How Petraglia Transformed Athletico into Brazil’s Biggest Seller

How Petraglia Transformed Athletico into Brazil’s Biggest Seller

The meeting took place in the office of the chief executive of Manchester United, David Gill, inside the legendary Old Trafford Stadium. It was July 15, 2003 and Mario Celso Petraglia traveled to England to negotiate the steering wheel Kleberson, five-time champion with the Brazilian team the previous year.

At the request of the strongman of the Athletico, all the businessmen present, with an eye on slices of the business commission, left the room. The negotiation would have to be direct.

Friendly with United, asked Petraglia. Denied. Partnership between clubs? Also denied. Negotiations continued and the value was reached at around 6 million pounds – almost R$38 million at the current price. The English were sure they would pay in three installments.

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The athletic director then asked for bank guarantees. The response came in a disdainful tone, recalls the then director of international relations at Furacão, Alexandre Rocha Loures, responsible for translating into Portuguese.

“We are Manchester United, we are the guarantee,” said Gill.

An uncomfortable silence took over the room and, subsequently, it was Petraglia who spoke. It was a real all-in, a poker move in which everything is bet at once.

“He said he was very happy with the interest in Kleberson, that the player really wanted to play there, one of the biggest clubs in the world. But there are things that money can’t buy and that he wouldn’t negotiate anymore”, says Rocha Loures.

Mario Celso Petraglia then closed his notebook, placed it on the table without any delicacy and then leaned back in his chair, leaving the Red Devils directors in a tailspin.

Shortly afterwards, Athletico representatives were taken to another room, where they waited a few minutes – Manchester United had agreed to make payment in cash, everything as planned.

Petraglia, however, remained impassive. His expression didn’t change. The athletic director, astonished, questioned the reason. After all, it was one of the biggest sales in the club’s history and the first of a Brazilian for the European giant.

“A little deal worth six million pounds. I’m used to doing R$150 million, R$250 million”, explained Petraglia, a successful businessman before revolutionizing the club in 1995.

The negotiator

Between 2014 and 2023, Athletico raised R$746 million with player sales, placing it as the 14th club in the world, according to a survey carried out by the Football Observatory of the Swiss International Center for Sports Studies (CIES). It is the only Brazilian team in the top 50, with a profit of R$660.1 million in the period.

The result is a sum of factors, which undeniably converge in the figure of the current president, who turns 80 years old this Sunday (11). But at the time of Kleberson’s sale – one of the first made without the participation of the Uruguayan businessman Juan Figer – Furacão was still in its infancy in its project and was little known internationally, even though it had already won the 2001 Brasileirão and, structurally, had built the CT do Caju and the first version of the Arena da Baixada.

“You could say that he was a warrior with rustic weapons”, points out Rocha Loures, who worked at the club between 2003 and 2009, when he followed the initial stage in the transformation of Rubro-Negro into a leading seller in the football market.

“Today, Petraglia has technological weapons. It has bargaining power, it can value its products much more, since there is a whole structure behind it. The project was successful… The guy is a born negotiator, football was just an environment in that he adapted after learning everything from Figer, Carletto [Antônio Carletto Sobrinho]”.

The teacher

Died in 2021, aged 87, Figer was a teacher for Petraglia. Before the manager took the reins, the agent led several negotiations between red and black athletes, including the departures of strikers Paulo Rink, to the German Bayer Leverkusen, and Lucas, to the French Rennes.

“Mr. Juan is certainly one of the main people responsible for my career in football. The little I know and learned was from him. In São Paulo, in the late afternoons, I went to the office to talk to him”, says Petraglia, in a message in WhatsApp sent to Juan’s granddaughter, the businesswoman Stephanie Figer, on January 29th and obtained by OneTwo Sports.

“Many nights we went out for dinner and I explored his knowledge. His grandfather was a football genius. All the innovations applied by agents today were created by him”, adds the director.

Despite the admiration, the commercial partnership was not eternal. And one of the reasons was the situation of the last five-time champion who played in Brazilian football. Athletico’s objective was to sell Kleberson during the European winter window, which ended in January 2003.

Figer, who had signed as a representative of the Atletico strongman’s player, did not bring definitive negotiation offers, only for a loan. Petraglia rejected the English Newcastle and Leeds, as well as the Scottish Celtic, because “champion players don’t lend themselves”.

During the incursion into Northwest England in June, Petraglia took over the conversations. “He knew how to create a way to get rid of the intermediary figure called businessman. He forgot about Juan Figer and others. With that, the club started to have a greater added value. It was always about negotiating personally”, recalls the former president João Augusto Fleury da Rocha, partner since the beginning of the athletic revolution, in 1995.

Vision miles ahead

For Fleury, Mario Celso Petraglia’s difference is combining his acumen and reasoning “miles ahead”, with in-depth knowledge, the result of hours of study and dedication.

In 1998, for example, the end of the Pass Law completely changed the hierarchy of the club/athlete relationship. The division into economic and federative rights transformed players into financial assets above the technical representation of the field.

“And financial assets are subject to economic evaluation. As a result, it [Petraglia] applied the same laws to football that govern the market. Football is an extension of this market, and he has always understood that. He has an academic background in accounting, administration, law and economics, as well as a huge practice in a successful company, which was Inepar.”

In 2000, Athletico traded striker Lucas to Rennes. The final price was US$21 million. “I slept at Inter Milan and woke up at Rennes. With the proposals he had in hand, he negotiated masterfully”, comments Lucas, who out of gratitude calls Petraglia “my father”.

The deal, however, was never explained in detail by the club. According to a 2011 report from People’s Gazette, the center forward made a bridge to Rentistas, from Uruguay, who paid R$ 13.3 million for 50% of the player’s economic rights, in 2000.

The team from the neighboring country – linked to Juan Figer – already had 50% of the rights to the number 9 shirt, acquired from Furacão in 1998 for R$500,000. One day after gaining all the rights, he completed the negotiation with the French team for R$37.3 million, at the price at the time.

“When I wake up the next day, I take the ticket to go to Paris, then the jet to go to Rennes, where I met with Petraglia. Without a doubt, he is the greatest negotiator of all time in Brazilian football”, says Lucas.

The right-back negotiation Alberto, in 1999, also went through a similar script. At the time of the club’s election in 2011, the CAPGigante ticket justified, without mentioning the bridge at Rentistas, that both negotiations “injected around 10 million dollars into Furacão’s coffers, which were used to settle the debt that had remained after the completion of the Arena in June 1999”.

“All these issues were audited. Mario was always suspected of obtaining an advantage for himself in intermediation, but these are typical things in football gossip. Athletico, during my management, was audited by two large companies”, he argues Fleury.

Perception and coldness

In football, Petraglia’s negotiating skills go far beyond selling players. He noticed, for example, the proximity of the boom of the market streaming long before other directors, so much so that he chose not to negotiate with Globo in 2019 to maintain his rights with the club.

Following the law change via Provisional Measure, in 2020, Athletico found itself as the only team in the Brasileirão negotiating the broadcast of its own matches.

“Petraglia looks ahead, has management skills, knows the market and is a good negotiator. And he is very cold. That is talent”, praises the lawyer Luiz Fernando Pereira, who became a personal friend during the nine years until the Arena debt was resolved.

According to Pereira, the manager himself once confided in him about the main characteristic that a good negotiator needs to have.

“It’s the ability to realize that whoever is on the other side will not go back on the idea of ​​doing the deal, that the key has turned. When they realize this, they can increase the value if they are selling or decrease it if they are buying.”

Another characteristic is that Petraglia never set a price for the players, recalls Rocha Loures. When the proposal arrived, it was rejected outright if it was not ideal. The process was repeated until the amount reached the level needed to close a deal.</p

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