Jonathan barnett, the super-agent behind star players such as gareth bale, is a man who knows his standing in the lucrative world of football.
I was voted the worlds most powerful agent by forbes last year, he said, speaking to the financial times on completing his biggest deal yet: the sale of stellar group his london-based company that represents 800 top athletes across the world to hollywood talent agency icm partners.
Weve done a lot of big deals, the sort of money you have to make to become the number one agent...this [sale to icm] was a very nice one as well.
While declining to reveal the value of the deal they gave me the money. and i said: thank you. the sale caps a remarkable rise for a company founded in 1992 from a kitchen table alongside business partner david manasseh.
Stellar has a lengthy list of football clients, from atltico madrids saul niguez to aston villas jack grealish. mr barnett is best-known for arranging his biggest deal: bales transfer from tottenham to real madrid in 2013, for a then world-record fee of 85m.last month, he facilitated bales return to tottenham hotspur on a loan deal.
For los angeles-based icm, whose clients include actor samuel l jackson and singer beyonc knowles-carter, the acquisition represents its first move into sports. it also follows a concerted effort by the largest us entertainment agencies to break into the worlds favourite game.
Base soccer, an uk agency that represents the likes of manchester citys kyle walker and tottenhams dele alli, was snapped up by creative artists agency for an undisclosed sum in 2019. over the past two years, roc nation, a new york agency founded by rapper jay-z, added to its roster of musicians and us sports stars by signing high-profile european footballers, including manchester uniteds marcus rashford and inter milans romelu lukaku.
The pandemic has hit the entertainment and sports industries hard and with concerts and film production being delayed, icm has cut jobs.
There has been some pain and that is unfortunate, said chris silbermann, icm chief executive, but the acquisition of stellar was required to emerge from this period stronger than we went into it.
As well as footballers, mr barnett represents athletes in north americas national football league as well as in international cricket and rugby. he and mr manasseh will become executive chairmen of a new division, icm stellar sports, tasked with signing clients across us sports, including american football and basketball.
Stellars core business is under pressure, however. football agents principally make money through commissions from player transfer fees, which have fallen in value during the pandemic, with european clubs facing significant shortfalls due to empty stadiums. even before coronavirus, mr barnetts agency suffered a 10m drop in revenues to 29.2m in 2019, while pre-tax profits were 4.8m, down from 11.5m a year earlier.
Mr barnett said his agency had proven resilient, however, by operating at the top of the market where there remains strong interest in leading players. as well as facilitating bales loan deal with tottenham, stellar secured ben chilwells 50m move from leicester city to chelsea in august.
Without being blas, i think the cream comes to the top, he said. we have the cream of the players, we have fantastic young players...i think we would have done even better had there not been a pandemic. but we did ok during it.
Another threat to earnings comes from fifa, international footballs governing body, which is seeking to introduce new regulations for player transfers, including caps on agent fees. such measures would limit the multimillion-euro commissions earned from big transfers.
English premier league clubs paid a combined 263m to agents and intermediaries in the 12 months to january 31 2020, according to the football association, the national governing body.
Mr barnett has joined a group of other leading football agents, including jorge mendes and mino raiola, to mount a legal challenge against proposed regulations which he described as ill founded and a disgrace.
Its going to take a huge fight, he added. its going to take years. were geared up for it. were financially prepared for it.
Mr barnett said measures designed to prevent agents taking huge sums out of the game stemmed from a misunderstanding of his profession. the rise of football agents over the past three decades, he said, had ensured the majority of wealth in the sport flowed towards the players.
Ive seen guys who are retired, who have been with me since they were kids, becoming extremely rich and wealthy men, said mr barnett. dont put me down as a saint, because i'm not. but i get a kick out of that.