Jorge Mendes. Photo: Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images

Soccer's transfer market was halved due to the pandemic, but Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes still came out ahead.

By the numbers: Using a business model built upon relationships, Mendes brokered hundreds of millions of dollars in deals, netting himself roughly $30 million during a time when soccer's economy is reeling.

His story: Mendes grew up outside Lisbon in a working-class household and gave up a fledgling playing career in his early 20s to become an entrepreneur. By the age of 30 (1996), he'd bought a nightclub, which proved an excellent way to meet future clients and kickstarted his agent career.

  • By 2003, he'd become Portugal's premier agent, signing many of its best young players and managers. He represented Cristiano Ronaldo and José Mourinho, and helped broker their deals to Manchester United and Chelsea.
  • Now, Mendes' client list boasts the likes of James Rodríguez, Diego Costa, Ángel Di María and, of course, still Ronaldo. In 2019, he earned $118 million in commissions.

How it works: Compared to American sports, where agents like Scott Boras negotiate athletes' contracts with teams, European soccer agents like Mendes also navigate the complexities of the global transfer market.

  • A transfer is when one club pays another for the right to sign a player. Only then does the club work out a contract with the player. Mendes helps negotiate, and earns commission on, both deals.

Between the lines: Mendes' specialty is engineering moves that cause a chain reaction, with one client's transfer opening a spot on a club for a different client.

  • One example from this summer was when Manchester City bought Rúben Dias from Portuguese side Benfica for $80 million, then sold Nicolás Otamendi right back to Benfica for $16.5 million.
  • A more elegant example was when Wolverhampton sold Matt Doherty to Tottenham ($20 million) and Diogo Jota to Liverpool ($53 million), only to turn around and buy Nélson Semedo from Barcelona ($33 million), and both Fábio Silva ($44 million) and Vitinha ($23 million) from Porto.
  • All seven players — Dias, Otamendi, Doherty, Jota, Semedo, Silva and Vitinha — are Mendes clients, and he earned commission on every sale.

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