Two years. $14 million.

That's a good contract for almost anyone. For a sell-side equity analyst, it's an obscene number. But that didn't stop

Goldman Sachs

(GS) - Get Report

from offering just that -- two years, $14 mill -- to telecommunications analyst Frank Governali to lure him to the firm last month, according to two people familiar with the pay package.

The rich payout is yet another sign that analysts, long the prognosticating nerds of Wall Street, have become critical to the process of marketing deals and making the big investment banks the big money. Rainmaking has gotten more complicated. The big free-agent money is no longer just reserved for bankers. The bankers may do the deals, but it's often the analysts who make the deals work.

Of course, Governali, who left

Credit Suisse First Boston

, benefited from Goldman's need for someone to shepherd coverage of the dynamic telecom sector. Last year, the firm was ready to spend about $25 million to lure

Salomon Smith Barney's

Jack Grubman to 85 Broad Street. That didn't work, so the riches, albeit a smaller pile, went to Governali, who even gets to work from Portland, Maine. As a matter of policy, Goldman declined to comment on employees or their compensation. Goldman didn't respond to a request to talk to Governali.

It's not about whether Governali is or isn't special enough to deserve this kind of dough. It's more that analysts have become the type of deal-making, deal-breaking stars that investment bankers once were.

"If the '80s were the decade of bankers, the turn of the century has become the era of the institutional analyst," says Dave Hart, executive vice president of Wall Street recruiting firm

Hadley Lockwood

.

Analysts can bring credibility to an IPO or a merger. Issuers like it when their investment bank has an analyst who breeds buying confidence among the world's biggest investors. Analysts have the ability to create a buzz about a stock through the press or through clients. That usually translates into a strong stock price. A good analyst even has a bigger impact than any fine-dining banker does on a chief executive's life, especially a chief executive who's compensated in stock options.

"A CEO today has the bulk of his net worth tied up in his company's stock. They kowtow with the analysts not just for shareholders but for themselves," says Gary Goldstein, chief executive of

Headway Corporate Resources

, the holding company for executive recruiter

Whitney Group

.

"Grubman brings business. Frank brings business," Hart adds. "Without the analyst, the banker is not going to get a deal."

When Mary Meeker,

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's

hotshot Internet analyst,

didn't make herself available enough to Morgan client

NextCard

(NXCD)

on the company's stock issue, NextCard took its $2 million in underwriting fees to

Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette

. A few years ago, a firm wouldn't have lost a deal just because a client didn't have enough access to one of the firm's analysts.

Even the stupid-money move that gave Solly banker Ben Lorello $70 million earlier this year for a 3 1/2-year commitment to

Warburg Dillon Read

supposedly arose out of the firm's search for a top-flight health care analyst. Analyst Geoffrey Harris, packaged with Lorello and his lieutenants, will be pulling down $20 million over the same period, according to published reports.

With so much money there for the taking, the analysts and the firms that employ them campaign vigorously for inclusion on the prestigious

Institutional Investor

All-Star analyst ranking.

"The value of having a ranked player on the team is unarguable," Hart says. "You either have to get them or get them ranked. We're talking about Goldman and First Boston

regarding Governali. The firms in that tier got to be that way by having the best players."

"Analysts give more credibility to a deal," Goldstein adds. These days, the credibility is just more expensive.