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The most hated man in football

Wednesday 17th January 2018

My colleague Harry Mail recently posted (pun intended) an article titled “Are rich owners ruining football?” There are three possible answers to his question:

  1. I don’t know; I haven’t seen them play.
  2. Yes.
  3. No, at least not on their own.

While it’s possible that were the Glazers, Roman Abramovich, or Sheikh Mansour to actually kit up, I might change my answer, I’m going with number three.

It’s true money changes the game. The stakes are higher, which, in my opinion, affects everyone involved.

Players and managers become afraid to make mistakes. They tighten up, play with less freedom, and rarely speak their minds.

With regard to play, reflect on how amazed we all are with Manchester City’s immense success. Remember how we ridiculed Pep Guardiola only six months ago for not adjusting to the ‘realities’ of Premier League football by being a bit more careful and cautious. See how long we have abused Arsene Wenger for the same reason. Ask why we are now vilifying the Frenchman for not selling Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil when he could have made a tidy profit on their desire to leave the Emirates Stadium and its comparatively barren trophy cabinet.

With regard to freedom of speech, recall how Harry Redknapp stared down the FA in 2010. Spurs boss at the time, he dared English football’s governing body to suspend him for criticising Mark Clattenburg’s performance in a loss to Manchester United. He vowed to boycott post-match interviews if he couldn’t answer “truthfully” when asked whether a referee had made hash of a call. The FA quickly announced it would take “no action.” Now fast-forward to September 2016, when Sam Allardyce was let go by the FA for shooting the sh*t with investigative reporters posing as Asian investors. His offence? Explaining how to skirt third-party ownership in a manner that was already in use and well-known.

Money has also completely altered the manner in which fans view the game. We spend endless hours poring over transfer rumours, whether the market is open or closed. When we’re not doing that, we are trying to fit the best XI we can into our salary-capped fantasy league. In general conversation, we rate a player according to how much he cost. Paul Pogba took so much stick after his £89 million move from Juventus. When he has a brilliant game, as he did Monday evening v Stoke, he can do no wrong. When he does wrong, though, he will never be worth the money in our view.

So, yes, money has drastically affected football. Nearly every penny flows through wealthy owners too. Yet they are hardly the only actors in this tragic comedy. Players and agents very often steal the show.

Evidence Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mino Raiola.

The midfield Armenian hasn’t been lived up to Jose Mourinho’s exacting standard at Manchester United. The Portuguese has given up. He has decided to kill four birds with one stone by sending the player to Arsenal along with somewhere in the neighbourhood of £35 million for Alexis Sanchez. I say four birds because not only does he rid himself of an unresponsive, unproductive player, keep costs down, and receive a world class finisher and playmaker in return, he also keeps the Chilean from the grubby paws of his personal nemesis, Guardiola. Just the neat little manipulation we have come to expect from the Special One.

Only, player and agent have thrown a wrench in the works. Raiola recently went to the press to make his client appear far more important than he has been to the club.

Manchester United is not going to sign Sanchez unless Mkhi agrees to join Arsenal. Mkhi has not decided yet. Mkhi is going to do what is best for him. He has two-and-a-half years left on his contract, so it's his decision. Sanchez is part of the Mkhi deal, not the other way around.

I am the last person to argue a player should be completely loyal to his club. It has the option to sell him. He should have the option to establish his worth. That said, when a player hasn’t lived up to his wages, as Mkhitaryan has not, he should accept there is a debt to be paid. Not hijacking a deal that could place you in a better situation is asking very little recompence.

I say the player, although one gets the sense ‘Mkhi’ is simply following his representative’s advice. If the Armenian was as bold, ruthless, and unapologetic as his agent, this deal would not be transpiring. In fact, given his one burst of form early in the campaign, we could very well have the two-horse race between City and United, Pep and Mourinho, that everyone anticipated.  

It was barely a year ago Raiola held the Paul Pogba transfer hostage over his personal fee. This tune sounds little different than that, although given the length of the winter window, it will have to be shorter. Players deserve to earn a fair wage. Obtaining it typically requires representation. Agents are therefore a necessary evil. Mino Raiola is light years beyond necessary however.

Because names often tell you a great deal about people, I attempted to google the meaning of Raiola. A numerology site called Seven Reflections appeared helpful at first:

You are a law unto yourself. Your tendency is to finish whatever you start.

Yes, the Pogba saga definitely supports those assumptions. What followed lost the plot however:

You are tolerant and like to help humanity. You are very active. You are generally warm-hearted and give freely of your time, energy, and sympathetic understanding. You have tolerance and acceptance of the frailties of others.

No, no, and no to the first three. Raiola looks as active as yours truly. 

Warmhearted? Give me a break. Give freely of anything? Unlikely. Tolerance and acceptance of others’ frailties? Definitely not. Exploitation was the word they were looking for.

But then:

You are always looking for an opportunity to achieve financial and emotional security.

I can’t speak for emotional but financial hits it out of the park.

Then they had to go and ruin it again:

You are basically a peacemaker. [snort] You understand the law of harmony and desire to balance your life with those around you.

Please. I was much closer to the truth when I typed in ‘Raioli’ by mistake and was asked if I meant ravioli.

Look, I’m a United fan. I am extremely happy to have Paul Pogba in the squad. I wish Zlatan Ibrahimovic, also a Raiola client, had not been horribly injured so that I might have watched him play in red for at least two seasons. I also wish it had worked out with ‘Mkhi.’ The only fault I find with any of the three is their common choice of the Devil’s own solicitor for an agent. The game is beautiful but greed is ugly. If you ask me, Mino Raiola deserves to be the most hated man in football.

Of course he’d probably accept that as a compliment.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.


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