The reports from last week’s case at Warrington Crown Court make for fascinating reading. A case involving convicted gangsters, suitcases stuffed full of cash, crooked lawyers. Oh, and Wayne Rooney’s agent, Paul Stretford.
The case against three men accused of blackmailing Stretford collapsed after the prosecution admitted that Stretford could not be relied upon as a witness because he had knowingly misled the court earlier in the case.
Paul Stretford, if you did not know, is a very wealthy man. This summer he became even wealthier – to the tune of £1million, rising to a possible £1.5million, in assorted signing-on fees – after the transfer of his teenage client Rooney from Everton to Manchester United.
Rooney’s transfer was an example of the huge rewards available to agents when they strike it lucky. In return for making a few phone calls, Stretford earned more money than most people dream about earning in their entire working lives.
The sums of money involved in the Rooney case demonstrated why Stretford was so determined to represent the teenager when he signed his first professional contract on turning 18 in October 2002. The man who Stretford displaced, Peter McIntosh, was an associate of the men accused in court of blackmailing Stretford. But the case collaped when documents were produced which showed that Stretford had began representing Rooney in September 2002. Yet he had earlier told the court Stretford had become Rooney’s agent in December 2002.
That Stretford has been exposed as a liar and a cheat will probably come as no surprise to many of the people in football who have had dealings with him.
Yet Paul Stretford is not only a FIFA licensed agent. He also heads one of England’s top three player agencies. He is supposed to be at the respectable end of the agent spectrum. Proactive (now known as Formation Group) floated on the stock exchange in May 2001. Until recently, Stretford was a company director and remains in charge of the ‘player representation division’.
As a director of a listed company Stretford was bound by stock market rules. it’s unclear whether these rules permittted turning up at meetings with £250,000 in cash and in the company of convicted gangsters.
Agents like to stay in the shadows. For them, at least, the less that is known about their activities, the better. Yet agents are increasingly coming under the spotlight. In their annual report published last month, Manchester United – for the first time, and admitedly under duress – published details of payments made to agents in the past year.
Like the Warrington trial, the report offered a glimpse into a closed and secretive world. We learned, for example, that Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s agent, Roger Linse, earned £1.2million simply for ensuring that his client stayed at Old Trafford by signing a new contract. And that Alex Black received £750,000 for persuading Alan Smith to move to Old Trafford from relegated Leeds.
United would have us believe that they are suddenly advocates of freedom of information. The reality is that they are running scared from the Irish investors JP McManus and John Magnier, who flexed their financial muscles over agent fees in the light of the Rock of Gibraltar affair.
Football League clubs in Division Two have begun publishing details of their dealings with agents. But there is still a huge way to go, especially with Premiership clubs. Nobody knows for certain, for example, how much Pini Zahavi has made from the Russian Revolution at Chelsea.
Zahavi is the Israeli ‘fixer’ who reportedly introduced Chelsea to Roman Abramovich and played a key role in the subsequent transfers funded by the Russian. As is known in the trade as ‘Mr 10 Per Cent’, Zahavi is unlikely to be going hungry this winter.
Though there is little transparency from the clubs when it comes to revealing how much they pay agents, the media are also at fault.
The simple truth is that agents are one of the best sources of stories for reporters. Some journalists even own shares in player agent companies, notably Proactive. They are not going to bite the hand that feeds them.
The lack of urgency from the the press in investigating agents is just one of the things that needs to change. Otherwise, the events from Warrington Crown Court last week will continue to shock and surprise.
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