Latest big-money deal extravagant even by Top 14 standards

Jonathan Sexton’s move to French moneybags Racing Metro, bankrolled by Jacky Lorenzetti, may have come as a surprise to some, but there is method to the madness.

Sexton’s salary package has been rightly described as “exceptional” by Joe Schmidt, a man who knows a thing or two about exceptional money that floats around the big clubs in France. There have been rumours about his package but let’s look at the facts.

It has been reported that Sexton will earn €750,000 per annum but the reality is he will actually net €700,000 per annum due to tax reasons and the way the salary is formulated. This is a massive jump up from his current salary, rumoured to be around €350,000 a year and still significantly more than the €450,000 on the table from the IRFU and the €500,000 or so top earners like Jamie Heaslip are rumoured to be on.

This deal represents Abramovich-type spending in a rugby context. To put this in perspective, since his arrival in Toulon, England’s No 10 Johnny Wilkinson has been one of the highest paid players in the Top 14, with a reported annual salary of around €400,000.

Sexton’s case is different. At 28 he is a relatively late developer. Although he is now firmly an international star and a leader of both Leinster and Ireland, he has not benefited as much as some of his illustrious fellow Leinster men who were on lucrative contracts form an early stage. His first major deal came after his breakthrough season in 2009 and Sexton will see this move as his one big pay day that will set him up for life.

There are other interesting aspects to this. Sexton’s agent, Fintan Drury, would not be on the IRFU Christmas card list at the best of times and this is a big pay day for him after many rumoured exits to France by players in his stable.

Enda McNulty, now IRFU performance consultant, worked hard with Sexton to help him overcome perceived mental frailties and can take some credit.

One thing that must be underlined is that this does not signal the start of a talent flow out of Ireland.

The IRFU drew a line in the sand with Sexton. Despite the PUMA announcement this week and Sexton’s departure, the IRFU’s financial standing is still strong and it remains a well run sporting organisation with the primary goal of running sustainable professional rugby teams.

Sexton’s offer from Racing was unmatchable but his departure will be more psychological as he is the first main line player and current superstar to leave the provincial set ups to play overseas. The big challenges facing the IRFU are not stemming the flow of players to French clubs, as some have said, as this deal is a one off.

Sexton will live and work in one of the world’s greatest cities, earning €1.4m net over two years. He will undoubtedly return to play here with his pockets lined and set up for life. Who can blame him?

- Mick O’Keeffe is managing director of Pembroke Communications, a company that specialises in sponsorship and sports marketing

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