I thought Mino and Jorge Mendes did all the big deals these days.
But Doug called from Antibes last night and said Pini did the Neymar deal for 222 million Euros.
And earned 35m Euros in commission.
My friend Gassan had known Pini for years. Gass would tell me when Pini was in town, so I would call him and learn a lot. He told me things I didn’t know. Pini was educational. Always.
Here’s one of the conversations we had in May 1992 :
Pini Zahavi, the former Israeli sportswriter who is friends with Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness, is a jet-set football agent.
He brings players out of the CIS to find fame and fortune with clubs in the West.
On May 19th he had just flown in for the Sampdoria-Barcelona European Cup Final at Wembley, and was already fielding calls and visitors in his suite at the Royal Lancaster Hotel.
His schedule would take him back to Israel on May 21st, then on to Moscow on June 3rd, south again to the Ukraine, followed by three weeks at the European Championships in Sweden. In the summer he plans to move three players to Italy , and two of whom are not even in the CIS team.
Zahavi, an ex-football editor of Tel-a-Viv’s biggest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, loves artistic football, and was a big fan of Dynamo Kiev,but since diplomatic relations between Moscow and Israel were broken off in 1967, he could not visit USSR.
“I admired the football of Kiev for a long, long time, but I had no intention of going there,” he recalls. “And then the breakthrough happened five years ago, a few months after perestroika started. Dynamo Kiev were in Germany at a training camp, and we decided to invite them for a friendly game. ”
It was at this juncture that Kiev coach Valeri Lobanovsky proved himself a brave man. “He decided to come over without asking permission from the Government or even the Football Federation. He just said OK, and they took the first plane to Israel. That was really something because since ’67, it was as if Israel was on the moon. It was something historic. In the German paper Der Spiegel they said it was like the ping-pong match between China and America, that many people believed opened the doors between the two countries.”
Kiev soon scored three goals but, not wishing to humiliate their hosts, scored only one more in the second half. Then, after a few months, there was testimonial match for Oleg Blokhin, and Zahavi arranged for the Israeli star, Eli Ohana, then with Belgian club Mechelen, to play as a guest.
“It was a really nice experience. The KGB couldn’t understand why they decided to invite an Israeli, but I got a lot of support from the Russian Federation. And since then I’m very close, very friendly with both sides, the Russian Federation and Dynamo Kiev, and I’m representing some of the top players now.”
When Alexei Mikhailichenko was transferred from Kiev to Sampdoria, Zahavi was involved as a consultant to Kiev. “When he started he played superbly well for two months. But then he made a big mistake because he didn’t realise Sampdoria is a little mafia.You have to be friendly with Vialli and Mancini, and Mikhailichenko was a big star like them, but a foreigner. They were against him, so he found himself out of the team.”
The Rangers midfielder is now the undisputed skipper of the CIS team. “They accept him as the leader. He has proved himself as the leader. And everybody respects him there, very much so.
“In the past it was very hard for the players that came before him, like Zavarov at Juventus. He was brilliant, but this was before the perestroika had an influence on the players. They can adjust themselves more easily to the west now.”
Intelligence, it seems, is the key quality in becoming a successful exile.
“In Italy or Portugal, or anywhere on the continent, they have to be very clever. The one who has done best of all is Shalimov. His transfer fee was $2 million from Spartak Moscow to Foggia, and now he’s moved from Foggia to Inter Milan for $16 million after one year.
“But I don’t think he’s the best Russian player who is playing abroad. There are some, like Yuran at Benfica, he is a superb striker. I was involved in taking Kulkov and Yuran to Benfica, they will both stay there next season. Many English clubs, by the way, are after Yuran, but Benfica won’t sell him now. Kolyvanov will stay at Foggia. Dynamo has a superb libero who was connected to Tottenham, Tveiba, but he would prefer not to play in UK, the continent will suit him better.”
He says Anatoly Byshovets is a good coach, but a very hard man. An intriguing snippet concerns Kiriakov, the little red-haired striker who scored in the 2-2 draw against England in Moscow last month. “There are sometimes funny things happening, sometimes a national coach is trying to help some players to get to the top. But I cannot say in a paper why it is so, but you have to use your imagination. Byshovets will try to push Kiriakov very, very hard, and to give him success, and once he succeeds, he will go to play very soon in Italy.”
Since 80% of the CIS players are now seasoned professionals with foreign clubs, they will have an advantage they have never enjoyed before.
“This is the last time they will play together, next time they will be separate national teams, Ukraine and Russia. Soviet players have never really been patriotic, except maybe 30 or 40 years ago. In ’88, when they lost to Holland in the final, they played superbly well because they wanted to go abroad, and because they got plenty of money for the tournament. Nobody could dream about money in those days, and they got hard currency.”
At first the fans resented the exodus of their heroes, says Zahavi, but not now. “They understand that everybody wants to make his living. Most footballers get married very early. The CIS have very good players, but the situation there might influence results. Otherwise I’d bet on them. They are one of the best teams. But I think Holland, and France are the favourites. Not Germany. The Germans play strong football, but I don’t think it’s good enough against the French and the Dutch. I think CIS might beat Germany in that first match. I don’t believe that England has a chance. ”
I spoke to Pini again on the morning after Ronald Koeman’s thunderous free-kick had given Barcelona their first European Cup, and asked him if the final had proved what he had been saying about Sampdoria needing a stronger, younger midfielder player.
“Exactly,” he said. “I talked last night about that when went for dinner after the game. That was the real problem, the middle-field of Sampdoria, because there was no organiser. And Mancini wanted to be everything, middle-field, front, playing anyway he likes. I don’t think he listens to anybody. So I think that they missed Mikhailichenko very much. A player like him could have helped them a lot in that game.
“I think Vialli wasn’t 100% fit. And he started to be a playmaker, everybody wants to be a playmaker. Both teams didn’t play well, in my opinion, although it was a good second half, and the atmosphere was fantastic. The better team won the game, no doubt.”
PS. It’s really shocking to realise that I wrote that 25 years ago. The only good news is that I remember that Final well and vividly recall watching Samp train at Wembley the night before.