By Paul Nicholson
November 23 – The controversial player signings that propelled Woverhampton Wanderers into and up the Premier League, and the influence of Portuguese agent Jorge Mende on the club have again been thrown into the spotlight after more emails from the Football Leaks cache were made public by Der Spiegel.
Wolves had already been the subject of a Football League investigation after a complaint by Leeds United last season into the links between the club’s Chinese owner Fosun, Mendes and his Gestifute player agency, and unusually high number of top class Portuguese players Wolves were able to sign. That investigation cleared Wolves.
However, the release of the new emails paint Wolves as the chosen club vehicle for an elaborate commercial scheme structured to benefit Mendes and Fosun financially but which in reality breaks all the English FA rules on player agent interference in the business of a football club, either directly or indirectly.
Fosun completed the acquisition of Wolves in July 2016, but just as that acquisition was being completed, then-owner Steve Morgan was being pressured by Fosun to sign-off on three transfers of Mendes players – Ivan Cavaleiro, Hélder Costa and Péle. Morgan denies knowledge of the situation and Wolves did not complete the player acquisitions before the takeover.
But the links between Fosun, Mendes and their plans for Wolves were clear. The club was becoming a guaranteed source of income for the agent who in turn guaranteed the club a player supply.
In an email to a Gestifute employee, Wolves executive chairman Jeff Shi, explaining the Wolves takeover, said, according to Der Spiegel: “You always know the reason for the investment of Wolves is mainly because of our bet and trust on Jorge.” He added: “Jorge can take Wolves as the most reliable partner and agency revenue source for long long time.”
The issue would be slightly less problematic if 15% of Mendes’ holding company, Start SGPS, was not owned by Foyo, a subsidiary of Fosun where Shi was the CEO. Despite this the EFL were satisfied the Wolves deal did not present compliance or governance problems.
Shortly after acquiring a stake in Gestifute, Foyo was replaced by two British companies, Foyo Culture & Entertainment and another called Champion Start. “Such arrangement is entirely for the purpose of tax avoidance and circumvent restrictive regulations,” Shi said in an email.
“Given Fosun’s strong coverage on Chinese business resources, and the support of Jorge Mendes, we think we are capable of improving any club for both commercial and football values,” he said.
Mendes has previously been described by Shi as a “friend and advisor” but really the question that needs to be asked is how much of an advisor and how far does this breach FA and Premier League rules. The Premier League with 15 foreign club owners seems unlikely to be too bothered – perhaps the real legacy of outgoing chief executive and executive chairman Richard Scudamore.
As Der Spiegel pointed out: “In their last match, the Wolves tied Arsenal 1:1. On the Wolves squad, there were more than twice as many Portuguese clients of Mendes’ than there were English players. The lone Wolverhampton goal was scored by Ivan Cavaleiro – one of the three Portuguese players that Fosun had wanted to acquire before taking over the club.”
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