It was reported on Wednesday that Anthony Barnett, the agent of Gareth Bale, claims that Bale has missed out on “millions and millions of pounds” by choosing to play for Wales rather than England. Bale was born and raised in Wales but was also qualified to play for England through his grandmother. Barnett’s argument is that if Bale played for England, then ahead of next year’s Euro 2016 championships, he would be in a much better position from sponsorship and advertising deals. While Wales look likely to qualify for their first major championship since 1958, major companies are unlikely to throw highly lucrative deals at a player from such a small country.
Even if what Barnett says is correct, it does not take account of what Bale may have gained by playing for his own country. In economist jargon, there are likely to be intangible benefits to Bale in playing for Wales. Surely being part of a Wales team that qualifies for Euro 2016 will give Bale a level of satisfaction that he may not have attained had he done so with England. To simply play for the country that one grew up in and to represent one’s family and friends can give an emotional benefit that outweighs any monetary loss from not playing with a different country.
If Barnett was an economist, he might claim that Bale acted irrationally in choosing to play for Wales. It is worth noting, however, that while Bale is now the world’s most expensive footballer, in terms of transfer fee paid, not many people would have predicted this in his early days with Tottenham, whom he joined as a full back from Southampton. At the time that he declared for Wales, the expected monetary benefits from choosing England were likely much lower that the levels that Barnett now believes that Bale could earn. Even if Bale would change is mind, which is unlikely, that does not mean that he made the wrong decision at the time that he chose to play for Wales. As well as that, Bale may be happy to avoid the hype, intrusion, and often vitriol, that goes with being England’s latest great hope, especially when England again fail to win a major tournament.
Of course, while Barnett may be concerned about the financial well-being of his client, he is more likely to be thinking of himself. As Bale’s agent, Barnett would likely be entitled to a share of these “millions and millions of pounds”.
An interesting addition to the story is that Barnett is also the agent of Jack Grealish, who is yet to decide whether to play for England, where he grew up, or Ireland, who he qualifies to represent through his grandparents. I wonder what Barnett will advise Grealish to do!