There is, as the song now says, only one Jorge Mendes which goes some way to explaining why Wolves are in bed with him and unrepentant about it. It falls short of Mendes’ power to describe the man behind Gestifute as the most influential agent in the game. Mendes is an agent in the same way that Real Madrid are 11 players on a pitch.
His biggest client is the poster boy for Real Madrid but Wolverhampton Wanderers, a world away in the Championship, are a casebook of the standard of footballer Mendes represents or has the charm to attract. The touch of Diogo Jota, to take one specific example, is in a different league and will be showcased in a different league next season. Wolves’ transfer fixer, about whom a biography entitled ‘The Mendes Key’ was published in 2015, has opened the door.
Other Championship clubs are pondering this and have been thinking out loud since the beginning of last week. The subject of Wolves’ recruitment was out there in January when Tony Xia, Aston Villa’s retiring owner, used Twitter to voice a few thoughts about Mendes but the issue of that relationship and who is paying what for whom has only now gained proper traction. Certain teams, including Villa and Leeds United, began expressing their concern directly to the EFL. The ante was upped last Wednesday by Andrea Radrizzani sending sequence of tweets which not everyone at Elland Road wanted him to send. The way the story unfolded had a coordinated feel about it.
The EFL has an established position on the connection between Wolves and Mendes. Fosun, the Chinese owner of Wolves, controls a minority stake in Gestifute but its takeover of the club was sanctioned in 2016 and the EFL does not believe that the Gestifute shares represent a conflict of interest. It promised last week to revisit the paperwork, although the sound of the EFL travelling to Molineux to “reiterate the requirements of our regulations and those of the FA” does not sound like Jeremy Paxman on a pre-General Election rampage. Wolves insist that they are compliant regardless and will doubtless reiterate that message.
It is, on balance, too late in the day for any pressure on the EFL to catch up with Wolves this season, assuming it does at all. Last month the EFL concluded a Financial Fair Play (FFP) investigation into Leicester City and fined the club £3.1m. That punishment related to the 2013-14 Championship season. A case brought against Queens Park Rangers over their accounts from the same season is still going through the courts. Both sets of proceedings were forced to navigate the long grass.
Much as Leicester’s fine was trifling, there is something counterintuitive about a club winning promotion in 2014, winning the Premier League title two years and being found to have contravened regulations designed to promote sound management but rules are rules. Championship clubs voted to accept the introduction of FFP and have since voted to accept various changes to it. That there are strong arguments against the concept of Financial Fair Play and inevitable attempts to circumnavigate it does not change the fact that it exists with the say-so of those who are governed by the rules. Regulations on governance in general are no different. They either apply or they don’t. Wolves have nothing to fear from an investigation if, as they state, they have nothing to hide.
As for Leeds, the EFL’s decision to ask more questions of Wolves should be the end of their involvement in the argument for now. It is quaint to portray this as the Championship collectively fighting for the greater good but football is a hive of self-interest and it was inevitable that Radrizzani’s tweets, minutes after a sound beating by Wolves, would strike the wrong chord closer to home. Leeds are 13th in Championship, behind a financially-limited club in Millwall who came up from League One with a wage bill of less than £10m. They are behind Sheffield United who did likewise at a marginally higher cost. Leeds, as Radrizzani conceded, have their own problems to sort out and even if Wolves were to take an expedited hit from the authorities before May, the beneficiary would not be him. Leeds are too far back from that end of the Championship to pick sixth place off. The best Radrizzani could hope for is a rewriting of the rules which gives him the playing field he wants.
What failed to make the early narrative, with Mendes painted as an unfair advantage, was the idea that Wolves might be a model to emulate. If the club’s dealings are said to be legitimate, if the EFL rates their owner as compliant, if their recruitment beats a path to the Premier League and if this isn’t down to envy or purely about a club having more money, contacts and reach than others then why not do the same? There is only one Mendes but there are others in the game who could work the transfer market like he has for Wolves. Don’t get angry with the methodology. Copy it.