Footballer Wayne Rooney agreed today that his agent had helped make him a “very wealthy young man”.
The Manchester United and England striker, being sued for £4.3m (€4.9m) in a dispute over contracts, confirmed he trusted Paul Stretford and was grateful to him.
The court has heard that the young football prodigy, then aged 17, was signed up by Stretford in 2002 as he burst onto the football world with his home-town club Everton.
Stretford, a founder and director of the sports management firm Proactive, brokered multi-million pound deals with firms including Nike and Coca-Cola for Rooney.
He also acted for Rooney’s wife Coleen, whose celebrity career took off as the player established himself as an England regular following his £20m (€23m) transfer to Manchester United in 2004.
The deals agreed to pay Proactive 20% commission but, since Stretford left the firm in acrimony in October 2008, no further commission payments have been made.
Proactive’s lawyers claim that, under the terms of the contract Stretford signed with the Rooneys while he was working for the firm, Proactive is still due the payments – now amounting to a minimum of £4.3m (€4.9m).
Rooney agreed when asked by Ian Mill QC, acting for Proactive, if Stretford had helped to make him a “very wealthy young man”.
Asked about the money he paid, Rooney replied: “It was for everyday life. Obviously there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be done and it would be more or less impossible for me and my wife to do that.”
Asked if his agent did not tell him to get independent legal advice before signing multi-million pound sponsorship agreements, Rooney said he could not remember.
The footballer also agreed he sided with Stretford after his agent was dismissed from his job, charged with misconduct and banned as acting as a football agent by the Football Association.
Rooney, 24, facing a courtroom packed with rows of pin-striped lawyers and crammed with around 30 members of the press, gave single word answers of “yes” to the initial questions from the barrister.
His parents, Wayne senior and Jeanette sat alongside Stretford and a five-strong legal team, listening to the evidence from the witness in a courtroom littered with volumes of legal files and lined with leather-bound law books.
Mr Mill asked Rooney again what "commercial assistance" his agent gave him after he parted company with Proactive.
“My football career and football stuff has to come first,” Rooney said. “Then obviously when I have got days when I have got my commercial stuff they make sure everything is done right and set up properly and day-to-day life with my wife and child, stuff that’s in the newspapers, they deal with all that.”
Mr Mill asked the player to recall that his agent had been investigated by the FA in 2008 and things “did not go well” for Mr Stretford as he was found guilty of a number of misconduct charges.
Mr Mill reminded the witness his agent appealed against the decision by the FA - but his appeal was rejected.
“And doubtless he still maintained his innocence?” Mr Mill asked.
“Of course,” Rooney replied.
“Of course because you trusted him implicitly?” Mr Mill said.
“Yes,” replied the footballer.
Mr Mill told Rooney, at around the same time the FA investigated Mr Stretford, his employers Proactive terminated his contract.
“Doubtless he said he felt he had been treated very badly?” Mr Mill said. “He told you his side of the story and you accepted it?”
“Yes,” Rooney again replied.
“After he left Proactive, you continued to believe and put your trust in Mr Stretford?” Mr Mill asked.
“Yes,” the witness said.
Mr Mill continued: “You felt he had negotiated very good contracts for you with both Everton and Manchester United and first class sponsors. He had helped make you a very wealthy young man and you were extremely grateful to him.”
Rooney agreed he felt Mr Stretford should get the £4.3m (€4.9m) in commission payments, not Proactive, and that the firm had treated his agent badly.
“What if the court was to find Mr Stretford had not been telling you the truth?” Mr Mill said.
He asked Rooney to “suppose” that the court was to find the FA was justified in banning Mr Stretford and right to dismiss his appeal, and that Proactive was fully justified in dismissing him from his job.
“If that was the case, would that in any way be likely to affect your attitude to whether or not Mr Stretford should get commission from you?” he asked.
“Er, has that actually happened?” Rooney replied.
A picture emerged of Rooney being extremely loyal to Mr Stretford - with the 24-year-old insisting he wanted him to continue providing representation.
The striker told the hearing he wanted Mr Stretford involved in discussion with Manchester United about renewing his playing contract, which expires in 2012.
Rooney said he did not believe Proactive could take care of him after Mr Stretford left.
Mr Mill said the only reason Proactive was not able to provide services for Rooney was because the star did not want it to.
“As I said before, I wanted Mr Stretford to look after me,” said the striker.“
He added: “I didn’t think Proactive could provide the services. Nobody from Proactive called me to say ’we can provide the services for you’.”
That was because Rooney’s lawyers had told Proactive not to contact him, said Mr Mill.
Rooney replied: “Before Mr Stretford was basically sacked from the company, nobody explained he was going to be sacked and that they could still do things for me.”
Amid a lot of dry, technical submissions this morning, there were a few light touches in court.
Counsel and the judge needed to know how much the player earns in total – but the figure could not be disclosed to the press and public.
Asked to provide the amount, Rooney produced a piece of paper from inside his jacket and passed it to Mr Mill, who seemed to gaze at it for several seconds before passing it on to judge Brendan Hegarty QC.
The “vast majority” of his earnings were from his contract with Manchester United, said Mr Mill.
But a sizeable proportion comes from the four sponsorship deals he has with Coca-Cola, Nike, EA Sports and the new addition of Tiger Beer.
The court heard that Rooney’s manager, Alex Ferguson, extends his famous attention to detail over “all aspects” of players’ lives and had specified Rooney could have no more than five sponsorship deals.
Mr Mill asked him: “You’re allowed five sponsorship deals. What’s that based on?”
“It is based on what my manager tells me,” replied Rooney, whose wife Coleen will not be giving evidence.
Rooney, dressed in a navy blue suit and thin black tie, said he was “at the max” with what his sponsorship deals demand of him.
That said, he acknowledged there were opportunities stemming from this summer’s World Cup in South Africa which Mr Stretford could help him with.
Mr Mill said: “Would you agree the World Cup holds immense potential for you in terms of your brand value and commercial value?”
“Yeah,” replied Rooney.