By Paul Nicholson
March 19 – Runaway English Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers look certain to be headed back to the Premier League but they will need to head off growing concerns about their ownership and the influence of super agent Jorge Mendes in the club’s signings, an influence that will concern Premier League club owners, many of whom rely on Mendes for key foreign players.
Wolves’ Chinese owners Fosun own a 20% stake in Mendes’ Gestifut. The alliance is causing discomfort with a number of owners claiming there is clear evidence of third party influence and that club ownership rules need to be tightened up.
Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani outlined concerns over the potential for player manipulation and the opportunity to influence sporting outcome in a letter to the English Football League (EFL) last week. The EFL debated the concerns but not all clubs want to challenge the issue.
Many clubs relying on Mendes for players fear that they could suffer by causing a problem for their own recruitment going forward. The EFL and the FA both cleared the Wolves ownership in 2016. The Premier League rules reflect those of the EFL.
The relationship between Gestifut and Fosun goes far beyond a simple shareholder agreements. Mendes represents Wolves head coach Nuno Espirito Santo, winger Ivan Cavaleiro (£7 million acquisition), midfielder Ruben Neves and forward Diogo Jota. Other Wolves investments include Helder Costa (£13 million), Ivan Cavaleiro (£7 million) and Romain Saiss (£3 million). All are key figures in Wolves’s promotion push – without their influx Wolves would not be on the verge of entry to the big money Premier League.
Wolves say that they have not broken any rules, but it is not really about how they operate but ultimately about the relationships that Mendes holds and how he works them. The Premier League may be forced to find an appetite for ownership vigilance that has previously not been apparent, or at least not been enforceable by their own rules. The league will not want repeats of situations like the movement of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham from South American clubs but was later ruled unlawful but too late for Sheffield United who were relegated that season. Sheffield United were subsequently awarded damages against West Ham, but this in no way compensated them adequately for relegation.
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