Samir Nasri won't be the only one raising a toast once his proposed lucrative transfer to Manchester City is completed in the next few days. The five-year deal is reportedly worth $288,320 per week, and one of the key figures behind the move has been his agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes, who can justifiably call himself France's most powerful agent, even if he prefers the term "advisor."
If you think you recognize the name, it's because you probably do. Bernes was the right-hand man to Marseille president Bernard Tapie during France's biggest football scandal. The pair were found guilty of attempting to fix a Ligue 1 match against Valenciennes in May 1993, in the week before Marseille beat AC Milan in the Champions League final.
At trial, and in a subsequent interview with France Football magazine, Bernes admitted that Marseille had spent "more than [$829,800] on corruption money." Bernes served a brief spell in jail and, like Tapie, was banned from French football for two years. UEFA banned Marseille from defending its Champions League crown, while the French league stripped the club of its title and relegated it to the second division.
At the time, Marseille's biggest domestic challenge came from Monaco, then managed by Arsene Wenger. The current Arsenal boss has gone on record as saying that Tapie's methods prevented Monaco from winning at least two more French titles during that period. It is no coincidence, either, that the Valenciennes coach back in 1993 was Boro Primorac, who has worked as Wenger's assistant ever since. The two men, who were sitting together in the stands as Wenger served a touchline ban at last week's European tie against Udinese, were vocal critics of Tapie and Bernes at the time. Primorac even testified in court against them.
It's an open secret in France that Bernes has enjoyed seeing Wenger squirm through this tough period at Arsenal: One week after his captain, Cesc Fabregas, moved to Barcelona, Wenger now has to deal with the departure of his potential successor.
"Imagine the worst situation, that we lose Fabregas and Nasri; you cannot convince people that you are ambitious after that," Wenger said at a press conference last month.
For Bernes, though, Nasri's move cements his position as the prime operator in the French game. After his conviction and jail sentence, Bernes suffered from depression and it was only in the late 1990s that he returned to football, helping Zinedine Zidane's agent, Alain Miglaccio, transfer Florian Maurice from Paris Saint-Germain to Marseille.
"I have suffered a lot, but [I] have survived prison, depression and my name being butchered in public," he told Le Figaro earlier this year. "Now I am just happy to be part of French football again."
For some people, his influence is too great. Among his clients are France coach Laurent Blanc, as well as the man expected to replace him, current Marseille boss Didier Deschamps; two other Ligue 1 coaches, Jean Fernandez and Christophe Galtier; and France internationals including Franck Ribery, Alou Diarra, Adil Rami and Nasri.
"He has too much power," the agent of one Marseille player told Chrono Foot.
Karim Aklil, another agent, added: "When Laurent Blanc picks Rami [for France], people wonder. Does Deschamps listen to him in matters of recruitment?"
Bernes shrugs off the comments: "It's just jealousy," he told Capital magazine.
Nasri has spoken in the past about how he wants to evaluate his career in trophies rather than money, and Bernes claims to have the same philosophy.
"I don't talk about money when it comes to career choices," he told Le Figaro. "I manage my players to provide them with maximum advantages for career success. There are important choices to make. At 24 or 25 [Nasri is 24], you know nothing about life and you don't have the experience or hindsight to say it's better to go here or there. They need someone reliable to advise them."
In this case, Bernes has managed to kill three birds with one stone: He has helped Nasri land more money, a better chance at trophies (even though it comes with fewer guarantees about his place in the starting team) and has gone some way to avenging an 18-year-old grudge with Wenger in the process.