Wayne Rooney has been guilty of making a couple of errors in judgement since signing for Manchester United, and it’s likely that both have been influenced by his agent, Paul Stretford.
In 2010, Rooney was ready to leave United for rivals Manchester City, with the blues lead to believe it was a done deal. Rooney, who was 24 then, had just 18 months left on his contract and United were under pressure to sell when he publicly confirmed he would not be extending his current deal.
Rooney lead the public to believe that there had been a falling out behind the scenes between himself and the manager, when Sir Alex Ferguson claimed the striker had an injury to his ankle. Rooney denied this to be the case and claimed he didn’t know why the manager had said it.
The problem with his story was that we had all seen him substituted at the Reebok with just an hour played, before sitting on the bench with an ice pack on his ankle.
Like David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy before him, who’d both had public fallings out with the manager, Rooney was happy to push the tale that he was the latest victim of Ferguson’s ruthless streak. Maybe Rooney was bright enough to orchestrate this himself, but chances are it was Stretford who was the mastermind behind it all.
Rooney finished the season with yet another league title medal as well as scoring a goal in the European Cup final against Barcelona. The manager played a blinder in his press conference and the press had mocked Rooney’s claim that United, the most successful team in recent times, who hadn’t gone longer than one season without a trophy since 1990, didn’t match his ambition. Stretford’s plan failed.
Rooney has repeatedly given interviews claiming that his decision to leave had been the worst in his career and that he now intended to stay at the club for as long as they wanted him.
But less than three years later, history is repeating itself, and Rooney wants to leave again, this time to title rivals Chelsea to play with his best bud Ashley Cole.
Rooney hasn’t confirmed this is the case, Stretford having learnt his lesson from last time, but the fact he hasn’t denied the stories speaks volumes. Rooney was quick to deny the story, that only featured in a couple of newspapers, that he had changed his Twitter bio from “Man Utd player” to “Nike UK athlete”. If he was keen to stay at United he would have said so over the past three months.
Ferguson claimed that the player said he wanted to leave. Maybe this was Ferguson getting Rooney back for 2010, or maybe he was trying to take some off the pressure away from David Moyes. Had Ferguson kept quiet, one of the first events of Moyes’ tenure as United manager would have been news that one of the best players wanted to leave. Given Moyes’ history with the player, he would have been blamed for Rooney’s desire to leave, so Fergie saved Moyes from that appalling start by revealing that Rooney was unhappy before the new manager had been announced.
The agent has a responsibility towards the player to advise their client on what is best for them and find a solution that makes them happy. In the case of Stretford, who is very unpopular at Old Trafford, you have to wonder how much he is influencing Rooney on his decision to leave.
Whilst people rightly point to the fact that Rooney is a grown man, capable of making his own decisions, it’s interesting to see just what kind of agent Stretford is and what sort of relationship he develops with the players he represents. Andy Cole and Stan Collymore, both former clients of Stretford, have spoken out about their experience of him.
When Sir Alex Ferguson made reference to players who have agents living in their pockets, it was aimed at Stretford.
And I know better than anyone what Stretford is like because he was my agent. I was his biggest name player for a long time, the person who made him real money.
Stretford got to work, lining up Manchester United. He became a big part of my life. He got me a British record transfer to United in 1995. Before I left, Sellars told me that Stretford would be brilliant for as long as I was making him money. I remembered that later.
I moved to Manchester and stayed at Stretford’s house as he made me part of the family. I thought it was a generous gesture – I later found out that he had been deducting rent from my earnings.
My agent was influential in every area of my life. He invited me to family functions and controlled what I said to the media.
He hated the idea of anyone getting close to me, just as he does with Wayne. He was very domineering, but I let him be like that because I thought he had my best interest at heart.
He told journalists that they couldn’t ask certain things and lined up commercial deals. He gave me advice about everything I did. I made him so much money that he became a wealthy man, but I didn’t mind because I considered him to be a decent agent and a friend.
But Stretford obviously considered me to be a client and nothing more, because as soon as I stopped making him money I didn’t hear from him. I expected much better. He was a small-time agent when he took me on and used my name to attract other players.
Stretford wasn’t motivated by friendships, but money. I wasn’t the only player who stopped hearing from him when I’d served my purpose. People don’t speak well of him. I’ve seen him a few times since and he’s had nothing more than a grunt from me.
There’s a lot of second guessing going on with Rooney at the moment, but Stretford will be very close to the decision making. He’ll have a plan for Wayne on and off the field.
Stretford was representing Collymore at the same time as Cole, and it was the former who was supposed to be making a move to United until the club changed its plans and went for Cole instead.
Collymore reflects on a time Stretford claimed the player owed him money. Collymore looked in to it, realised he didn’t, but Stretford had some much power over him he ended up paying him anyway.
I hope Rooney knows what kind of animal Stretford is. I hope he doesn’t fall for all the emotional shit.
I had always done whatever he said. I said yes to all sorts of things, often without looking at them. I allowed the line between him being my surrogate father and my agent to become blurred. And he played on that big-time. He abused it. My relationship with him was unhealthily dependent and he milked it for all it was worth.
His business was expanding and he had calculated I owed him £80,000.
A couple of days later Stretford rang again. This time he was near enough in tears. He said: ‘You do love me, don’t you Stan?’ I wrote a cheque because that was the kind of hold he had over me”.