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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Why has Ruben Neves joined Wolves? It's down to Jorge Mendes

Ruben Neves
Ruben Neves is one of Europe's hottest young midfielders.

One of the transfer coups of the summer has been pulled off by English Championship club Wolverhampton Wanderers. Ruben Neves, 20, is a jewel from the Portuguese production line of talent who holds the distinction of being the youngest Champions League captain of all time -- when skippering FC Porto at 18 years and 221 days in an October 2015 defeat of Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Neves was linked with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool last month, but has moved to Molineux in what looks a cut-price deal worth around £15 million. But how did this deal come about?

What sort of player have Wolves signed?

Neves has been marked for greatness at Porto since he joined the club as an eight-year-old. Unlike many modern-day teenage prodigies, he is not a flying winger or forward. Instead, he is a classical Portuguese deep-lying midfielder, capable of dictating the passing tempo of his team. He has frequently been compared to Joao Moutinho, now with Monaco and a predecessor at Porto.

Since making a scoring debut for Porto in 2014, Neves has been in the first-team squad, and made his debut for the Portugal national team in November 2015, although he missed out on being a part of his country's Euro 2016-winning squad. He frequently shone for Portugal's Under-21 team and played for them at last month's European Championship.

Why Wolves?

The simple answer is the presence of super-agent Jorge Mendes (who also represents Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho) as an advisor to the club's Chinese owners.

Mendes played a leading role in last year's takeover by the Fosun International group. Furthermore, Wolves' new manager is fellow Portuguese Nuno Espirito Santo, who became Mendes' first ever client back in 1996 as a goalkeeper in his playing days.

Mendes' influence at Valencia previously landed Nuno the manager's job at Valencia, for an 18-month spell that ended with his replacement by Gary Neville in November 2015, and last season at Porto, which ended with his contract being terminated after a season without silverware.

In January, Wolves made the £13m signing of winger Helder Costa, having previously loaned him from Benfica. Mendes' influence in Portugal gives him access to talent across the board in his home country. Last month, defender Roderick Miranda was signed from Rio Ave, another club with Mendes links, and once coached by Nuno.

Nuno has been in charge of the club since May.

What are the implications?

Though Wolves club officials last month denied that Mendes is in charge of club transfer policy, which would be illegal under FA rules, it appears he has a considerable say on incoming and outgoings players. Nuno's predecessor, Paul Lambert, who had steadied the ship after former Italy goalkeeper Walter Zenga had the club teetering on the brink of relegation, walked away after a dispute over recruitment.

"Someone, because of the friendship with the owners, that we take opinions and advice from," is how Wolves MD Laurie Dalrymple described Mendes.

Neves' arrival suggests that Wolves are likely to be used as a shop window for Mendes' players. Costa's displays last season, including an eye-catching performance when Liverpool were beaten 2-1 in the FA Cup in January, have won him a few admirers.

Porto, meanwhile, lose a player that could either have been the foundation of the team for years to come or could be cashed in eventually to a European elite club.

For Neves himself, beyond moving to a second-division fallen giant in England's industrial West Midlands and earning the high wages that Championship clubs now pay, joining up with Nuno appears a curiosity -- he started just six Liga games for Porto last season under Wolves' new manager.

Warnings from history?

When Mendes was working in close quarters with Valencia owner with Peter Lim, the club suffered a serious downturn in fortunes with Nuno at the helm, with fans staging public demonstrations against the agent's influence. Though Mendes' links were lessened by the departure of Nuno, Valencia remain a club in a tailspin.

Neves, Costa and Miranda are unlikely to be the last Portuguese players that come to Wolves, and though all possess pedigree, previous examples of agents having strong influence over an English club have not brought much success.

Monaco-based agent Willie McKay helped Doncaster Rovers bring in Premier League talent like El-Hadji Diouf, Pascal Chimbonda, Habib Beye and Freddie Piquionne during the 2011-12 season, but the club could not avoid relegation from the Championship.

"Willie's brought some great players into this club but it just didn't work," club chairman John Ryan remarked as the relationship ended.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.


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