French club bid big for Barrett

Beauden Barrett on the way to scoring one of his four tries against the Wallabies. Photo: Getty...
Beauden Barrett on the way to scoring one of his four tries against the Wallabies las month. Photo: Getty Images
Beauden Barrett has reportedly been made an offer to become the richest rugby player in history.

It is highly unlikely that Barrett would bail out on one of the great All Blacks careers in his prime, but respected French newspaper L'Equipe have reported that French rugby club Lyon have made an audacious bid for the back-to-back world player of the year.

According to reports in L'Equipe, Barrett tops the wish-list of wealthy French clubs in the Top 14 as they eye a potential talent influx following the 2019 World Cup in Japan. They are said to be ready to smash Dan Carter's reported world record salary of €1.4million (NZ$2.48m) a year for his near three seasons with Parisian club Racing 92.

Barrett is world rugby's most sought-after All Black and, according to L'Equipe, has received a big-money offer from Lyon for his services post-RWC, while Stade Francais, Montpellier and Racing are also said to be in the market for the Kiwi star.

L'Equipe said Lyon had tabled a €1.5m-a-season (NZ$2.6m) offer to secure Barrett's services, and claimed the size of the potential deal had forced him to think hard on it, rather than dismiss it out of hand.

Earlier this week former All Black five-eighths Lima Sopoaga warned that New Zealand's global rugby dominance is at risk.

The Highlander who moved to British club Wasps this season, has warned of a growing exodus of players in their prime, who are making ''business decisions'' to seek their fortunes in Europe, reports the Daily Mail.

For years, New Zealand have managed to hold on to the bulk of their leading lights by refusing to pick players based abroad. The allure of the black jersey guarded against a mass migration, but Sopoaga believes that others are ready to give their best years to clubs offering lucrative contracts in the northern hemisphere.

''I do think that things are starting to change and players are starting to wise up,'' he said. '''They realise that it's a business these days. When you've got it, you've got it, but when you don't, clubs aren't going to be afraid to cut you.

''For players these days, a lot of us are starting to talk to each other more and talk about experiences and about how we can benefit from the game, because it is a business and it can be pretty cut-throat. That's the way it is. Players are starting to wise up to that.''

Until now, the trend has been for Kiwi veterans to head north in search of a last big contract before retiring, but Sopoaga believes that more 20-somethings are considering that career-defining step.

''I think it is a pattern. For a lot of guys like myself, who come from big families, from low socio-economic backgrounds, the chance to change your family's life is pretty overwhelming. It's not something you should take lightly.

''Sometimes the jersey is not enough for a better life. It is special when you do get it, the experiences you do have are pretty surreal, but down the track those things don't pay for a roof over your head.''

Read Gregor Paul's column from 28 August: Why Beauden Barrett won't turn his back on the All Blacks after 2019 World Cup:

It's true that Beauden Barrett would almost certainly become the highest paid rugby player in history if he chooses to leave New Zealand after the next World Cup.

Who knows how much a French club owner with a bank balance as big as his ego would be willing to offer Barrett ... $3 million a season? Maybe $4 million? Possibly $5 million?

The player market doesn't comply necessarily to supply and demand economics but is instead driven by emotion and vanity, so when a player such as Barrett comes along and is capable of wielding such incredible influence, logic and rationale go out the window.

But it is also true that the prospect of Barrett choosing to leave New Zealand after the next World Cup is slim.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has said Barrett, who is contracted to the end of 2019, is, in theory, an enhanced flight risk following his virtuoso performance at Eden Park in the second Bledisloe Cup test.

Tew believes Barrett's 30-point haul will have upped his value in the European market and widened the gap between what the All Blacks No 10 can earn here and what he would be able to make at an offshore glamour club.

But, again, while it's true Barrett has enhanced his standing as the world's most coveted player, it's not true to believe he's more of a flight risk this week than last.

Nor should it be overlooked that NZR is trying to pull a few emotional levers in its quest to source more funding. For the past few years, NZR has spent between $5 million and $7 million more than it has earned — a scenario that is not sustainable longer term.

It either needs to find more revenue or cut costs and Tew is perhaps, through inference, indulging in a touch of emotional blackmail by suggesting that unless someone (and his sights are now set on the Government) stumps up more cash, then the nation might have to resign itself to losing Barrett to the clutches of a foreign investor.

Of course, that could happen — but to suggest all it will take to lure Barrett offshore is more money sells him and the All Blacks short.

A player of Barrett's standing doesn't sell himself to the highest bidder.

There is more to evaluating a career than money, and in the past decade, there hasn't been an established All Blacks superstar who has decided to leave New Zealand in their prime. Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith all gave their best years to the All Blacks. All reached veteran status before they headed offshore or retired. It's the same with Kieran Read and Ben Smith, Dane Coles, too, and probably Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick will also lock themselves into contracts that keep them in New Zealand until the 2023 World Cup.

And it's a reasonable guess that Barrett will be looking to do the same because there is a realisation within the professional fraternity that there is no value that can be placed on test football. Money can't buy the experience and at just 27, Barrett knows he can have his cake and eat it, so to speak.

He will be 32 come the 2023 World Cup — younger than Carter was at the 2015 tournament and potentially at the peak of his considerable powers.

Barrett has only touched the surface of his potential and by 2023 could have established himself as one of the greatest rugby players of all time.

Whatever any club is willing to offer him next year could be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled by 2023.

And he knows that because he's seen how that played out for Carter and Nonu, and he also knows that while he could earn considerably more by leaving, he's hardly making himself destitute by staying.

Best guess is that Barrett will be collecting close to $1 million a year in salary and probably a few hundred thousand a year in endorsements and that, combined with the almost invaluable feeling that comes with playing for the All Blacks, is a package that he won't be in any particular hurry to give up.

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