Cristiano Ronaldo selling his image rights to Valencia’s owner happened because of the most powerful man in soccer

Soccer’s version of six degrees of Kevin Bacon is much more simplified. It’s usually just one degree: Jorge Mendes.

That was certainly the case when Cristiano Ronaldo sold his half of his image rights to Peter Lim, a Singaporean businessman who also happens to own Valencia CF.

At Real Madrid, a players’ image rights are the cornerstone of the club’s commercial strategy.

One of Florentino Perez’s main innovations when he took over the club back in 2000 was to create a model in which every player on the squad ceded 50 percent of his image rights to the club. The club’s argument was that — given that Real Madrid was a global brand with giant business interests everywhere — it could help the player exploit his image rights on a larger scale than if the player tried to manage them on his own. Madrid argued that it was a win-win for both sides: The player made more money, and the club made more money.

When people say, glibly, that Real Madrid buys players because they sell a lot of shirts, that’s not exactly correct. Shirt sales aren’t really a huge source of income for the club. What they really mean is image rights.

Cristiano Ronaldo, however, isn’t just any ol’ player. He recognized, correctly, that he didn’t really need Real Madrid to manage his image rights. He knew that his brand was big enough that he probably stood to make more if he just kept all the rights and managed them himself. The image rights issue almost torpedoed his transfer to Real Madrid back in 2009. It also threatened to scuttle his contract extension with Real Madrid in 2013.

Now, Ronaldo has sold his 50 percent share of his image rights to Lim.

The key man in the middle of all this? Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes.

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15:  Crsitiano Ronaldo (R) speaks with his agent Jorge Mendes (R) after his signing contract renewal For Real Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)Getty Images

Crsitiano Ronaldo glances back at his agent Jorge Mendes after his signing contract renewal for Real Madrid. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Mendes is widely known as the most powerful agent in the sport. His client list includes Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, David De Gea, Diego Costa, Pepe, James Rodriguez, Jose Mourinho, and, of course, the crown jewel, Cristiano Ronaldo.

If you look at that list, all of those players have been in mega transfers in recent years. Mendes also acts as a business partner and personal adviser to Peter Lim. Mendes has been the central figure in Valencia’s squad construction in the past year, brokering deals worth 85 million euros between Valencia and Benfica, where his ties run deep.

Now he’s brokered a seemingly unprecedented deal. One of the world’s biggest stars will effectively be tied to a rival club’s owner. If that isn’t a conflict of interest then I don’t know what is. Moreover, Ronaldo is putting his team’s president, Florentino Perez, in the awkward position of having to negotiate any commercial deals with a fellow owner. Ronaldo won’t mind, though, considering how pissed he is at Florentino lately.

More importantly, this speaks to the increasingly complex and opaque web of business interests that are now commonplace in the modern game. Gone are the days where a player was owned by a club and that’s it. Now, it is a chaotic world in which nebulous third party owners and player agents are gaining more and more power, sometimes seemingly making transfer decisions at big clubs.

Game of Thrones told me that chaos isn’t a pit, chaos is a ladder. And the guy who always seems to be at the top of the ladder is Jorge Mendes.

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