By Gavin Mortimer
SO NOW we all know. You, me and every rugby player in France. As Midi Olympique revealed in Monday’s edition Jonathan Sexton will be pocketing €55,000 (£47,000) a month next season playing for Racing Metro. That will make the Ireland fly-half the best-paid player in the Top 14. He’ll earn €8,000 a month more than Jonny Wilkinson at Toulon (who in signing on for another year with Toulon last month had his wages trimmed), €13,000 more than Bryan Habana, also at Toulon, and €17,000 more than Nicolas Mas, reputedly the best-paid French player on account of the fact world-class tighthead props are few and far between these days.
Sexton can’t have been happy to discover Midi Olympique has had a sneak peek into his pay packet. Nothing makes a man more envious than money, and the 27-year-old can expect some big hits and juicy banter next season from just about every back-rower in France. Particularly as a lot of them will be earning less than a quarter of Sexton’s wage.
Despite the money paid to the high-profile players, the average monthly salary in the Top 14 is a far more modest €12,000. Some earn a lot less than that. According to Midi Olympique, Stade Francais winger Jérémy Sinzelle, a regular for the Parisian club this season, is paid €6,000 a month, while some of the Perpignan squad are on as little as €3,000 a month. One wonders how they must feel when they read that their fly-half, James Hook, earns €35,000 for the same period.
Sexton might be one of the last players to strike it really rich in France. The €660,000 that he’ll earn next season is significantly less than the €800,000 Toulon paid Wilkinson when he first moved to the Cote d’Azur from Newcastle in 2009. Similarly, no French club is willing to do what Perpignan did in 2008, when they forked out a reputed €750,000 for the services of Dan Carter for seven months. The All Black fly-half ruptured his Achilles tendon in his sixth game and down the drain went Perpignan’s dosh.
Those profligate days are now a thing of the past. According to the paper next season will be the first when the average wage in the top flight of French rugby remains static. Hitherto, every season has brought with it an increase in wages, but the harsh economic climate in which France finds itself has forced clubs to rein in their spending.
“Presidents, directors, agents, coaches, all recognise that Top 14 salaries have reached a level that threatens the economic stability of the clubs,” declared the newspaper in Monday’s edition. “The hour has arrived when from now on salaries will start to lower.”
Certainly the big names from the southern hemisphere – those still in their prime – are increasingly turning to Japan to help feather their nests. Witness the decisions of Sonny Bill Williams, Jerome Kaino, Fourie du Preez and Andries Bekker taking the Yen over the Euro in recent seasons. And last month Dan Carter ruled out a return to France, saying he would prefer to have a stint “some place closer to home – potentially Japan”.
Still, at least the Top 14 has no reason to fear the French tax man, unlike Ligue 1, the top flight of French football. When he came to power nearly 12 months ago socialist president Francois Hollande promised to tax the rich. He’s following through on that pledge, introducing a 75% tax rate for those people in France earning more than €1m a year, though it will be down to companies (or in this case, clubs) and not individuals, to foot the bill. “This new tax will cost first division teams €182m,” protested Frédéric Thiriez, head of France’s professional football league last week. “With these crazy labour costs, France will lose its best players, our clubs will see their competitiveness in Europe decline, and the government will lose its best taxpayers.”
Particularly hard hit will be Paris Saint-Germain, France’s richest club following their acquisition in 2011 by a Qatari consortium. Twelve of their players are said to earn more than €1m a year with striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic reputed to be on €1.25m a year.
And here we are making a fuss over Sexton’s €55,000 a month. Enjoy it while you can, Johnny.