Luis Campos was a disruptive influence in French football for Paris Saint-Germain. Twice he helped to build teams that beat them to the Ligue 1 title; first with Monaco and then with Lille.
But now, rather than proving a thorn in the side of the Qatari-backed Parisian club, he is helping to shape their future.
PSG have overseen a major overhaul this summer. The heavyweight stars of Lionel Messi and Neymar have departed, while 13 new signings have arrived in their stead. Campos, as the club’s consultant sporting advisor, has helped to make it happen.
The Portuguese transfer guru has a gilded reputation, and has been linked with posts at many of Europe’s major clubs following his success in France. It is not just about trophies; his transfer dealings have resulted in enormous profits. At Lille, players he signed who were later sold for big money included Nicolas Pepe, Victor Osimhen and Rafael Leao. At Monaco, he sought out Fabinho, Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy. Combined, the sale of these eight players alone helped their clubs recoup a reported €450million (£388m, $481m). They were all signed for less than €100m.
Now Campos has a very different remit — his task is to help bring the Champions League trophy to PSG for the first time. It is one that comes with significant pressure and scrutiny; and indeed, for much of this past summer, reports in France have questioned whether he would stay in post at all.
He arrived last summer more or less at the behest of Kylian Mbappe, a signal that PSG were aiming to rebuild their squad to appease the now France captain. With Mbappe’s future up in the air, so too therefore was that of Campos. As sporting advisor, the Portuguese was responsible for the appointment of Christophe Galtier as manager and the two were seen as a duo; the combination that had won Lille their title. Galtier was dismissed in July this year. Would Campos go with him?
Yet the 59-year-old still stands. More than that, Campos has had the chance to completely reshape this PSG project, working in lockstep with new head coach Luis Enrique, and club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
Despite the noise, he has been integral to the summer’s work.
PSG are embarking on a new era, epitomised by the departure of stars, the arrival of a new head coach with a distinct philosophy and the opening of their brand-new training centre. They want a squad that is younger and that will provide a pathway to sustainability as well as success. After Financial Fair Play (FFP) constraints last year, Campos has had the freedom of a bigger budget, with weighty departures, not least Neymar and Messi, opening new horizons. And PSG have spent big. More than €300m committed in total, with major signings including Randal Kolo Muani (€75m plus add-ons from Eintracht Frankfurt), Goncalo Ramos (loan then a deal worth an initial €65m and €15m in add-ons from Benfica), Manuel Ugarte (€60m from Sporting), Lucas Hernandez (€40m plus add-ons from Bayern Munich) and Ousmane Dembele (€50m from Barcelona).
It has been a transformative few months, with the window’s work met positively in Paris. Now, though, the defining tests await. Talk of a new direction will meet the weight of expectation as PSG’s most coveted competition, the Champions League, begins. For so long, the pursuit of European silverware has defined what success means to the club. Will that continue? PSG, who have always lived and breathed the short term, have still retained the services of Campos, a squad builder who looks mainly to the long term.
Can he put the club on the path to success? And for Campos, after years bolstering the underdog, can he elevate a project backed by a nation-state?
Luis Campos does not work full-time in Paris. His official job title is that of ‘football advisor’ and he is contracted as a consultant, working essentially on a part-time basis. His base is still in Monaco, where his consultancy has resided for more than a decade. He has worked with various clubs, such as Turkish side Galatasaray, in recent years, while his agreement with PSG sits alongside his advisory work with La Liga side Celta Vigo. Celta are a club that has a personal connection for Campos; he grew up in northern Portugal, on the coast near to Braga. As a child, he would often attend Celta’s Balaidos stadium, which sits just over the northern border with Spain, more often than either Porto, or Benfica to the south in Lisbon.
According to sources close to the Portuguese transfer specialist, who spoke on condition of anonymity (like all those consulted for this piece in order to protect their working relationships and jobs), the idea for his transfer advisory consultancy is straightforward. He wants it to be the ‘KPMG’ of football.
“He has a talent,” says Carlos Carvalhal, who worked with Campos last season as head coach of Celta Vigo. “It’s a talent that developed because he played football and was a coach, but that’s not enough (on its own). You must have something. His instinct is absolutely fantastic because he has discovered players that after three or four years have left for millions and millions. It’s unbelievable what he is doing.”
Carvalhal first met Campos in the 1980s. The former Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday head coach grew up in Braga, 20 minutes away from Campos, who was born in the small coastal town of Fao. The pair met in youth matches; Campos playing for AD Esposende, and Carvalhal at Braga. Campos did not have a hugely successful football career, and went to university in Porto to study physical education. After, he worked as a youth coach at Esposende and went into senior coaching. He did not build a glittering resume; in fact he attained the nickname ‘Luis Campa’ (Luis ‘Grave’), after overseeing relegations as coach of Vitoria de Setubal and then Varzim. He did, though, end Jose Mourinho’s 27-game unbeaten run with Porto, as head coach of Gil Vicente.
Campos would swap that nickname for ‘campao’ (champion) in the transfer market with success in Monaco, which followed a time working in Mourinho’s backroom staff at Real Madrid. He was invited to France in 2013 by Monaco’s Vasim Vasilyev, the advisor to Russian owner Dmitry Rybolovlev. The project was initially built around signing ready-made stars, like Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, but that evolved quickly into building for the longer term. Campos left the club in 2016, with Monaco recording successive European finishes before winning the title in 2017. He repeated the trick at Lille, where he stayed between 2017 and 2020.
Squad building is his forte. He uses a multidisciplinary team that is spread across the world to find talent. Some of his staff are on permanent contracts, others, those close to him say, are inside clubs. His right-hand man, Olivier Gagne, assists him at PSG after working together at Lille.
“In Lille, there was one person on Africa, another on South America, Europe was divided into several sectors,“ former Lille general manager Fernando da Cruz told Le Parisien last year. ”The scouts were not assigned to the same region all the time, however, they rotated every two months at the request of Luis to refine the eye and the reports. There was a classification of players by level A, B, C or D sometimes, for each position.”
“It’s very easy to work with him,” says Carvalhal. “Luis and his staff have a database, and they come to me and the club and say: ‘For this situation, and this position and level of money, we have six solutions at a high level, that’s very expensive, medium and low. That’s low price with a bright future. This is my preference, second, third, fourth… to six. It’s amazing.”
For Campos, in a modern era defined increasingly by the use of data, in-person scouting remains key. “For me, live observation is fundamental,“ he told the Transfer Window podcast. “For example, a small detail such as observing how a player warms up before a game or coming on as a substitute reveals much of his character. And character is an essential marker in detecting a top talent.”
“Once, I saw a player I liked and I spoke to him about,” says Carvalhal. “He liked him too but he said to me: ‘I think there is something wrong with this player’. Afterwards, and he does this all the time, he looked into the personal life and family life. What he is doing out of the training and so on. The next day, he came back to me and said: ‘Carlos, forget this player’. I didn’t ask any questions because I know when he says to forget this player, you have to forget them.”
Those close to Campos insist his focus is on sporting aspects as opposed to economics and agents but he is also very well connected within the industry too, not least within Portugal. He has frequently worked with Jorge Mendes, the ‘super agent’ whose influence has grown at PSG since Campos’ arrival. Six players represented by his Gestifute agency have joined the club under Campos’ watch, including Ramos and Bradley Barcola.
Success in an often bruising football industry requires a steeliness, and self-belief, and Campos is not someone afraid of the attention. That has been evident at PSG, where he has been spotted on the touchline during games, notably stepping into the technical area while PSG were trailing 3-2 to Lille in February, storming ahead of coach Christophe Galtier to vent his frustrations. He is visible too in open training sessions, and is not afraid to go before a camera. After a 3-2 home defeat by Lorient, Campos appeared on Canal+ to call for unity to secure last year’s title.
But Campos also knows his worth and that makes him an interesting character to be thrown into the heart of a political and ego-marked arena like PSG. “At Lille, he arrived during the season, in December, with Gerard Lopez who had taken over the club,” recalled former player Julian Palmieri to Onze Mondial. “Very quickly, he knew how to mark his territory. His strength is there, he quickly imposes himself.”
There is ego there, of course. One source who has negotiated with Campos described him as “charming, funny, and fiery, with a big ego, but good company”.
He certainly has pride in his work: “I don’t want to appear arrogant but I assure you I will create other ‘masterpieces’ like (Monaco) in my career,“ he told the Transfer Window podcast. ”Many parents have suddenly appeared for our project and player recruitment, many of whom claim paternity even though they ‘never had sex with the mother or even slept in the same bed’! But the world of football doesn’t sleep and knows very well who made a team which today anyone who likes football admires and respects. Because nothing happened by chance.”
He is not afraid to upset people. At all three of his French clubs he would create ‘lofts’, or a group of undesirables seen to have no future with the club. At Lille, he put big names up for sale, including Marko Basa, Rio Mavuba, Marvin Martin and Vincent Enyeama. There was a loft too at PSG, where Mbappe resided before he was brought back in from the cold. Those close to Campos outline that he sees changes in personnel as similar to that in any business, where executives make changes in cycles and move pieces around.
Clashes can happen. In general, those close to Campos outline that he has always maintained good relationships with his coaches. “At Celta, he was not always there because he was working at PSG but if I needed him, he was there,” adds Carvalhal. “He was there in the crucial moments, to take key decisions. It was very easy to work with them, because we had the same vision for the club.”
There is one exception, in Marcelo Bielsa. At an industrial tribunal where Bielsa contested his sacking for unfair dismissal, the Argentine was quoted by L’Equipe as saying: “Campos never wanted to help me. It was impossible to talk football with him. What interested him was only the commercial part, transfers, commissions, agents, percentages… Football didn’t interest him.”
At PSG, Campos had a difficult relationship with Antero Henrique, another sporting advisor who was responsible for player sales last season. Campos felt the Brazilian was responsible for last summer’s stunted window. He has clashed with players too, such as in the dressing room with Neymar and Marquinhos after the 4-3 win over Lille, ahead of the club’s Champions League tie with Bayern Munich. This, though, was later played down as normal discussions in the heat of battle. “Someone has to tell the players the truths to their faces,” Campos said.
Perhaps such a character is what’s needed to survive at PSG and instil the changes required.
“You need someone with a strong character, and who doesn’t talk bullshit,” added Palmieri after Campos’ appointment. “Some players did as they want (at PSG), they don’t respect the institution. The arrival of Campos can change that.”
Campos’ relationship with club president Al-Khelaifi was not always smooth in their first year together, a natural conflict perhaps between the financial and sporting interest, but that has only served to improve their communication. This summer the pair have forged a strong working relationship and, alongside Luis Enrique, the trio have worked seamlessly to implement wide-ranging changes to the playing staff.
Al-Khelaifi has been heavily involved in the transfer window, particularly regarding the closure of transfers that seemed to have met an impasse, such as the signing of Kolo Muani from Frankfurt, where Al-Khelaifi’s intervention, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, ensured lingering issues were resolved with a minute to spare on deadline day. Al-Khelaifi has been integral to completing player sales, too.
Today, there is a settled sense within the PSG hierarchy, despite a summer of noise suggesting Campos could leave. Even after the window, Le Parisien reported that a clash between Campos and Victoriano Melero, the club’s general secretary, and Gregory Durand, the director of the legal department, put his position at risk. This was fiercely denied by PSG, with a source with knowledge of the matter emphasising the issue was overblown, outlining how disagreements were common when staff have different and competing remits; Campos to improve the squad and Melero, for instance, to ensure the club is profitable and FFP compliant.
Noise about Campos pockmarked the summer, in part connected to the Mbappe saga too. Campos has been close to Mbappe, and had even agreed to join Real Madrid with the France captain last summer before the PSG player renewed his contract instead. Uncertainty was rekindled after Galtier’s dismissal but the reality is that Campos was brought in to build for the future. He has two years remaining on his contract, and Al-Khelaifi works well with him.
“In this summer transfer window, I can say that Luís Campos and I worked together 20 hours a day for two months without stopping,” Al-Khelaifi told Portuguese outlet Record earlier this month. “I think everyone can see the great results of this work.”
Campos found the first year was difficult. He was known to talk about jigsaws but he felt he didn’t have the pieces to implement the project he would like, while those at the club weren’t sure what the final picture was meant to be. Limited by sales and a huge FFP handicap, including the risk of a €60m fine for failing to meet a UEFA settlement agreement, the squad was evidently incomplete. Campos admitted as much publicly, albeit in an interview that was unauthorised: “We are at the end of the window without the perfect balance,” he told RMC Sport in that interview last year. “It is a serious problem for us.” This would prove prophetic, as a lack of depth in defence proved costly as injuries struck for the club’s Champions League tie with Bayern Munich in March.
This summer has been a different story. PSG now have depth in all areas, including the possibility of a fully French front line in Mbappe, Kolo Muani and Dembele. Some targets were acquired before Luis Enrique’s arrival, such as Marco Asensio and Ugarte. Campos also featured prominently in extensive deliberations regarding a new head coach, although unlike last year, Luis Enrique was not an appointment just at his behest. The process was regarded as a detailed and democratic process featuring nine names, such as Jose Mourinho (who was removed quickly as he had previously jilted PSG for Manchester United), Julian Nagelsmann (who was considered but not as close as some reports suggested) and Zinedine Zidane (who was not considered).
After an initial one-to-one meeting with the new coach, targets were refined to build what is now a younger and more dynamic squad. Aside perhaps from Bernardo Silva, most targets were attained. Campos considered the window an eight out of 10.
Now it is about seeing whether this squad can deliver for a club seeking a new identity. And whether Campos can deliver on this unique challenge.
“PSG is a challenge but when you go to Lille, and make them a Champions League team, that is something amazing,” says Carvalhal. “There is more focus on PSG, more pressure maybe. But they are changing things and the correct person to change things in one club is Luis.
“He doesn’t look at defeats, he looks to the future. That is why sometimes the projects take two or three or four years to reach their best. What he did in Lille, what he did in Monaco was absolutely fantastic. What he is starting to do in PSG is absolutely the same. It is not easy, this kind of transition when two stars like Neymar and Messi go out and he must rebuild the team and prepare the team for the future. He is doing that and I’m absolutely sure that in one to three years PSG will be in the best teams in Europe.”
(Top photo: Christian Liewig – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)