Duffen said it soon became clear to him that Jarvis “had not done a football transaction before, or more likely, any transaction.” He said none of Jarvis’ Chinese contacts ever materialized.
In a series of interviews and emails, Jarvis said his contacts with China and throughout international soccer are well known. But a close look at Jarvis’ career indicates all may not be what it seems. Company records and interviews with people who have dealt with Jarvis indicate that Jarvis may have overstated his connections with some of the top figures in the sport and exaggerated his partnerships and associations with top clubs and companies — some of which have asked him to stop trading on their names.
None of that stopped him from becoming a go-to source for journalists who have been trying to make sense of a Chinese soccer spending spree that has sent cash westward after President Xi Jinping announced in 2015 he wanted to turn the country into a soccer powerhouse. Jarvis has been quoted as an expert throughout international news media reports, which has helped open doors for him and get executives to take his calls in a world where everyone is always searching for the next deal.
Nothing indicates that Jarvis has acted illegally. However his rise shows how someone with apparently little in the way of experience or a track record of success can forge a reputation with relative ease, especially in the largely unregulated realms of international soccer.
“In the football space I’ve got unlucky on a few big things, been screwed over on some things. But I’ve not lied,” said Jarvis, whose company, Blackbridge Cross Borders, recently posted debts of more than $60,000, according to public filings. “Everything that’s on the credentials and background is all real.”
An annual accounts filing published by Britain’s companies’ register in February showed Blackbridge had just over 1,000 pounds ($1,378) in cash. Jarvis appears to be the only shareholder in the company.
Jarvis registered a small victory recently, playing a supporting role in a deal consummated last week. Darragh MacAnthony, the chairman of the third-division club Peterborough United, said Jarvis had introduced him to the Canadians Jason Neale and Stewart Thompson, who bought 50 percent of the club. In 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, the club lost nearly $3 million on revenues of about $8.6 million.
David Taylor, the former chairman of Woking F.C., a semiprofessional soccer team based near London, said Jarvis had been brokering a bid to buy the club involving undisclosed property developers. The process has gone on for months, but Taylor said he was grateful Jarvis had devoted as much time as he had “to our little club” given his stature in the business world.
Not everyone shares Taylor’s high opinion of Jarvis.
Barnsley, a second-division club based in northern England, was looking for new investors last year.
Jarvis had established a relationship with Chien Lee, a Chinese-American businessman who owns the French club Nice and is now part of the ownership group at Barnsley. Jarvis introduced the businessman to several soccer teams in Britain. Jarvis said he also acted on behalf of the Barnsley seller Patrick Cryne, who was terminally ill at the time and died earlier this year.
The relationship grew fractious, and people close to the Cryne family accuse Jarvis of leaking information about the deal to the news media in order to boost his company’s profile. Jarvis denies this, describing Cryne as a “bitter man” who was “high on drugs” at the time. A lawyer for the Cryne family declined to comment.
Paul Conway, a former investment banker and Lee’s business partner in the Nice and Barnsley investments, said he had “cut off all communication” with Jarvis.
Jarvis’s explanation for his unexpected rise involves a chance meeting aboard the iconic ocean liner the Queen Mary 2 when he was 20 years old. Jarvis said he left school at 16, and before he turned 20 he switched from brokering painting and decorating contracts in his native Liverpool to advising on international real-estate and mining deals.
Then, according to Jarvis, he met the co-founder of one of the world’s largest private equity firms — a billionaire — in the first-class lounge of the famous ocean liner. This person, whose identity he said he preferred not to reveal “in case of blowback,” took a shine to him and offered the opportunity to travel to China, where he could assist the firm’s operations.
“I was always in the room when they were negotiating contracts over dinners,” he said.
Jarvis said he learned the trade and made friends with the sons and daughters of China’s emerging plutocrats. Then he decided to strike out on his own. He registered Blackbridge on May 23, 2014, according to corporate documents, and soon claimed operations in more than a dozen cities across China and partner firms across the globe, from Moscow to Switzerland to the British Virgin Islands.
The company listed an array of individuals with grand titles on its website, including Sir Peter Heap, a former British ambassador to Brazil, who was listed as a “special adviser,” and Erik Brattberg, billed as “senior partner and head of North America.”
When contacted, Heap said he met Jarvis in 2013. He said Jarvis, whom he described as a charming and ambitious young man, told him he had already made millions by that point and was interested in projects in Brazil. “It didn’t come to anything,” Heap said.
Jarvis declined to disclose the source or size of his wealth.
Brattberg, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, connected with Jarvis via LinkedIn. He, too, said he never worked for Blackbridge or with Jarvis in any formal capacity.
Jarvis said he refers to “partners” as people he works with on deals rather than people who are shareholders in the business. “Blackbridge looks a lot bigger than it is just because of the people I’m working with,” he said.
Jarvis also posts selfies on social media with top industry figures, including Peter Kenyon, a former chief executive of the Premier League titans Manchester United and Chelsea and one of world soccer’s leading executives. In one image from 2016, the men are wearing hard hats on the construction site of Atlético Madrid’s new stadium.
Kenyon, who now runs a soccer advisory business, said a public relations executive introduced him to Jarvis. Jarvis asked to come see the stadium when Kenyon was doing some work for the soccer team.
“He’s in Madrid, he rings up and basically has a look at the new stadium, which was under construction, and it was as innocuous as that,” Kenyon said. They have “certainly” never done business together, he added.
Jarvis did arrange a meeting for the American-owned Liverpool F.C. with the solar energy company Hanergy. Nothing came of it.
“I got very close to doing several multimillion-pound deals with success fees,” Jarvis said. “It’s a really tough business.”
An early version of a Blackbridge prospectus included mentions of business relationships with major soccer clubs and financial services firms. Two of those well-known entities have since distanced themselves from Jarvis.
In January, the Premier League team Tottenham requested that Jarvis remove a reference in a Blackbridge prospectus to the club’s retaining him as an adviser in 2015 to secure sponsorship and financing opportunities in China. The accounting firm Deloitte also asked him to remove references to it from Blackbridge materials.
Still, Jarvis continues to speak as an authority on the business of soccer to the British news media. He has been quoted dozens of times in media ranging from The Financial Times in Britain, to Canada’s Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and even the Turkish daily Milleyet. In 2017, he was quoted in an article in The New York Times.
As early as 2016, news media profiles and interviews credited Jarvis with successfully concluding soccer transactions and being one of the key middlemen in deals with Chinese interests. Reuters credited Jarvis with brokering “deals for investors like Suning Commerce Group and Citic Securities, as well as European clubs from Hull City in England to Nice in France.”
Jarvis said he met the Nice owners after they had bought the club. A deal for Hull that he pursued on behalf of Lee, the Chinese-American businessman, never materialized. It is unclear what deals he concluded for Suning, which in 2016 acquired the Serie A soccer team Inter Milan. Jarvis declined to discuss his business with Suning.
Jarvis often uses his social media accounts to burnish his reputation as a jet-setting dealer. “It’s going to be a tough but fun week. Deals in play. Not sure in what order to do this New York, Beijing, HK or Tampa…headed to airport,” read one recent Tweet.
Jarvis last September captioned a picture of himself standing in front of the BBC’s headquarters with the words: “Looking forward to a morning of interviews.”
There has been no sign of any such interviews. A BBC staff member who checked visitor logs there did not find Jarvis’s name listed. Jarvis now insists he was there for a “private meeting.”
A Twitter update in November reads: “59 meetings in the US over the last 17 days. That’s allot [sic] of follow up to be done over the next week. Exciting times! More progress made this month in US than the last 6 months in China for Blackbridge. Several new buy-side mandates received. News to follow.”
In an interview, Jarvis denied misrepresenting his achievements. He acknowledged making “Blackbridge and myself look bigger than I currently am.”
With China’s money-rush into soccer slowing, Jarvis has turned his attention to the United States. He then said he has 21 deals in the works, including the sale of a Premier League club to an American investor for $700 million.