Jonathan Sexton is the beneficiary of a rich club finally sorting out its transfer policy, writes Neil Francis
I have a very loose connection with LOU. LOU who, you might ask. LOU Reed? LOU Diamond Phillips? Well hello Mary LOU? No, Lyon Olympique Universitaire.
In 2011, Lyon won their way out of the Pro Div 2 at a gallop and with massive sponsorship from Renault and backed by the scale of the City of Lyon, second only in size to Paris, they would be a major force in the Top 14 for that coming season. They were going to buy the world. Strange to relate they went straight back down to Pro Div 2 after being hokeyed by just about every team in the Top 14. Their roster burgeoned by a collection of chancers, spoofers, wasters, pension collectors, crocked has-beens and half-fit never-weres.
John Maynard Keynes would be sitting in his kitchen drumming his fingers on the table, looking at you with resigned indifference. The fundamentals of supply and demand were so out of sync that the Jonny Sexton story would become an inevitability. So much money chasing so little talent – it was a miracle it took till 2013 before the French came calling to this septic isle.
There seems to be a small element of doubt as per reports in L'Equipe and Midi Olympique. Semantics. Heads of agreement have been signed. No player or coach movement can be officially declared before April 15. The deal is done, right down to the minutiae. The value of the deal is a fraction over €2m gross over two years.
We might just focus on some matters that are at this moment outside of Jonny Sexton's control which may or may not have a bearing in the coming season or two. Racing Metro are currently in a prone position in mid-table (eighth) in the Top 14 with some seriously difficult matches coming up. They are meandering along, good at home, awful away. Unlikely to make the top six play-offs in the Top 14, unlikely to qualify for the Heineken Cup. More Amlin for Jonny?
The arrangement between the French revenue authorities and certain sporting bodies where 30 per cent of a player's income is classed as image rights or intellectual property and which draws a negligible tax coupon was due to be quashed in 2010. The government relented but it is under review again. That could have a serious impact on salaries.
The French will also introduce stricter foreign player quotas for next season. Philippe Saint Andre bemoaned the fact that Jonny Wilkinson, Brock James and Luke McAllister all occupy starting positions at outhalf in France's top three clubs. This will change soon and many rosters will get emptied out.
They are all the caveats, now let's look at the basis for the deal.
For such a successful man, it is amazing how Jacky Lorenzetti has managed to let his rugby club become so bad. The surly Pierre Berbizier caused a whole lot of in-fighting and on his watch bought some really poor players, spending €1m per annum on Sebastian Chabal and Lionel Nallet – whatever about the marketability of those boys, they were both dreadful buys and they were both dispatched. Where are they now? Being rewarded handsomely at LOU who are equally in a prone position (eighth) in the Pro Div 2.
Racing's current coach Gonzalo Quesada, who apparently knew nothing about Sexton's deal, will be gone at the end of the season and the first sensible decision by Lorenzetti was made three months ago. If you want a successful team, buy a coach who knows what he is doing.
The two best coaches in the Top 14 are Fabien Galthie of Montpellier and the Castres ticket of the two Laurents, Labit and Travers. They are better than Guy Noves or Vern Cotter because they coach crap sides to the play-offs consistently without a fraction of the resources that the others have. Lorenzetti has the two Laurents signed and they will be a major influence. Their player signings seem to be of a much higher quality if they have been accurately reported, although I am not sure how well the two Northampton props will get along in France.
Lorenzetti too will complete a state-of-the-art 32,000-capacity stadium, Arena 92, in Nanterre, right beside La Defense, to be ready in 2014. At €300m, that's a serious investment from Lorenzetti. You wouldn't blame him for wanting to get his team right. Sexton is a very important cog in that dream. Hernandez, the current incumbent at 10, is a ghost of the icon of the 2006/'07 season. Olly Barkley . . . well, I believe LOU are looking for an outhalf.
The value of Sexton is self-evident. His performances over the last four years are the real thing. He will bring to Paris his two best qualities – his right testicle and his left testicle. Something that team are badly in need of. I've always liked narky outhalves but I'm not sure how the French will take to him.
How did the deal come about? I'm fairly certain that if Fintan Drury had not been his agent the deal would not have happened. Whether Sexton had ambition or not to play abroad only crystallised when the scale of the package became apparent. Drury brought the deal to the player, there was no real decision to make.
There are some elements who would suggest that this deal was retribution for the farrago over the Luke Fitzgerald deal. The net result was that Fitzgerald picked up a career-threatening neck injury in
the middle of some quite tetchy contract negotiations and was badly treated. Drury was on the other side of those negotiations. That assertion is rubbish. Drury, no matter how many feathers he has ruffled, is a professional. Any previous negotiations with any other client would have been an irrelevance. Sexton's deal was a cold business decision, nothing else.
I am sympathetic to the Union's stance but there are two strands of the story where the finger can be pointed at them. It would seem that the offer by the IRFU – although generous – was stuck at €400k, not any higher. It would also seem that the Union have a greater priority in terms of trying to amortise the loan on the Aviva Stadium on a far quicker time-frame than seems necessary. The Stadium is an asset – the players, their means of production, are seen as a cost which they are trying to trim at the moment. If that is all that they can afford then that is all that they can afford.
Let's talk about the money – apart from what Racing will be paying Sexton and I think that will be done on a tax-efficient basis – Sexton has contracts with adidas and 02 – one running into six figures, and one not too far away from that. Sexton will still get international match fees and training camp time fees which could add up to €70-80k for a good season. He will, if he keeps playing well, pick up €75k plus for the Lions and he will still pick up his Charlie McCreevy money (the tax break for professional athletes) when he returns. Add it all up and I guesstimate a net amount of €80k per month.
Would I go for that? I would sell my 98-year-old bewildered and infirm aunt Bridie to the meat plants and let them turn her into Bridie Burgers for the chance. Only one winner here Johnny Sexy-Wallet. Lukey next.