Rafaela Pimenta is frequently characterized as the most influential woman in the realm of football. As an agent with a client base including top player Erling Haaland, she wields a unique level of power in a predominantly male-dominated industry. Over the course of 20 years, Pimenta has cultivated a highly successful partnership with Mino Raiola. Despite her background as an academic and lawyer from Brazil, she has quietly negotiated some of the largest deals in international football, while Raiola garners attention as a vocal and flamboyant super-agent.
After Raiola passed away in the previous year, Pimenta has assumed a more prominent position as the head of her agency in Monaco. However, despite her long career in men’s football, Pimenta has only come across two other women in positions of authority. She recalls working with Marina Granovskaia, the former director of Chelsea responsible for transfers during Roman Abramovich’s time, and briefly meeting Karren Brady at West Ham.
Pimenta’s smile is wry. “In the past, it was common for women to publish books using a man’s name in order to be taken seriously. Many women who made significant scientific discoveries were never given credit. It’s quite shocking, and unfortunately, still happens today.”
As a woman, being heard often requires proving oneself more than men, constantly. Expressing anger or reacting can lead to being labeled as a “bitch” or “overreacting” due to the stereotype of women being overly emotional. Wanting to be a leader can result in being perceived as too ambitious, cold, or hard, while these traits are accepted in men. Unfortunately, our industry lacks equality, as seen with the recent women’s World Cup controversy.
Pimenta is the representative of Esther González and Misa Rodríguez, both of whom were part of Spain’s successful World Cup team this year. However, the team’s exceptional performance was overshadowed by a controversial incident where the president of the Spanish football federation, Luis Rubiales, kissed player Jenni Hermoso against her will. Despite facing criticism from those who defended sexism in Spanish football, Hermoso eventually filed a criminal complaint of sexual abuse against Rubiales. It wasn’t until three weeks later that he finally resigned from his position.
Pimenta questions, “How could someone possibly think they could get away with that?” He further asks, “How could anyone support them? Perhaps one person is irrational, but considering the length of time it took for this to occur, it reveals a lack of unity within the system to denounce such actions.”
What strategies did Rodríguez and González use to handle the situation? “I communicated extensively with Misa and Esther because it was concerning to witness their emotions. It was heartbreaking to see their struggles, the obstacles they overcame, and the challenges faced by women in football. Unfortunately, their success was overshadowed by mistreatment.
I am fluent in multiple languages and I often read content from different countries. Through this, I have come across individuals who hold the belief that a girl is overreacting if she expresses discomfort after receiving an unwanted kiss, claiming that she must have wanted it.
Pimenta gazes with determination. “There is much to accomplish, but football is a powerful tool. It can bring about change.”
I inquire with Pimenta about the possibility of change, to which she affirms. “That is one of my motivations for being here. If I can motivate just one girl to strive for her desires, then my purpose is fulfilled.”
Pimenta was previously a professor of law and incorporated football topics into her teachings in São Paulo to garner student interest. She later joined the Brazilian government to work on anti-trust laws. While pursuing her PhD in international law, she crossed paths with Raiola. He sought her assistance in comprehending Brazilian transfer laws, but his personality hindered him from heeding Pimenta’s advice.
Pimenta recalls encountering Mino, who was in front of him, smoking excessively and sporting a large red watch. Despite Pimenta’s attempts to educate him on the law, Mino always had a retort. After an hour, Pimenta gave up and told Mino to do as he pleased. Feeling frustrated and angry, Pimenta had to leave the situation.
Pimenta had so impressed Raiola that, even without her number or social media, he spent the next few months tracking her down after she moved to Brasília. He was contrite and Pimenta remembers Raiola saying: “‘You’re the only one I met who knew what you were doing. If I do anything in Brazil, it will only be with you.’ I said: ‘That’s nice, Mino Raiola, but I don’t want to do anything with you.’”
Raiola’s persistence paid off as he convinced Pimenta that pursuing a career in football would allow her to combine her passions for law and psychology. Her impressive negotiation skills and ability to empathize with players led Raiola to invite her to work with him in Europe. He later joked, “When I step out of the room and Rafaela takes charge, clubs think their problems are solved. But within five minutes, they’re begging for me to return. She’s just that good!”
Pimenta believes that she and Mino worked together in a complementary manner. They played as a team, each with their own unique roles and backgrounds. In a predominantly male-dominated environment, Pimenta faced challenges as a foreigner, a woman, and a Brazilian. Despite these obstacles, they were able to achieve a lot in Italy, where there was a misconception that Brazilian women only came for sexual purposes.
“Mino stood out as the outlier. He possessed great intellect, but he did not adhere to traditional expectations such as wearing a suit or following strict etiquette. He recognized that he was the only one who could make his voice heard. With our already existing difficulties, adding the extra challenge of having a non-conformist member would have been overwhelming. Our main focus was simply on completing the task at hand.”
Pimenta was working on Haaland’s transfer from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester City when Raiola died in April 2022. She was grief-stricken but she still completed the move a few months later and Haaland’s phenomenal form in the Premier League has blossomed since then. “It was very emotional because I wanted Mino to be there,” Pimenta recalls. “For Erling’s first game I was crying all the time.”
She collaborates closely with Haaland and his father, Alf-Inge, and her expression becomes animated. “I enjoy working with the Haalands because they value professionalism and communicate effectively. Gender does not play a role – they listen to everyone’s input. It’s incredibly refreshing.”
Pimenta describes Haaland as an incredible person who remains grounded. He is aware of his identity and the impact he has on others. Despite his fame and wealth, he has not succumbed to negative changes. At only 23 years old, he displays a remarkable level of maturity, depth, and composure. Additionally, he has a love for food.
Pimenta finds the idea amusing, but she strongly believes that Haaland has the potential to become the first football player to generate a billion pounds throughout their career. She clarifies that this includes not just transfer fees, but also salary, broadcasting revenues, sponsorships, ticket sales, and shirt sales. With a player of Haaland’s caliber, the total could easily reach one billion pounds.
“The potential profits in the gaming industry are immense. In the virtual world, it is possible for me to sell a digital version of Erling Haaland for €2,000 to 100 million individuals in countries such as India, China, Brazil, and Mexico. It is even possible that in the future, we will be able to experience a football match through virtual reality goggles, eliciting the same emotions as if we were physically present. This would create a truly 3D virtual experience. Therefore, it is conceivable that we may not only sell the broadcast rights for these football games, but also offer them to individual consumers who may not have the means or opportunity to attend a live match at world-renowned stadiums like the Bernabéu or the Etihad. Through the metaverse, they can still experience the game as if they were there. So when I mention the potential of one billion, I am factoring in additional virtual elements beyond just physical attendance.”
The costs for player transfers continue to rise. When Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United from Juventus in 2016, I suggested to his agent Mino Raiola that we should set the fee at one euro more than Gareth Bale’s transfer fee. This way, we could surpass the record set by Jonathan Barnett, who negotiated Bale’s €100m move from Spurs to Real Madrid. However, in the end, the fee ended up being higher.
United ultimately paid a total of €110 million. Pimenta remembers a previous encounter with Sir Alex Ferguson while Pogba was on his first stint at United. “I wouldn’t call it a meeting,” she explains. “It was more like a train wreck. It began poorly and ended poorly. Sir Alex stormed in and was so furious that he slammed his fist on the table, causing our tea to spill everywhere. He was completely red with anger. Mino was also very angry. It was a complete disaster.”
Pimenta chuckles before becoming reflective as she ponders Pogba’s struggles, which have resulted in a lengthy suspension due to a failed drug test.
“We are currently addressing [an appeal], and as a lawyer, I strongly believe that legal matters should remain within the realm of legal discussion. However, I still hold onto hope.”
Paul Pogba refers to her as his second mother, and Pimenta states: “I will always be there for Paul. He is a significant part of my life, and I am thankful for the kindness he has shown me and the respect he has always given us. I have known him since he was a child, and it warms my heart to see how much he has grown. He is now a father of three, and I believe he will continue to develop and evolve. One of the things I admire about Paul is that he always tries to find a lesson in any negative situation.”
Is Pogba often not understood? People tend to make assumptions about someone based on their appearance, but Paul doesn’t spend hours contemplating his haircut. He only considered it when his barber suggested going blonde for a fun change. Paul’s attitude is “whatever.” When he shared his haircut on Instagram, he was ahead of the trend. Now, many others are doing the same. Even the Lazio team has a luxurious barber room at their training ground. During the last Brazil national team gathering, getting a haircut was one of the planned activities.
Pimenta is currently involved in a larger conflict. She is convinced that Fifa is attempting to weaken agents because they advocate for players who do not have a say in the management and scheduling of football. Pimenta argues that footballers are being overworked, which is harmful to their well-being, while Fifa enforces stricter rules for agents.
“They view us as a nuisance because we are the ones expressing concerns about the excessive number of games and travel time for national teams, clubs, and various competitions. It seems their goal is to diminish the influence of agents and subsequently make players more vulnerable. While there are several violations within these rules, it will ultimately be up to a judge to determine their legality.”
“When Mino was initially suspended, the decision was later reversed after going to court. However, there was a person with a powerful influence who tweeted in support of Mino. According to this person, they received a call instructing them to delete the tweet if they wanted to continue working in the football industry. I believe this account. Our opponent in the ongoing legal battle, Fifa, has endless financial resources at their disposal while we do not. Therefore, our only option is to hope for a fair outcome. But we will continue to fight for justice as long as we are alive.”