Liverpool's 'unofficial partnership' with super agent could yet see them sign top transfer target

In the increasingly competitive world of recruitment at the top of the Premier League, it is often who you know more than what you know. And for a club like Liverpool, a more personal touch can sometimes make all the difference when it comes to stealing a march in the transfer market.

Fees made public by the Football Association in February revealed that Liverpool paid agents as much as £31.5m between February 2023 and 2024, marking them out as the fourth highest in the country behind Chelsea (£75m), Manchester City (60m) and Manchester United (£34m). Given the exorbitant fees that are awash at the top of the English game, particularly compared to their European counterparts, those figures are also likely to be some of the highest on the continent too.

Clearly, then, for deal-makers across planet football, there are fortunes to be made when working with a club the size of Liverpool and fostering healthy, professional relationships can also go a long way towards the carve up when it comes to fees paid out by buying clubs at the sharp end of European football.

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At a time when increasingly enigmatic sporting directors are operating largely away from the glare of the media to build themselves an air of mystique, mythical reputations can be forged as a result. The truth behind the success of people like Michael Edwards, for example, is far more straightforward, however.

"People always talk about Liverpool's recruitment, and you think of Michael Edwards with everything that he did working with Jurgen Klopp and others at the club," Jamie Carragher said on the Stick to Football podcast earlier this year. "I went to see Michael once because I wanted to get a bit more information from him. I was expecting big insights about how many scouts Liverpool have, how they watch them, how they see different things, but he told me the biggest thing was getting the players they wanted because of the relationships with agents - it's all about having good relationships with the agents."

The devil, of course, is always in the detail but the club's use of data analysis alongside more traditional scouting metrics have undoubtedly led to a sustained period of success and an impressive hit rate in the transfer market in recent years. Liverpool's dealings with Portuguese agency Gestifute have been an important part of that.

As one of the preeminent agents in world football, Jorge Mendes has a slew of talented hopefuls whose careers can be transformed by their allegiance to the company he owns and the list of clients within the Gestifute stable is indeed an impressive one.

Unsurprisingly, as the biggest agency in Portugal, Mendes's group looks after the specifics for a host of Portuguese internationals with Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes a client alongside Manchester City quartet of Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias, Ederson and Matheus Nunes. Joao Felix, Pedro Neto, Vitinha and Manuel Ugarte - four players who have been linked with the Reds to various extents in recent years - can also call Gestifute their home as far as representation goes. Cristiano Ronaldo's presence in the group is a major selling point for fledglings across the region too.

Such is the strength of the unofficial partnership that Liverpool were informally alerted to Fernandes and Felix during their respective periods with Sporting and Benfica back in Portugal, only for the Reds to pass on both. The Reds felt Fernandes, who subsequently signed for United for £70m, was best suited to a No.10 position that they didn't use in Jurgen Klopp's tactical framework at the time, while the figures involved for Felix, who later joined Atletico Madrid for around £113m, were far too costly. The club's positive terms with Gestifute helped them get the heads up on both prior to their eventual departures from the Primeira Liga.

At times, like the deal that took Fernandes from Sporting to United in January 2020, Gestifute are asked to help smaller agencies complete major deals involving European giants and it was reported that over £4m was split between Mendes's group and PositionNumber, the organisation who represent Fernandes via his brother-in-law, Miguel Pinho.

And while Darwin Nunez is listed as a Gestifute client on the influential Transfermarkt website, it's understood their help in facilitating his 2022 move to Liverpool was enlisted by the agent Eugenio Lopez, who is a partner of Mendes.

Liverpool were said to have been hugely impressed with the discretion shown by the agency when the deal to bring Fabinho to Merseyside from Monaco was concluded with minimal fuss in the hours after the 2018 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid. The Brazil midfielder's £40m arrival was a bolt from the blue and the ideal pick-me-up to supporters still dissecting events at the NSC Olimpiyskiy just a couple of days earlier.

That same quiet style of negotiating was shown over two years later when Liverpool wrapped up a £45m deal to bring Diogo Jota in from Wolves in September 2020, with the club in regular contact over their client prior to the switch from Molineux. The Reds had tracked the versatile Portugal forward for two seasons before he eventually made the move and had heard glowing reports whenever character references were sought across figures in Portuguese football.

"It's one thing Mendes knows how to do very well," says one source. "He knows when it is time to turn on the taps of information to the media and when not to. And it is something that I would say is always well timed. He knows when to do it. He has become very important for big clubs in Portuguese football in helping bring in revenue. They are known to turn to Gestifute in certain times when major European clubs - like Liverpool - are interested in their players."

The pull of Ronaldo, who is Mendes' most high-profile client, is a key element to attract younger players looking to choose the right representatives when the chance to make a career-changing move arises and the emergence of Lille centre-back Leny Yoro is an ideal case in point where Liverpool are concerned.

The Reds have identified the 18-year-old defender as a summer transfer target but are mindful that Real Madrid are currently leading the chase. Yoro is entering the final 12 months of his contract in Ligue 1 and is also being courted by Manchester United after an outstanding term that saw him make 32 appearances for the side who finished fourth in Ligue 1 last term.

How much former Portugal international and current Lille boss Paulo Fonseca had to do with Yoro's switch to the most famous agency of his manager's homeland last season is unclear, but the youngster is being tipped for superstardom.

“I believe Leny in the next year will be at one of the best clubs in Europe," Fonseca said in April. "He started here at 16 with us. He is very ambitious but very disciplined. He grew a lot but he is a kid with a big maturity, with big quality. He’s very focused, very concentrated, he wants to learn every day and I have no doubt in modern football he will be one of the best central defenders in the world."

It is always the aim of Liverpool to build strong, lasting relationships with major agencies across the game and trust with key figures is developed across years of work. The Reds don't work with intermediaries, preferring instead to remain in regular, direct contact with the representatives of players who may one day be real transfer targets at Anfield, like Yoro in the summer 2024.

And while the suggestion is that Spanish and European champions Real Madrid remain in pole position should they decide to formalise their own interest, Liverpool's history with Yoro's agents leaves them well placed to offer an alternative to one of the finest young defenders on the continent.