Rafaela Pimenta is often referred to as the most influential woman in the football industry due to her role as an agent representing high-profile players such as Erling Haaland. In a predominantly male-dominated world, her 20+ years of experience have given her a unique level of power. Pimenta has built a successful partnership with Mino Raiola, quietly closing some of the largest deals in global football while Raiola garners attention as a loud and outspoken super-agent.
After Raiola passed away in the previous year, Pimenta has assumed a more visible position as she leads her agency in Monaco. However, during a relaxed lunch conversation, Pimenta reveals that throughout her many years in men’s football, she has only encountered two other women in positions of influence. “I have worked with Marina Granovskaia [the former director of Chelsea who oversaw the team’s transfers during Abramovich’s time] and I have met Karren Brady once at West Ham. That’s the extent of it.”
Pimenta gave a wry smile. “In the past, women would often use a man’s name when writing a book in order to get it published. Many women who made important scientific discoveries never received credit for their work. It’s both surprising and disheartening to see that this is still happening today.”
As a female, it takes much more effort to be heard and taken seriously compared to men. Society often labels women as “bitches” or “emotional” if they express anger or react to a situation, while men are allowed to exhibit these traits without judgement. Female leaders are often criticized for being “too ambitious” or “cold” while it is seen as acceptable for men to display these qualities. In our industry, there is a clear lack of equality. The recent events surrounding the women’s World Cup highlight this issue. It begs the question, what is going on?
Pimenta stands for Esther González and Misa Rodríguez, who were members of the victorious Spanish team in the World Cup. However, Spain’s exceptional football performance was overshadowed by the unwanted kiss from Luis Rubiales, the president of their football federation, towards Jenni Hermoso. Hermoso faced criticism from those who defended the deeply ingrained misogyny in Spanish football, but she eventually filed a criminal complaint against Rubiales for sexual abuse. Despite this, it still took Rubiales three weeks to resign.
Pimenta questions how anyone could think they could get away with such actions. They also question how anyone could show support for this person. While it’s possible that one person may have acted alone, the fact that it took some time for the incident to occur suggests that the entire system is not working together to denounce such behavior.
What was the coping mechanism of Rodríguez and González? “I frequently spoke with Misa and Esther as it was concerning to witness their emotions. It was heartbreaking to witness their intense struggle and the challenges faced by women in the world of football. Sadly, their accomplishments were overshadowed by abuse.
I am proficient in multiple languages, which allows me to read a wide variety of content from different parts of the world. Recently, I came across some individuals who hold the belief that a girl’s reaction to a small kiss may be seen as an overreaction and that she may have wanted it.
Pimenta gazes up with determined purpose. “There is much to accomplish, but football can be a powerful tool. It can drive change.”
When inquiring about potential change, Pimenta affirms and explains, “That’s one of the reasons I’m here. My goal is to inspire at least one girl to strive for her desires.”
Pimenta, a former law professor, incorporated football topics into her teaching in São Paulo to entice students. She later joined the Brazilian government to work on anti-trust laws. While writing her PhD in international law, she crossed paths with Raiola, who sought her assistance in comprehending Brazilian transfer laws. However, his personality hindered him from heeding Pimenta’s advice.
“I encountered Mino, who was puffing away like a chimney and sporting a large red watch,” Pimenta recalls. “No matter what I said about the law, he always had a response. After an hour, I finally said, ‘If you’re such an expert on Brazilian law, then go ahead and do as you please. Goodbye.’ I was so frustrated, I had to leave.”
Raiola was greatly impressed by Pimenta and went to great lengths to find her after she relocated to Brasilia, even without her contact information or social media presence. He expressed remorse and Pimenta recalls him saying, “You’re the only person I’ve met who truly knows what they’re doing. If I do anything in Brazil, it will only be with you.” However, Pimenta declined his offer, stating, “That’s kind of you, Mino Raiola, but I have no interest in working with you.”
Raiola was resolute and he assisted Pimenta in recognizing that the world of football would provide her with the opportunity to combine her two passions: law and psychology. Pimenta’s exceptional skills in negotiations and her ability to show empathy towards players impressed Raiola so much that he convinced her to join him in Europe. Raiola later remarked, “Clubs believe their problems are solved once I depart and Rafaela takes charge. But after five minutes, they beg for my return. She’s unstoppable!”
According to Pimenta, we worked together in a complementary manner. Mino and I functioned as a team, each with our own distinct roles and backgrounds. In a male-dominated environment, I faced the additional challenges of being a foreigner, a woman, and Brazilian. Despite these obstacles, we achieved a lot in Italy where there was a widespread belief that Brazilian women were only there for sexual purposes.
Mino stood out from the rest. He was extremely intelligent, but he never dressed formally or followed societal norms. He recognized that he was the only one who could speak up. With so many obstacles already, it would have been overwhelming to also have to deal with criticism for a woman speaking. Our main focus was simply completing the task at hand.
In April 2022, while Pimenta was handling Haaland’s transfer from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester City, Raiola passed away. Despite her grief, she managed to finalize the deal a few months later. Haaland’s performance in the Premier League has flourished since then. Pimenta remembers the experience as emotional, as she had hoped for Raiola to be present. During Erling’s first game, she couldn’t stop crying.
She collaborates closely with Haaland and his father, Alf-Inge, and her expression brightens. “I enjoy working with the Haalands because they value professionalism and communicate clearly. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, they listen to and respect your input. It’s incredibly refreshing.”
Pimenta praises Haaland’s personality, stating that he is grounded, self-aware, and unaffected by fame and wealth. Despite being only 23 years old, Haaland is described as mature, introspective, and peaceful. Additionally, he has a love for food.
Pimenta finds it amusing, but firmly believes that Haaland has the potential to become the first football player to earn a billion pounds. She clarifies that this amount includes not just transfer fees, but also other sources of income such as salaries, broadcasting deals, sponsorships, ticket and merchandise sales. She believes that with a player like Erling, the total earnings could reach one billion pounds over the course of his career, as players nowadays can continue playing until the age of 35.
“The profit potential in the gaming industry is enormous. In the metaverse, I may have the opportunity to sell a digital version of Erling Haaland for €2,000 to a potential audience of 100 million people in countries like India, China, Brazil, and Mexico. It is possible that we will reach a point where I can immerse myself in a football game using virtual reality goggles, evoking the same emotions as if I were physically present. This would truly be a 3D virtual experience. Therefore, it is possible that we may offer the football game experience not just to broadcasters, but also to individual consumers who may not have the means or access to attend a live game at prestigious stadiums like the Bernabéu or Etihad. With the metaverse, they can feel as if they are actually there. Therefore, when I mention a potential audience of one billion, I am taking into account factors beyond physical limitations.”
“The cost of transfers continues to rise. I remember discussing with Mino when Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United from Juventus in 2016, saying ‘We should set the fee at Bale’s amount plus one euro.’ Mino asked why, to which I replied, ‘We want to exceed the world record set by Jonathan Barnett for Gareth Bale’s transfer from Spurs to Real Madrid, so it should be just one euro more than his fee.’ In the end, the fee ended up being higher.”
United ended up paying a total of €110m in the end. Pimenta remembers a prior encounter with Sir Alex Ferguson while Pogba was still at United. She describes it as more of a disaster than a meeting, as Sir Alex came in furious, hitting the table and causing their tea to spill. Both he and Mino were incredibly angry, resulting in a disastrous situation.
Pimenta laughs before becoming contemplative as she considers Pogba’s travails which have him facing a long ban after failing a drugs test. “We’re working on [an appeal] but, being a lawyer, I’m the first to believe that if something needs to be discussed on a legal level, it needs to stay there. But I always have hope.”
Paul Pogba refers to her as his surrogate mother and Pimenta declares: “I will forever support Paul. He is an integral part of my life and I am thankful for the way he has treated me with respect. He has grown tremendously since I first met him as a child. Now, he is a father of three and I believe he will continue to mature. What I admire about Paul is that he always tries to find a learning opportunity in any negative situation.”
Is Pogba often misunderstood? Some people may judge him based on his haircut, but he doesn’t spend six hours thinking about it. He only considers it when his barber suggests a change. Pogba himself says he doesn’t really care. When he posted about his haircut on Instagram, it was actually ahead of the trend. Now, many other players do the same. Even teams like Lazio have a fancy barber room at their training ground. During the last Brazil national team gathering, getting a haircut was one of the activities offered.
Pimenta is currently involved in a larger fight. She holds the belief that Fifa is deliberately trying to weaken agents because they advocate for players who are not yet involved in the decision-making and planning of football. Pimenta argues that footballers are being overworked, to their own detriment, as Fifa continues to impose stricter rules on agents.
“They view us as a nuisance because we are the ones voicing our concerns about the excessive number of matches and travel time for both the national team and club competitions. It seems that the motive behind these regulations is to diminish the power of agents, thereby making players more vulnerable. While there may be several violations within these rules, it will ultimately be up to a judge to determine the outcome.”
“When Mino was initially suspended, the suspension was ultimately reversed once we took the case to court. However, a prominent figure tweeted in support of Mino and received a call demanding that they delete the tweet if they wanted to continue working in the football industry. I trust this person’s account. Unfortunately, our opposing party [Fifa] has virtually unlimited financial resources in this legal battle, whereas we do not. Therefore, our only hope is for justice to prevail. And as long as we are alive, we will continue to fight for it.”