Real Madrid: Bale agent Jonathan Barnett talks exclusively to AS
Barnett sat down with AS to discuss a broad range of issues, including his upbringing and career, Mino Raiola and Jorge Mendes, the football industry, and Gareth Bale.
In an exclusive interview, the sports agent sat down with AS to discuss a number of issues, ranging from his upbringing and career, Mino Raiola and Jorge Mendes, to the football industry, money, and Gareth Bale.
OK Jonathan. Tell me, who was Jonathan Barnett before Jonathan Barnett the agent?
I was a young man...with hair [laughs]
Was there something before, did you work on another activity?
Yes, I was in the casino business, not on the floor, in the administration.
You're from England, right?
What did your father do?
He was in the casino, I worked for my father.
OK. I was trying to find out if you had had a difficult life when you were a child.
I had a good life, a nice life. My grandfather was an immigrant from Poland who arrived at the beginning of the 20th century, I came from a good background.
Do you enjoy football?
Yes, I love football. I loved it more before I was an agent. [laughs] Now it's business. I used to go and scream like crazy at Arsenal. Home and away, every game, with my father and brothers. Then, when my father got older I went with just my brothers, and we loved Arsenal.
Who is the greatest player you have ever seen?
Seriously? You saw Pelé play? Where?
Yes, Wembley. I am 70, and I was 16 when England won the World Cup [in 1966]. I was at the final when they won it. I saw all the England games that year, but before that I saw Pelé live, as a fan. For me he's the greatest ever.
Did you see Di Stefano?
On TV, but not live, or not that I can remember. He was a fantastic player, him and Butragueño, a fantastic team. I remember watching them.
Who is your favourite Arsenal player ever?
I used to love watching Liam Brady, he was such a great, skillful player. And then there was the Arsenal 'Invincibles' who gave me lots of pleasure watching them going the whole season unbeaten. My childhood memory, though, is that we weren't very good. We went many years without winning anything, until I got a bit older and then they won things.
What time do you normally wake up?
About 5:30-6:00, every day. It's old age. [laughs]
Do you work a lot?
Now, not so much. But I used to work all the time, 25/26 hours a day. It's the only way you succeed. David [business partner] and I started from one kitchen table with no money, no nothing. Now we have the biggest agency in the world.
How did you meet David?
I worked with his father. And when I left I didn't know what I wanted to do, so we decided to start the business.
Which player was your first business deal?
We began with English cricket.
There was a lot of money changing hands in cricket?
No, that wouldn't have given me this office. But today we have other sports: we have rugby, track and field athletics, football obviously, and in America we have an NFL agency. Did you see Forbes magazine? I am now the number one ranked agent.
So football is just a part of your business?
It's the main part of it. By far.
How many phone numbers do you have?
Unfortunately not many girls [laughs]. But a lot of big strong men.
Do you know how much money you have in the bank?
Yes. I know how much.
People who know tend not to have that much.
Right, I don't have a lot of money. [laughs]
I wanted to ask you if you thought money has a similar addiction to drugs?
I’ve never tried drugs. Anybody who says they don't care about money has never really had money. But it's not the most important thing. Family is number one, health number two... but once you get money it's nice. I'm not ashamed of having a lot of money, it's nice. But you must do things with it, give to charities, look after people...
So, you give money to charity?
Yes. I'm quite religious, I'm Jewish. A percentage of my salary goes to charity. It's important. My main charities are for children. I had a young brother who died at 18 from a brain hemorrhage. Every year David and I give something. When we first started up we gave all our players a hamper, with champagne, chocolates and stuff. But it got expensive, so we now donate a few hundred thousand every year, and we built a children's hospital ward. It's very important. We do that as a company and I also give personally. [Jokes about perception] Agents are not so nice so we have to give away a lot to make up for it.
What's the secret to being the agent with the most money in the world?
I don't know about the most money. Don't tell my taxman [laughs]. There's no secret, just being good at what I do. The problem today is that most people don't really understand what real agents do. Newspapers, television... they maybe talk to an agent with one or two players, or an agent that trades and does different things. Our job here is to look after our players. It doesn't stop when the transfer window closes, we don't all go off on holiday for six months. We look after our players.
How do you look after them?
We look after everything. The club doesn't look after them, we do. We make sure that their life is good, everything is taken care of, any problems we look after, we do their marketing, obviously. My job is to ensure that when they retire they are financially secure. And I'm very proud of how well my players have done.
So you're like a father to them all?
Well, more like a business manager. It's not necessarily to be their best friend. Someone they respect, someone they listen to, that’s what's important for me.
How many people work for you?
About 130. In seven countries, including Spain. It's a nice office in Spain, you should go and have a look. We have a great guy there, and have about 10-12 people.
If there was a Ballon d'Or for agents, who would win?
Before Mino Raiola and Jorge Mendes?
Who? Who? [laughs] I'm actually very close to Mino, we're very good friends. And I'm friends with Jorge. We're part of an association, there's no problem between any of us. I think they're both brilliant, by the way. They run a different type of operation to me.
So you're always joking when you talk about the competition between you?
Yes, they are fantastic agents, they do fantastic things for their players. We have one way of working and they have their way.
What makes you different?
I think we get more involved with the personal life of the players. It's about looking after the player properly.
OK. Tell me the truth
Have they ever stolen a player from you?
I was imagining it was like the mafia in old New York
Never with the big agents, it's always the small stupid agents. But very seldom does it work so I'm not worried about them. If anyone wants to leave me they can. I don't hold a gun to anybody's head. And if they do leave, they come back because the little agent can't do anything for them.
Forbes had you at number one, so how much money do you earn?
About 50 pounds [laughs]. Enough to live nicely.
How many players do you have in Spain right now?
I really don't know. A lot.
Which football club president has been the toughest to deal with?
There are some very good presidents. I've never had a problem. The ones that I deal with are very hard, but so am I. We negotiate, we shake hands, it may take a long time, shouting and screaming, but eventually if we get a deal that's it, it's done. I respect someone who doesn't change their mind or cheat you, where I keep my word and they keep their word.
I'm thinking of maybe Daniel Levy (Spurs) or Pinto da Costa (Porto)
Daniel Levy is one of the most honorable men I know.
But he's hard in business, no?
Yes and he thinks he's good, but so am I and I think I'm better. It's very hard to do business with him, in a nice way. He wants the most and I want the most so we argue. But the one thing is that we shake hands on it and we don't need paper. His word is 100%.
What about Florentino Pérez?
Florentino is the same. If he gives his word it’s done. Also a very hard negotiator, I respect him. He's a man when he walks in a room he has a great presence. He fills a room when he walks in the room you know he's the president, he's got great presence. I've only ever found him honorable and he's very nice.
Do you think he knows about football?
Yes, very much. I think he has a great knowledge about football. He likes football, he loves football, and Real Madrid is his life
Do you believe that football lives within a financial bubble that could explode?
No. I think it's bulletproof as long as people are watching. Because people need an outlet. Look in America with basketball, the NBA, NFL has even bigger crowds of people. Football is a passion and as long as people come to the games it generates income for the country, and for the whole world. People want to see that and so my players, who I care about, are the people who are generating fantastic money for the country. The crowd want heroes and we give him that. If people watch on television it'll keep going up and up and up. The future of digital means it'll keep getting bigger and bigger.
But [Ousmane] Dembélé at Barcelona cost €150 million. Is this normal?
Have the club gone broke? Has the club lost money? Are they in trouble? It doesn't matter. I drive a Bentley because it's the best, and I pay a lot for it. I don't drive a Mini. If you want to see the best you have got to buy it. If you want the best player, you've got to pay for it. It would be crazy for a club to buy a player for €500 if they have no money. If you're broke and the club has no money they can't afford €1 for a player. If you have a lot of money you can afford it. If the club is run economically correctly, then there's no problem.
And what about the money players are earning getting higher and higher?
But that's correct. That's what people come to see. If you and I went on the football field nobody would come. They want to see superstars. Whether Real Madrid and Barcelona or here it's Liverpool and Manchester United. When they take to the field it is 60,000, 80,000, 100,000 [in the stadium]. For the small clubs it's maybe 200, 1,000 or 10,000. The big clubs need the superstars and you have to pay for that.
Let's speak about FIFA.
Do we have to? [laughs]
Why do FIFA want to control agent activity?
I believe with all my heart is to get the headlines, to be famous. There's nothing wrong with agents. They come up with stupid ideas. They want headlines, they want to be reelected so the agent is an easy target. It's rubbish. We look after players. If you ask 9/10 players in the world who they want looking after them, their agent or FIFA... you ask them. They've never looked after players, they say they are here to do that but they don't care about players, they care about the industry of football. They have no idea what agents do, the big people of FIFA, like Infantino, have never stepped foot in our offices. You mentioned Raiola, Mendes, myself… big agents, not one of us have had the big fish of FIFA come to our offices and see what we do. But they tell us they can make rules for us. That's against the law, it's not right.
Do you know Raiola earned €40 million taking Pogba from Juventus to United?
He didn't earn 40 million. But why not? How much did he earn to take Pogba from United to Juventus? Nothing. As a young boy from United to Juventus he earned zero. Nobody says that. And nobody held a gun, unless I'm mistaken, to Juventus' head and said you have to pay Raiola X amount of money. What they said was, if we sell him we will give you a percentage. He took a chance. What happens if Pogba had been a failure and they give them away for free? I don't hear Juventus complaining; I don't hear Manchester United complaining. The only people I hear complain, with respect to the press, because it's great publicity, and FIFA make comments without knowing the facts. I was reading today that FIFA are trying to put on a new tournament in Africa. Did you see the money they're taking out of that? FIFA. It's scandalous, look it up. Compared to other clubs. Ludicrous, in Africa.
But do you see how people with normal jobs, like my brother and my father, might react when they see Jorge Mendes taking $10 million when Cristiano moved from Real Madrid to Juventus? It’s lots of money.
Yeah, I don't work too cheaply either.
How much do you need to work to earn €10 million?
When Jorge found Ronaldo he was a young boy with no money, with nothing. Jorge looked after him like he was his son. He brought him up, he did a lot of things for him. He looked after his daily life and made sure that everything was correct for him. A lot of work goes into it.
What did you do for Bale?
Bale has been with me since he was 15, 16 years old. We sat down, we worked with him, we spoke to his parents, we planned a future for him, we negotiated contracts for him. You know, in 1966 England won the World Cup and there were no agents. Of those 11 players I think eight or nine have had to sell their medals, their shirts, and are still working or dead. None of them made money. England made money, FIFA made money, everyone made money except for the players. Now, we as agents make sure that the players are looked after. And that is the cost that people have to pay to get the player. I have earned very good commission, I don't argue with that. But I've never taken a gun and put it on the president’s head and said you've got to pay me. They don't have to pay me. This thing about controlling the player is rubbish. Is what we earn, what we deserve for doing a good job. If I do a bad job nobody's going to pay me any money. If I make the player money he has no problem with me making money.
When you do business do you take money from the player and the club?
Just one. I'm an agent for the player just from the player. Sometimes I act on behalf of the club and that's different.
You're in this business and you know that a lot of people are taking money when a player moves. I'm thinking of the Brazilian market.
That's different. That's what FIFA should look at and everybody else I have no problems with that. It's a different thing when you're working for the player.
I'm thinking of Casemiro, for example. A player that could cost Real Madrid 5 million but another 12 million in commission.
That's a different world. They take children but I think those people are doing a good job and they deserve their money because they take people away from poverty and they give them a life. I'm not sure if it still goes on anymore, I think it's illegal by FIFA so you can't do it. But the kids in Brazil, for example, they take them back to the favelas and the gangsters have got them, and they’ll never play football because it's illegal to do this anymore. I think that's a very bad thing.
How was the meeting you had in London with other agents because it's incredible to imagine you Raiola, Mendes and others at the same table.
Great! It was great. We want the same thing. We refuse to speak to FIFA. Until they come to us and give us assurances that they'll give us proper consultation, and they come with a blank sheet of paper and the rules we discuss between each other, jointly discussed. We can't just except their rules. If they insist on these rules we will be in the courts.
How far will you go?
Every court in the world, we’ll see. If we're wrong, we’re wrong but we will go to the courts. One thing FIFA have to realise is that we've got the money to go to court.
It's still strange thinking of all the agents together
Are you not friends with people in your industry?
It's the same with us. This rivalry thing you're thinking of again is from television and the press saying that we hate each other. Many agents I don’t know but it’s like anything else, when you get to a certain height you know people of that level. And I’m very friendly with them, I socialise with Mina, he lives in one place and I live in another. We have dinner together, we go out. I speak with Jorge, he’s completely mad, but he’s a lovely man. We socialise, it’s not a problem for us.
How many flights to take a month?
I fly many times a week
Do you have your own plane?
No, I don’t have my own plane but I take private jets. I also fly BA
In your expert opinion, is Messi going to end his career at Barcelona?
I don't know. It's not for me to talk about other players. I don't have an opinion on it. I don't care. I only care about my own players.
Do you think Neymar’s career has been well managed?
I can't say. He's not my player, I think he's a great talent
His father is his agent. What do you think about fathers who want to control the players career rather than professionals?
I think it's crazy. You and me know how difficult it is to do some things, like speak to our bank manager to negotiate for ourselves. But I can talk all day for you or for him but when it comes to me it's a different thing. So it's very hard for them, that's number one. Number two they don't really have a proper perspective on their child. It's their son they can't understand. Number three, this business is very professional, that's why I am successful, my company is successful, and other agents are not so successful. We are professional at what we do. Today the marketing side, the social media side, are all professional and need a professional to run it. And with all due respect most of those parents, and are always exceptions, are not professionally trained and don't know how to get the best. It's not just about turning up on Monday morning, knocking on the door and getting a contract. There's more to it than that. And I think if you have a great talent you have got to use the best facilities, the best people. And that's why I think if they use a father or mother or brother or cousin…
I'm thinking of Kylian Mbappé, would you like to represent him?
Sure, but he's got his family and that's fine. I’ll manage to survive.
When there's this type of player with no agent, do you ever call the father and say ‘I'm here’?
Yes, but the father wants to do himself
Do you speak with Mbappé’s father?
Yes, he was very nice, very polite, but he wanted to do it himself. I'm not going to argue with people, I'm too old. I don't call many footballers today, I have a lot of people here to do that.
OK, onto Gareth Bale. You know he left the Bernabéu yesterday on the 82nd minute...
Personally I don't mind but you know what fans are like. Why don't you tell him to stay?
He wants to go with the traffic he wants to get home. He's not in the squad he wants to go home. You can't kill him for that. They lost and he was very upset.
Should he care about these little things?
Well, fans pay for their tickets.
They boo him. He loves Real Madrid, no matter what you say. There's so much rubbish written about Gareth Bale. 'He doesn't speak Spanish,' he does speak Spanish! People who say he doesn't speak Spanish don't know him. They make complete idiots of themselves, they are complete idiots because they talk about somebody that they do not know. They shouldn't say things that they don't know. They get up on television and, it's disgusting, say 'Gareth Bale doesn't speak Spanish.' How do they know he doesn't speak Spanish?
Because they've never heard him as he never speaks.
So what?! I look after Saúl at Atlético Madrid, he's my client too. The other week I was in my office, Gareth Bale was in there, and Saúl came in, by chance. They sat for 10-15 minutes speaking Spanish to each other. No problem. He doesn't have to prove he speaks Spanish to everybody. When he speaks with people from Spain he speaks; when he speaks with someone from Wales he's not going to speak in Spanish.
There's a phrase about not only doing, but showing yourself to others...
Gareth Bale is probably one of the nicest people I've ever met. He's the most fantastic person, one of the nicest people I've ever met. He's a great family man, with a wife and three children. Very private. He's a very private, quiet man. That's him. He loves playing football and he loves the life that he's got. And he doesn't feel - and I agree with him - it's necessary to prove himself to anyone else. It's what he does on the football field that matters, not his private life. And he doesn't want to prove it to anyone else. But as a person, you can ask anyone, he's the kindest, he gives to charities, he does so much work for everybody... but he does it his way. It's disgusting the way people talk about him, it hurts me as a person.
Do you think he's happy in Madrid?
Yes. He loves Madrid; he loves the city. He has a lovely life.
How can a player be happy when he knows that the coach doesn't want him?
That's not true. How do you know the coach doesn't want him?
Yesterday he wasn't in the Copa del Rey squad list...
But how do you know he doesn't want him? I promise you he wants him. Real Madrid want Gareth Bale. There is not a problem between Zidane and Gareth. People write about it but I give up now. I don't care.
Why was he not in the squad?
Ask Zidane. He'll have his reasons. See if he plays on Saturday or Sunday. Maybe he will...
Do you think he prefers football or golf?
Football. Golf is his passion but football is his living.
What do you say to those who say Bale plays just the games he wants and he's not interested in playing in some other games?
They should keep their mouths shut because they don't know what they're talking about. It's better not to say anything and let people think you're an idiot, than open your mouth and let people know you're an idiot. These people are that. They open their mouths and they're idiots.
I think he's afraid of his injuries…
Yes, that's 100%.
What is wrong?
Nothing. It's just his body is very...
Is something wrong in his back?
No, there's no one thing...
Like Jonathan Woodgate?
No. He's been through a lot. He's had a lot of injuries and he's worried about them. He can only train so much, not five days a week. It's got to be handled properly. But he's fine, he can play.
What do you think about Zidane?
He's a very nice man. I think he's a nice person.
When was the last time you spoke with him? Do you have his private number?
I'm not going to tell you that. I'm not saying anything, but whenever I've met him he's very impressive to talk to. He knows what he's talking about.
If he's not the problem with Bale not playing, then what is?
Is there a problem? There’s no problem. Ask Zidane, ask Gareth. It's not for me, I'm an agent. There are many things; it's a way of playing. Maybe he'll play at the weekend, maybe he won't.
So, China. What really happened last summer?
He got an offer that was impossible to refuse. But Real Madrid wouldn't sell him. They [the Chinese club] couldn't pay what Madrid wanted.
China, really, for one of the best players in the world?
Yes, he wanted to create a legacy. He wanted to bring Chinese football up. He had a vision that he could make Chinese football great. He's won everything that he can win, and he's done it many times.
This is why I ask if he is happy at Madrid?
China is a different thing. It was to create a legacy, his name, to be the first great player to go to China. But it wasn't to be... And the money was special too. It would have made him the highest paid player on Earth.
Were there any other offers?
He's not interested in going anywhere. China was a completely different thing. He plays for Real Madrid, you know.
But Real Madrid wanted to sell him in the summer...
Not wanted to. If Gareth wanted, to China yes, but other clubs no.
Can you see a possible return to Tottenham in the future?
No. He's 30 years old, he'll be 31 next year. I don't know how long Gareth will play for. It's what his lifestyle wants. He loves Madrid. His children have been there since they were babies, they speak Spanish, believe it or not [laughs]. The whole lifestyle is fantastic. I was there two days ago in Madrid, it was 15 degrees, beautiful. Here it's freezing cold. If you're one of the greatest footballers to have ever played, why do you want to...
Why didn't Bale go to Man Utd three years ago when Mourinho wanted him?
Every club wanted him. He was happy at Madrid. He was not for sale then, he was one of the best players in the world. He's not for sale now. Real Madrid have always shown great respect for him, the president has always been a Bale fan and shows him unbelievable respect.
How will Bale's story end at Real Madrid?
Hopefully with another Champions League.
Will he see out his contract there?
Yes. You can never say for sure but as of yesterday yes. Maybe with another contract, to stay longer.
Florentino was in love with Bale. And now?
I think he still is. I think he has a fantastic relationship with Bale. He has been fantastic for Real Madrid, why do people talk like he hasn't been? You talk like he hasn't achieved... He's been a great star for Madrid. Before he got there they hadn't won [the Champions League] for how many years?
The last one before Bale, 2002.
Gareth Bale comes and helps, not by himself, he had Ronaldo... He has been unbelievable for Real Madrid. He's won so many things for them. Everyone at the club loves him, and knows how important he was, and still is. Speak to Mr Zidane and he'll tell you. The president loves him.
Was Bale the apple of the president's eye?
I hope so, but he had Ronaldo, Ramos, other players. I think he loves other players as well, I can't say he was the apple of his eye, I'm not that close… the president doesn't say that to me.
OK, the last one. Can Bale still win the Ballon d'Or?
It's unlikely. But you never know.
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