“I don’t trade in the market, I am the market,” he once said. Dutch-Italian football agent Mino Raiola, who died at the age of 54, exemplified the rise of agents in modern football.

Born in the impoverished region of southern Italy, he grew up in the Netherlands, where his workaholic immigrant parents established a pizza chain. Raiola likened his family to the Corleone family in the Godfather movie, just without the use of violence. His parents taught him a service ethic: Their pizzeria was an extension of their home, every customer should be considered family, and if you cleaned the restaurant’s toilets, people would come back.

He brings that ethics to football. A born businessman who became a millionaire at 19 after buying and selling McDonald’s in the small town of Haarlem, he began using his language skills to move Dutch footballers to his parents’ hometown.

In a football world obsessed with appearance, he was always sloppy. “I’m fat and small,” he once explained. “For a long time, people underestimated me. They said, ‘He can’t even dress normally. “That was my chance.” His breakthrough came in 1996, when he discovered Czech footballer Pavel Nedved, before the world. The timing is impeccable. The new Boseman ruling of the European Court of Justice allows out-of-contract players to transfer across the EU without paying a transfer fee. Meanwhile, TV money is flooding football. Players need trusted advisors.

Raiola prides himself on his small clientele, which allows him to provide every warm and personal service like a restaurant customer. Former Netherlands defender Roddy Tepin recalls hours talking about life on a café terrace: “He felt like family. And he was always available.”

Some players called Raiola twice a day, but when Mario Balotelli reported his house was on fire, Raiola suggested he try the fire brigade. Raiola has shown his loyalty to his players by publicly attacking their clubs and managers, especially against his favourite foe, current Manchester City manager Guardiola.

He urged his players to work like Nedved, who trains at the club as an aperitif and then works harder in his garden. That’s Raiola’s philosophy: “Rest is not part of my profession.”

He understands that even the smallest transfer of a junior journeyman can change a person’s life. While other agents aim to maintain a good relationship with the club, Raiola is a tough negotiator, happy to leave the negotiating table or lie about players’ current salaries. He usually doesn’t celebrate deals, instead worrying about potentially paying more if he pushes the club.

Wary of his players’ tendency to splurge on money, he urged them to invest only in “bricks”, preferably in Amsterdam, “the cheapest capital in the world”.

He considers himself the best agent, but not the best father. He estimates he spends 30 days a year at his home in Monaco and the rest of the time visiting his beloved players. When his wife complained, “You have two official kids and a bunch of unofficial kids,” he joked, “Which is the official one?”

He crisscrossed Europe, speaking to club executives in seven languages, listening to their plans and anticipating changes in the transfer market. A decade ago, he realised early on that Italian clubs were running out of money and that Paris Saint-Germain were heading for dominance. He pushed his client Zlatan Ibrahimovic to move from Milan to Paris. Last week, Ibrahimovic visited his “best friend” Raiola on his deathbed.

Instead of waiting for the club to make an offer, Raiola decided where his players should go, and it came to fruition. In 2016, he orchestrated Paul Pogba’s move from Juventus to Manchester United. With a world record transfer fee of €105m, Raiola, who earned an estimated €48m, managed to get both the club and Pogba to pay – contradicting his claims that he only worked for his players .

He then used United’s weak leadership to sell more of his clients to the club – something the club may now regret. He often attributes his success to the stupidity of the industry. “Other agents are dumber than me,” he once joked.

His ambitions include reforming football’s global authority, FIFA, by becoming president; running Italy as an “enlightened dictator” (and dividing the country into north and south); and switching to mergers and acquisitions to acquire football clubs. He said his takeover of Queens Park Rangers only fell through with a goal of getting them to the Premier League.

In his final months, he was negotiating the biggest transfer in football, the move of Norwegian Erling Braut Haaland from Borussia Dortmund. Raiola, who competes with each other in bidding clubs, plans his final payday, though he claims to only care about money as a scorecard for success.

Two premature announcements of his death from lung disease allowed him to read his first obituary from his hospital bed in Milan. On Friday, his Twitter account complained: “The current state of health of those who want to know: They are angry for the second time in 4 months and they killed me.” He leaves behind a wife, two sons and a future child. The completed Haaland deal.