Chelsea have wisely not attempted any transfer business with Mino Raiola, let alone get wrapped up in his schemings. Now that they have some demonstrated acumen and maybe even some leverage, perhaps it would be worth a probe or two.
Chelsea have made some poor transfer decisions over the years (“Some?” my dog asks), but at least they haven’t let Mino Raiola wedge himself into Stamford Bridge. If they had at any point in the last few years, you’d still be hearing about it. Raiola doesn’t make one deal for a client with a club. He kicks off a process full of discontent, interrupted careers, accounting acrobatics and hefty recurring agent fees. No club needs that, even if they may need the player, and few clubs can handle it. Chelsea are not one of those clubs.
It’s somewhat surprising that Raiola never moved aggressively to get the Blues to sign one of his clients. They seem like such an easy mark. Perhaps he thought they were too much of a “small” club for his tastes, or maybe he was having so much fun messing with Manchester United he didn’t need another toy. But now several of his clients are making their way up Chelsea’s rumour mill. Fortunately, the Blues may be ready for him now.
Chelsea have already missed out on the one player who might just have been worth the Raiola experience: Erling Haaland. Two other Raiola clients – Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alessio Romagnoli – are still in the mix.
Donnarumma is what most people hoped Kepa Arrizabalaga was, or could be. Donnarumma broke into AC Milan’s starting XI as a teenager and, after some early drama, secured the role. At age 20, he has 188 first team games. By Chelsea standards, that’s about enough to bring him back from the loan army. His transfer fee would be at least £50 million.
Romagnoli has been linked to the Blues for several seasons under Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri.
With Chelsea’s centrebacks vying with Kepa Arrizabalaga for the title of Most Responsible for This Season’s Defensive Debacles, the club will almost certainly move for a new centreback and may also go in for a new goalkeeper, depending on what they do with Arrizabalaga. Arrizabalaga and Donnarumma could not coexist at the same club – not as players, and not financially.
And with Donnarumma and Romanoli both being AC Milan players, it is unlikely that both would leave in the same window, let alone for the same club, unless Milan are planning a major overhaul.
But selling those two players would bring in close to, if not over, £100 million for a club that is always dancing around financial constraints or Financial Fair Play. The pair could finance an overhaul while keeping most of the squad intact.
That’s the sort of situation Mino Raiola lives for, and it’s the sort of situation that requires a bit of desperation from the buyer. Depending on how the next few months shake out, the Blues may approach that point of desperation.
Unlike years past, though, Chelsea may be able to go into the transfer market desperate for new players but without looking and acting desperate. Their success over the 18 months – the loan-to-own for Mateo Kovacic, signing Christian Pulisic ahead of the ban, maximizing income last summer, signing Hakim Ziyech in the, er, February transfer window – shows they may be able to stare down Raiola and not let him exploit the situation at Stamford Bridge. The Blues have an increasingly successful strategist and negotiator in Marina Granovskaia, and her record and confidence may be the antidote for Raiola’s usual games.
But as we said at the beginning, dealing with Raiola is never a one-time affair.
Within a year or two, he will be back, stirring up discord as part of his recipe for another transfer fee. Donnarumma is at his boyhood club and Romagnoli has been at AC Milan since 2015. It’s time for Raiola to start making a Paul Pogba / Zlatan Ibrahimovic amount of money from them through his usual product of transfer fees and number of transfers.
If Granovskaia secures either player at a reasonable fee, her next job will be to keep the wolf far from the doors. This will require plenty of communication with those individuals responsible for players’ professional satisfaction: Petr Cech and Frank Lampard. They will want to immunize their new Blue from little voice in their WhatsApp notifications grooming them for another move. Chelsea’s manager, sporting director (or whatever they’re calling Cech these days) and chief negotiator will need to build a successful and satisfied team, one where nobody wants to leave even if their agent is pressuring them for another windfall.
A couple years ago, Pep Guardiola showed the best way to deal with Mino Raiola’s machinations: icy sarcasm. Chelsea finally have the necessary negotiation skills to open talks with Raiola, walk away if necessary or secure a deal if and only if it is the right deal. And, just as importantly, they have someone who can slam the door on Raiola at any point during the first or inevitable subsequent conversations.
The Blues may have other players in mind than Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alessio Romagnoli. But for the first time in years, simply looking at those players does not invite a world of peril.