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AS Monaco, it appears, are the new kids on the block of European football. Since December 2011, when Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought two-thirds of the principality club after an agreement with Prince Albert, they have been on an almost irreversibly upwards curve.
Even in Russian billionaire terms, the club's spending has been dramatic. Upon his unveiling 19 months ago, Rybolovlev spoke of a four-year investment plan of "at least €100m to ensure that it [Monaco] can now realise their potential, both domestically and in Europe". Until Monaco's promotion last month, players arrived at the Stade Louis II at a rate of more than one per month on average. Patience and consideration appear to be distant characteristics, mutually exclusive from ambition.
This summer, Monaco have stepped things up a considerable notch. Nine players have already been recruited before the transfer window has even opened, with Radamel Falcao the evident jewel in an expensive crown. Adding James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho and Ricardo Carvalho creates a total of €130m in transfer spending within eight days. The predefined €100m investment is now just a speck in the rear-view mirror.
Despite the initial eyebrow-raising at the Falcao deal, Monaco's transfer activity this summer has been (and will continue to be) entirely predictable. Rybolovlev has effectively foregone a scouting or academy system, instead placing the future success of his club in the (rubbing with glee) hands of Jorge Mendes, football's super-agent. All four aforementioned signings are clients, and savvy onlookers will be less than surprised if Nani, Fabio Coentrao, Pepe or Anderson landed in Europe's tax haven this summer.
There is no 'official' relationship, one must understand. FIFA's Players' Agents Regulations dictate that a player's agent may only represent the interests of one particular party per transaction. Mendes is instead merely advising each of his clients to move to the principality (and the tax breaks for foreign nationals that provides), receiving a huge fee for doing so.
Setting aside the moral judgment of his approach, there is no doubting Mendes' importance in today's game. After a failed football career, the Portuguese chose to open a bar and nightclub, where he met then Guimaraes goalkeeper Nuno, who needed a representative. After managing Nuno's move to Deportivo, Mendes took a fancy to the role, and within five years Hugo Viana had moved to Newcastle for €12m. A lucrative career had begun.
Now bearing the tag of super-agent, Jorge Mendes is perhaps the most influential individual in today's game. If Madrid is one of football's capitals, then the Portuguese businessman is its mayor. With eight players (including Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria) and one manager (Jose Mourinho) under his wing, Mendes' men were responsible for 83 league goals from Real and Atletico alone last season. In total, his portfolio is estimated to be worth in the region of €500m, and increasing all the time. Mendes will be behind the biggest deals for both player (Falcao) and manager (Mourinho) this summer, and also manages the coach of both the World Cup hosts and the favourites. That's quite a collection.
Mendes' presence (and influence) at Monaco is striking, but it is not the first time such a scenario has occurred. Between 2006 and 2009, Chelsea signed Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Deco, Hilario, Ricardo Quaresma (paid loan), Jose Bosingwa and Tiago, all Mendes clients, in turn signed by a Mendes client in Mourinho. This man has the potential to not just gain huge personal wealth but also directly determine the future of Europe's highest-profile clubs and the game's best players.
Mendes' control marks the coming of football's fourth age of power, and the true transformation of the game. In football's early stages, the game itself held the power. Sport was played with an amateur mindset, a Corinthian spirit extolled by the majority and no club was deemed higher than the greater good. Authorities existed as true guards of the game, with clubs and players effectively toeing the line, the honour of representing one's country the greatest achievement. When such a line was stepped across, punishments were swift and often lengthy.
The advent of professionalism and meaningful competition caused a power shift from the game to the club. Any amateur ethos was lost as clubs clamoured after the greatest talent in the pursuit of glory, both sporting and financial. Superclubs began to form as the rich inevitably got richer, facilitating continued success. Real Madrid's team of the 1950s and 60s were amongst the first high-profile examples on both domestic and European stage, but Juventus (1971-78) and Liverpool (1975-84) followed suit in their respective leagues. The game's governors may have continued to enforce regulations, but these were often done in deference to the wishes of the largest clubs, defined perfectly by the Premier League's creation.
The subsequent rapid commercialisation of football led to the third age of power - the player. There is now little that is binding about a contract once a player has begun to engineer a move, and player rights have been augmented hugely. Concepts such as loyalty and even legal obligation are patronisingly quaint, but largely ignored in favour of individual greed. 'No player is bigger than this club' is an oft-repeated mantra, but they have almost superseded the club in terms of brand strength and fame.
And now, with the rise of the super-agent (Mendes can be categorised alongside Pini Zahivi and Kia 'I'm not really an agent' Joorabchian), the fourth age is reached, and a collection of businessmen hold all the power. They have the opportunity to make the biggest names look foolish (Mendes received €3.6m following Bebe's transfer to Manchester United) and significantly alter a club's future regardless of history or status, despite having little responsibility or allegiance.
As each age arrives and falls, so the importance of money increases, from a secondary thought after the game's inauguration to the all-encompassing force on which every decision and thought is grounded. If you play with the devil, the devil will take over.
And so Mendes' portfolio will continue to grow exponentially, and he will be joined by several other big players, all aiming for their slice of the pie. He will continue to play on the financial greed of the player, the demand for instant glory from the billionaire, and authorities that seem willing to bend over with pants pulled down. The mixing of those ingredients forms a particularly sour-tasting result.
Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter