Agnelli, Mourinho, Cruyff, Van Gaal among Most Influential 30-21
ESPN FC is counting down the top 50 most influential men and women in football, as compiled by our editors and writers from around the world.
30. Sunil Gulati - USSF president, FIFA ExCo member
The longest serving USSF president in history, having been re-elected for a second time in 2014, Gulati is now a member of the FIFA executive committee having previously been a member of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee. Since May, he has also been one of a three-man special committee appointed to run and reform crisis-torn CONCACAF.
Gulati has called for the publication of the Garcia Report into allegations of corruption surrounding the Russia and Qatar bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and voted for Prince Ali bin Al Hussein against Sepp Blatter in the recent FIFA presidential election.
Having started out as a youth soccer coach in Connecticut, Gulati has risen to the position of the most powerful man in US Soccer and has widespread influence over the club and international game for men and women. He was a key figure in the U.S. hosting the 1994 World Cup and also headed up the country's 2022 bid.
Gulati at one point served as the deputy commissioner of Major League Soccer and was chiefly responsible for recruiting the league's first class of international stars ahead of the 1996 launch, including Jorge Campos, Roberto Donadoni and Carlos Valderrama.
29. Louis van Gaal - Manchester United manager
We all knew that the rebuilding project at Manchester United was a big one, but it wasn't until the club finished well outside the top four under David Moyes, failing to qualify for the Champions League, that reality really started to sink in. Old Trafford was in dire need of renewal, so the club called on a manager who knows how to throw his weight around. And now Van Gaal is attempting to restore the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The 63-year-old Dutchman could claim to have laid the foundations for the recent successes of clubs he formerly managed, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and last year he led Netherlands to a surprise third-place finish at the World Cup, which featured a staggering 5-1 thrashing of defending champions Spain. What makes him influential, though, is how readily he polarises with his opinions. Whether defending his tactics against various teams or using his CV to help attract players to his latest club, Van Gaal is as quotable and magnetic as Jose Mourinho.
The 2014-15 season ended with Manchester United being restored back to the Champions League, thanks in part to the way LVG managed a subpar squad and got the best out of fringe players such as Ashley Young. Now, though, with a slew of new players, the pressure is really on Van Gaal this season to rekindle the club's grandest tradition: winning silverware.
28. Johan Cruyff - Barcelona and Netherlands legend
At Ajax and Barcelona, Cruyff's past glories hang over the clubs like a cloud. His fluid style of passing-based play and commitment to a 4-3-3 of malleable formation has ensured some of the world's best players now mirror what he began in the '70s. If more celebrated counterparts are put forward as the greatest ever, the innovative mindset that underscored his magnificent talent has made Cruyff the most influential figure in the history of his field.
But nowadays Cruyff is just as influential off the pitch. Or at least he tries to be. When he speaks, especially about his former clubs, people listen. His columns in Dutch newspapers Voetbol International and De Telegraaf cause storms whenever he puts pen to paper, and clubs, the national team and current players and managers are not spared his wrath. He also tried to influence the recent Barcelona presidential elections, throwing his weight behind Joan Laporta, but to no avail. (For more on Cruyff's role in today's game, read Simon Kuper's column here.)
His glory days are gone, but football's David Bowie continues to speak his mind.
27. Khaldoon Al-Mubarak - chairman of Manchester City and City Football Group
Al-Mubarak, 40, has been Manchester City's chairman since 2008, when Sheikh Mansour, the Abu Dhabi royal, took the club over. Since then, City have won two Premier League titles and transformed their operation, as symbolised by the towering, state-of-the-art Etihad Campus training ground.
Al-Mubarak is a member of boards across the business world, but it is for his exploits in football that he has arguably become best known. In all, the highest-profile "voice" of Manchester City has overseen billions of pounds of investment, including in excess of £700 million in the playing squad alone. Further investment outside Manchester has been made into clubs in New York, Melbourne and Yokohama, with Al-Mubarak overseeing the growth of City Football Group on a global scale. It is Al-Mubarak who takes the responsibility of using those resources and putting the right people in position so that City Football Group can remain at the top of the world game.
26. Jose Mourinho - manager, Chelsea
Jose Mourinho is the Premier League's new Sir Alex Ferguson: A dominant leader who knows how to manipulate the press, manage his players and win titles. After returning to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2013, which saw Chelsea finish third, Mourinho finally climbed back to the summit of the league, winning his first domestic title in three years. He also won the league cup.
But more than his efforts on the pitch, Mourinho is guaranteed to make a news conference interesting. His words have power and often hidden meaning, a sort of linguistic Sudoku that requires you to solve the riddle "What does Jose really mean?"
Take for example last season, when Mourinho accused officials of a "campaign" against Chelsea. It was the type of thing ripped right from the Sir Alex playbook and, like Ferguson, Mourinho now has a chance to start building a dynasty at Chelsea, dominate in England and win big in Europe, the ultimate litmus test of a manager's prowess.
ESPN FC'S 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN FOOTBALL
- The list: 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-1 | FC TV
- Marcotti: The power is ultimately derived from the fans
- Brassell: Jorge Mendes -- A national hero in Portugal
- Chaudhary: Jerome Valcke -- The man who makes FIFA tick
- Kuper: Johan Cruyff -- Modern game's father fades from view
- Honigstein: Pep Guardiola -- Bayern boss has more to prove
- Mitten: Gary Neville -- From playing to punditry, coaching
- Merrill: Loretta Lynch -- The face of the FIFA investigation
25. Peter Lim - owner of Valencia
With an estimated worth of $2 billion, 62-year-old Singaporean businessman Lim has become a significant figure in European football. A failed bidder for Liverpool during their turmoil of 2010, he bought a majority share in Valencia in 2014, overseeing the revival of the La Liga club and restructuring their €320 million of debt into a more manageable amount. The comeback extended to the pitch: Valencia finished fourth in 2014-15.
Links with Manchester United saw Lim purchase 50 percent of Salford City, a club run by United's class of '92 -- Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Neville brothers Gary and Phil, in September 2014. Lim, a confidant of super-agent Jorge Mendes, is also involved in third-party ownership, having bought the Spanish striker Rodrigo Moreno Machado and the Portuguese midfielder Andre Gomes via his company Meriton Capital before loaning them to (where else?) Valencia.
24. Marina Granovskaia - Chelsea board member
She's the brain behind much of Chelsea's administrative brilliance in the transfer market. Jose Mourinho has rightly earned praise for the forensic way in which he has altered his squad and done such good business in terms of fees, but many at Stamford Bridge say that has been greatly facilitated by the sharp mind of Granovskaia.
She was influential in bringing Mourinho back to the club and played a role in the £32 million signing of Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid. Her main skill set is in contract negotiations though, ensuring that Eden Hazard and John Terry penned new deals while also keeping within the club's wage structure.
It is little wonder owner Roman Abramovich has entrusted her with implementing his views, and she also co-ordinates so much of the communication between the owner, technical director Michael Emenalo and Mourinho himself. Granovskaia keeps egos in check and makes a very complex job -- one that has also helped Chelsea stay profitable, with a net spend of just £10 million in last summer's transfer window -- seem so easy.
23. Jaume Roures - Mediapro executive
If you're not happy that Real Madrid are kicking off when you're not around to watch, you can blame Roures. As president and founder of Mediapro, which owns the TV rights to the Spanish league, he is a key figure in organising the logistics of the competition and, crucially, deciding kickoff times.
Roures is also the man who leads developments in TV production, rights, technology and distribution for one of the world's biggest leagues and struck a deal to bring broadcasting powerhouse BeIN Sport to Spain in April. The new channel will show the Champions League, Europa League and other international leagues to which Mediapro holds the rights, and is a 50-50 venture that should bring in new revenue opportunities for La Liga. Roures even has a say in the distribution (to whom and how much) of TV money to Spanish clubs, a common source of tension given the unique bargaining rights of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The 65-year-old is also a film producer who has worked on films directed by Woody Allen ("You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" and "Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona") and is currently behind a Barcelona museum that is set to be dedicated to the American director.
22. Andrea Agnelli - president, Juventus
The 39-year-old took over in 2010 after all the damages of the Calciopoli scandal that saw the club relegated to Serie B and stripped of two titles. Agnelli proceeded to balance the books and oversaw the move to a new stadium, which has been so crucial in putting Juve far ahead of pretty much every other Italian club. In fact, Juventus are now valued at $837 million and rank ninth on Forbes' list of the most valuable clubs in football.
Agnelli's work goes beyond Juventus, as he's attempted to modernize Italian football as well. He famously stood against the election of scandal-hit Carlo Tavecchio as Italian FA president -- "His election has ignored the indications of footballers, coaches, referees and a substantial part of Serie A" -- and has been trying to raise awareness and action to prevent the "dying" game in Italy, where Serie A has struggled to adapt after years of declining revenues. Yes, Agnelli wants Juventus to succeed, but through his efforts he also hopes to save Italian football from itself.
21. Nelio Lucas - Chief Executive, Doyen Sport
While third-party ownership is endangered by FIFA's 2014 ruling, a "transitional period" (to use the phrasing of Sepp Blatter) will still allow certain parties to enrich themselves. Lucas, 35, from Portugal, has enjoyed a rapid rise from this largely misunderstood realm having previously worked under Israeli super-agent Pini Zahavi.
Lucas' Doyen investment fund, funded by anonymous businessmen, loans clubs the money to buy talent and then takes a share of profits once they are sold. Doyen and Lucas came to prominence during the convoluted deals that eventually allowed Marcos Rojo to join Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon for £16 million, and Eliaquim Mangala to join Manchester City from FC Porto for £40 million in the summer of 2014.
Doyen also invests in club sponsorships (Sevilla and Granada wore its logos in 2014-15, while Atletico Madrid sported it back in 2011-12), programs like the "Campus Xavi" (a soccer school fronted by the former Barcelona midfielder), career management, player representation and "asset lending," all of which is readily found on its website. One of Doyen's members, Simon Oliveira, also heads David Beckham's PR and consultancy team.
Information from Miguel Delaney and John Brewin was used in this report.