Jonathan Barnett is one of the most important figures in football — and yet you may never have heard of him.
Gareth Bale’s agent might not be a household name, but he has been a driving force behind the biggest transfer story of the summer, the will-he-won’t-he frenzy surrounding his client’s almost certain record-breaking transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid.
The north London club professed its displeasure earlier in the transfer window when Spanish newspaper Marca quoted Barnett as telling Real: “Have no doubts: Gareth has wanted to play for Madrid since he was a kid.”
The agent reportedly followed this up by claiming a few weeks ago that “Bale is very upset with [Tottenham manager André] Villas-Boas for what he said in Monaco [that the player was going nowhere] and is considering not even going to training this week because right now he is very upset.”
Barnett, 63, a St John’s Wood Synagogue member who is “fiercely proud” of his Judaism, has been caught up in controversy before. In 2006, he was banned by the Football Association for 12 months and fined a record £100,000 for his role in organising a secret rendezvous between his client Ashley Cole and Chelsea representatives.
None of the figures involved, including Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon, had permission from Arsenal, for whom Cole was playing at the time. The FA’s Independent Disciplinary Commission called Barnett “a prime mover in the setting up of the meeting” which eventually led to Cole’s contentious transfer in August 2006.
His determination to push high-profile deals through has led to the Evening Standard referring to “the gregarious Barnett” as an “aggressive numbers man, who combines driving a hard bargain with a love of the high life.”
Barnett himself has defended his involvement with the transfer, stating that “I did what I had to do for my client. I represented Ashley Cole. Time has proved if you look at what he’s achieved at Chelsea, it was the right move.”
Fellow agent Barry Silkman says that Barnett’s actions were blown out of proportion.
“It’s part of being an agent, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. I don’t look at him as one of the baddies. I find him good as gold. He’s definitely one of the better ones.”
Barnett grew up on Baker Street in the West End of London, entering the workplace as an employee of Curzon House Group, a casino business owned by his family. He says that his upbringing in a “very traditional family” imbued him with the principles he lives by, both in business and his personal life.
Despite the notorious nature of his profession, the football agent says he believes that “as long as one does their best and is truthful and honest, good things happen in the long term.”
Barnett owns Stellar Group, an agency he founded with David Manasseh in 1994. It was Brian Lara, the West Indies cricket superstar and Barnett’s first world-class client, who introduced the agent to Manasseh, who Barnett maintains has been crucial to his success: “I wouldn’t have achieved anything without my partner.”
Despite his considerable success in having created, in his words, “one of the largest football agencies in the world,” the husband and father of three sons insists: “I’m more proud of my family.”