Tillerson in Istanbul amid Turkey-US tensions

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on Sunday holding talks with Turkish leaders in Istanbul in a bid to iron out a series of disputes on issues ranging from Syria to last year’s failed coup.After arriving from Ukraine, Tillerson met in Istanbul wi…

July 9, 2017

Frenchman arrested with Belgians charged over terror

A 42-year-old Frenchman suspected of plotting attacks with two Belgian brothers was charged with terror offences on Sunday, a judicial source said.The source said the man, known to authorities before his arrest, was charged with arms possession and hav…

July 9, 2017

India set West Indies 191 to win only T20

India’s lower-order failed to capitalise on a flying start from their openers, but still managed to post a challenging 190 for six batting first against the West Indies in the one-off T20 international at Sabina Park on Sunday.Skipper Virat Kohli (39 o…

July 9, 2017

IAAF clears 16 Russians to compete as neutrals

Sixteen Russian athletes, including 2013 world long jump champion Aleksandr Menkov, were given the green light Sunday to compete internationally as neutrals, world athletics’ governing body announced.The International Association of Athletics Federatio…

July 9, 2017

Europe must claim tax due from US giants: France

France’s finance minister urged his European counterparts Sunday to do more to chase down tax due from the European operations of US tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook.Bruno Le Maire’s comments addressed an issue which has aroused fierce c…

July 9, 2017

Rahm romps to Irish Open title

Jon Rahm fired a stunning seven-under-par final round of 65 to cruise to a six-shot victory in the Irish Open at Portstewart on Sunday.The Spaniard avoided a two-stroke penalty early in his round on his way to joining the greats of Spanish golf, includ…

July 9, 2017

Vettel claims Bottas start at Austrian GP was ‘un-human’

A headstrong Sebastian Vettel continued to flirt with controversy on Sunday by accusing the victorious Valtteri Bottas of jumping the start at the Austrian Grand Prix.The German, who finished second, rejected the evidence of official data and described…

July 9, 2017

US vows to press China to enforce NKorea sanctions

The United States will crank up pressure on China to ensure that it implements sanctions against North Korea over its missile tests, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations pledged Sunday.After North Korea conducted its intercontinental ballistic…

July 9, 2017

Royal Jordanian Airlines says US laptop ban lifted

Royal Jordanian Airlines said on Sunday it has won an exemption from a US ban on passengers carrying laptops and tablet computers on flights from its hub in Amman.The announcement comes more than three months after the United States prohibited such dev…

July 9, 2017

Farah eases to victory in London, Thompson edges Schippers

British athletics superstar Mo Farah eased to victory in the 3000 metres at the Diamond League meet in the London Stadium on Sunday and said off-the-track matters did not concern him.The 34-year-old said he could do little about his medical records bei…

July 9, 2017

Uran wins Tour ninth stage, Froome keeps yellow

Colombian Rigoberto Uran won a drama-filled ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday as Australian Richie Porte and Briton Geraint Thomas crashed out.Champion Chris Froome retained the yellow jersey after finishing the stage third, behind Frenchman …

July 9, 2017

Richie Porte crashes spectacularly out of Tour de France

Australian Richie Porte crashed spectacularly out of the Tour de France on a treacherous and costly ninth stage on Sunday.Briton Geraint Thomas, who started the day second overall, had already crashed out 100km from the finish when Porte, who was fifth…

July 9, 2017

Mino Raiola: ‘Genius’ and ‘big mouth’ best friend to the stars

Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans or tracksuit and trainers, it is easy to mistake Mino Raiola for just another chubby beer-loving football fan rather than the razor-sharp mind who dominates the world transfer market.

Raiola, whose Italian roots and love of pasta is highlighted by his family’s pizza restaurant, is said to have been instrumental in orchestrating Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku’s latest signing at Manchester United for a reported £75million ($97m, 85.5m euros) over the weekend.

The 24-year-old’s transfer from Everton — for a record fee between British clubs — was reportedly supported by another of Raiola’s proteges and Lukaku’s close friend, Paul Pogba.

It was Raiola who masterminded Pogba’s own record-smashing 105-million-euro ($119 million) return to the ‘Red Devils’ a year ago.

He has looked after Swedish great Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the last 15 years and also manages Mario Balotelli, Blaise Matuidi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Raiola did extremely well out of United last year making an estimated £40m from Pogba’s transfer from Juventus alone while stablemates Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic also joined at Old Trafford.

Raiola’s “a man that always thinks ahead and he’s a perfectionist who’s always working unbelievably hard to get the best deals for his players,” Willem Vissers, a Dutch football writer for the respected daily De Volkskrant has told AFP.

– Humble roots –

Raiola was born into humble roots. His family owns a cosy, traditional pizza restaurant in the Dutch medieval city of Haarlem.

He first honed his skills on football and the art of negotiating while waiting tables at the Ristorante Napoli.

“The board of the (now defunct) local football club Haarlem FC used to come and dine there at least once a week,” said Edwin Struis, a freelance football writer who worked at a Haarlem paper in the early 1990s.

“Warranted or unwarranted, Mino would chirp in, giving his opinions on the state of the club and football in general,” Struis has told AFP.

“It got to a point where they simply said, ‘Since you know so much, why don’t you just join the board?'” said Struis.

Raiola briefly worked as technical director at Haarlem FC, but he had much grander ideas: setting up a partnership to transfer players from Italian club Napoli.

Naples is close to the southern Italian city of Nocera Inferiore, from where Raiola moved with his parents when he was one in 1968.

– ‘Sopranos lookalike’ –

Many in football mistakenly brushed aside Raiola because of his jeans-and-T-shirt uniform.

Even Ibrahimovic in his autobiography “I am Zlatan” said he thought Raiola was a character from “The Sopranos” TV series when they first met.

“In the beginning they all underestimated him because of the way he dressed,” said Vissers, who has interviewed the elusive agent and been a keen follower of his career.

These days, nobody dismisses Raiola, one of the most powerful people in football.

His first big break came with the signing of Czech midfield star Pavel Nedved, a former Ballon d’Or winner, in 1992.

After that, other greats like Ibrahimovic and Pogba — and now Lukaku — followed.

It is not all plain-sailing for Raiola however. The Football Leaks media consortium alleged late last year that the agent had transferred Pogba’s multi-million image rights to the offshore haven of Jersey. The agent has dismissed the reports as imaginary.

Raiola’s own income and tendency to shoot from the hip has earned him the admiration — and ire — of many in football.

“Unfortunately, he’s made it a bit of a habit to insult people,” said Struis.

Five years ago Barcelona threatened to break ties with Raiola after he criticised then coach Pep Guardiola over his deteriorating relationship with Ibrahimovic.

He crossed the line for many in the Netherlands when he called late national football icon Johan Cruyff a “demented dickhead” for allegedly suggesting that ex-footballers should be given top football industry jobs.

Raiola later apologised to Cruyff, but said he stood by his viewpoints on jobs for pals.

– ‘Donald Trump of football’ –

“He has a sharp tongue — some would even say he’s a bit of a loudmouth that uses lots of words but doesn’t say much,” said Struis.

Gael Mahe, a former Pogba representative, calls Raiola a “genius” for his deal making.

“He is the Donald Trump of football, a big mouth who knows how to sell and who has built his own skyscrapers. Each of his players has virtually the value of a Manhattan building,” Mahe told AFP.

And Ibrahimovic has only good things to say in his autobiography.

“Shall I spell it out here? Mino is a genius,” said the world’s third-highest earning footballer in 2016 after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

July 9, 2017