you only talk about football that's only Sundays, when there’s a game. And if you took the Calciomercato out of the football industry you’d be taking out 60% of what’s important, and you’d be left just with the game.
What do you think about players like Mbappé, who don't have an agent?
They end up having one in a different way, because there's a big group of people behind them. I can't say whether it's bad or good. I don't know if he'd be better or worse if he were with me, what I do know is that whoever is with me is really happy. That's what makes me happy. I think a father who isn't properly prepared shouldn't be in this business. Think about how the best doctors don't operate on their own children. There's a reason - you need distance, professional distance. One of my kids was really good player, but they didn't want to be a professional. And if they had been, I wouldn't have been their agent.
Are the clubs held hostage by the agents? Every club works with their agents and they need them...
It's hard for a club to put itself in my hands, because I only look out exclusively for the interests of my players. But what happens is that to protect the interests of my player, I need to really understand the club. That's why my footballers aren't expensive, they're cheap, because they are really successful. The expensive player is the one who doesn't perform.
The image of an agent is always someone who does nothing and just fills their pockets.
Well it's an idea that's really wrong. In the huge pyramid of footballers only a very few end up being professionals, but they are part of an industry that is really complex. Think about when Ibrahimovic went to Barcelona. It's part of life, it can happen that things turn out badly...
You really fell out with Guardiola over that.
No, it was Guardiola who really fell out with me (laughs).
Listen. I think Guardiola is a fantastic coach. I don’t hate anybody and I don’t think he’s an unpleasant type, because I don’t know him personally. I didn’t like what he did to Zlatan, but it’s already in the past.
What's your opinion of the European Super League?
One that's radically different to everyone else's. I'll always support any battle against FIFA, against that monopolistic mentality I don't like. We don't need FIFA to play football. But my main observation about the Super League is that the organisers want to get rid of the Champions League to play it. And it's a mistake. The key word here is "ALSO".
What do you mean?
Ferrari can have one car in Formula 1 and another in Le Mans. Why can't Madrid play in the Champions League and the Super League? It would be the most beautiful experiment in the history of football! To have two tournaments, the Champions League and the Super League. And let the public decide which they like more.
If I was the owner of club, I'd want my team to play in the Super League and the Champions League too... and of course in the domestic league. For the footballers it would be great, and for the fans too. That competition would oblige the organisers to make the tournaments really attractive. At the moment that's not the case, if someone wants to see football at the highest level they've got the Champions League... and that's it.
So, you're in favour...
I watched incredulous at the protests of the people out in the streets. Protests against something that still hadn't been explained. They were protesting against the concept of a closed competition. But the Super League shouldn't be an obligation. If you don't like it, don't buy the rights or don't pay to watch it. if you want to watch it... go ahead. But the key word is "ALSO".
You don't think that the Super League means selling elite football to the Americans?
Why are the Americans buying clubs in Europe? Why don't Europeans buy them? Because there's money here in Europe, but there's not the spirit of investing in sport. If you buy a club in Europe, people and the banks think you're mad. An American on the other hand buys a club with an idea, the idea of doing business, of economics, like they bought Liverpool or United. And here's the thing, you can't tell these people: you bought a club like United, but you're not allowed to have your American mentality. And the reality is that the MLS, the NFL and the NBA are organised like the Super League... These folk who were protesting in the street, were they hating NBA on Sunday night? Is Formula 1, by any chance, an open sport?
Will the Super League not put an end to domestic leagues?
False. It's the Champions League itself and Financial Fair Play that have created the differences between big and small clubs. The reason is simple. In the case of Spain, it's always the same six or seven teams that get into Europe: Real Madrid, Atlético, Barcelona, Sevilla, Villarreal, Valencia… Well they're the clubs who share out the somewhat more than 100 million euros on offer from the Champions League and Europa League every year. And the gap with the other clubs gets bigger every year.
Wouldn't playing two tournaments cause a problem with the dates?
You tell me how many players Barcelona or Real Madrid have in their squads. Clubs today have a problem, which is that they have more players than fit in a team. I've been thinking about this for years... and the only set rule there should be is that you can't change a star from one tournament to another. The obligation should be to give the list [of players] who will play in the tournament before [you start] and that's fixed. That would allow clubs to come up with strategies, decide which tournament they want to make a priority and even hire certain players to play in each of these tournaments. A club would need to think: Will I hire Ibrahimovic to play the Champions League or the Super League?
But of course, UEFA and FIFA will be fiercely opposed.
In my view the monopoly they have isn't in line with the spirit of football or sport. In boxing there are four or five federations. Golf organises a world cup without having a federation. The Swimming Federation just lost a court case in Europe over whether they are the only people who can organise tournaments...
Is FIFA at the weakest point in its history?
In my opinion, there's one really important point, which is that it's an organisation that has faced numerous scandals. If one is involved in a scandal once, ok, that can happen. But if it’s every four or five years and the scandals are always the same, only the names of the people change, then it’s not an accident, it’s your nature. Are we in agreement that these people are in charge of us? It's complete madness. The problem is whether we have rights or if they are doing you a favour. It can't be the case that FIFA decide who will play at the World Cup based on whether you do something nice or not in their eyes. We're talking about a very opaque, very closed organisation.
What model would you propose for organising football without FIFA?
The great strength of football is that it survives in spite of FIFA (laughs). I think that football itself needs to create a platform to sort out its issues at all levels and for FIFA to discuss, democratically, general stuff such as the rules of football, if we should make the goals bigger, offside.. Which, moreover, it was was set up to do. Complete power corrupts.
Why do you think they want to regulate the activity of the agents?
Listen, FIFA has to cover up so many problems, and to do so they create other problems. On the other hand, it's becoming clearer that the people with real power in football are the players, because they are the people who create it, and so FIFA wants to diminish their ability to act and their power.
FIFA says the agents have too much influence.
They don't know what football is like. Ok, let's also cap the salaries of the players, or the transfers, or the ticket prices. Why do FIFA raise the cash paid by sponsors every year, and the television rights... Why not limit them too?
What about the influence of the agents?
The job of an agent is to defend to the maximum the interests of the players. And the job of the sporting directors is to defend the interests of the clubs. It's like buying a Rolls Royce and not paying for a chauffeur. Or buying a plane and not hiring a pilot. It's complete madness. We're also part of football. Of course I've never gone to a negotiation with a gun on the table. If we exist it's because the players need us and the clubs too.