A senior judge today joked about the number of “personal appearances” made by football star Wayne Rooney and told a court: “It’s a wonder he’s got time to play.”
Lord Justice Sullivan sparked laughter during a Court of Appeal hearing in London, where sports management firms are staging the latest round of a legal tug of war over the 25-year-old Manchester United and England striker.
The judge intervened as a barrister outlined contract details which required Rooney to make appearances for commercial sponsors and to wear a certain brand of boot.
The barrister joined in the banter by suggesting that the “man in the street” would not find a footballer’s life “onerous”.
“It’s a wonder he’s got time to play football, he’s making so many personal appearances,” said Lord Justice Sullivan. “For Nike, for Coca-Cola. It’s a wonder he’s got time to practice.”
Christopher Jeans QC, for sports management firm Proactive, replied: “Bearing in mind footballers train in the morning only, it’s not what the man in the street would consider an onerous obligation.”
Proactive, which used to represent Rooney and his wife Coleen, is appealing against an earlier ruling on the dispute.
The company made a £4.3m claim against the former Everton star, his wife, and two firms the couple are linked to, saying it was owed “commission payments”.
But in July 2010, following a three-week hearing at Manchester Mercantile Court, Judge Brendan Hegarty QC ruled that Rooney should pay £5,000 and his wife around £90,000.
After that hearing Rooney said he was “delighted to have won” and said the judge had “knocked back their massively over-inflated claims”.
Judge Hegarty heard that Rooney had been signed by agent Paul Stretford for Proactive in 2002 when at Everton.
Mr Stretford, a founder and director of Proactive, left the firm in 2008. He launched a new sports management firm and took Rooney with him. Rooney had not made commission payments on deals after Mr Stretford left, the judge was told.
Proactive argued that because contracts were brokered by Mr Stretford while he was still at the firm, it was due 20% commission amounting to £4.3m.
Mr Jeans today told three appeal judges – Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Sullivan and Lord Justice Gross – that Judge Hegarty had dubbed the dispute a “tug of war”.
“The judge described these present proceedings as something of a tug of war between Proactive and Mr Stretford over the right to represent Wayne Rooney,” said Mr Jeans.
“They (Proactive) have not tried to hold Mr Rooney to Proactive but seek to be paid for the contracts they secured.”
The Rooneys argue that Judge Hegarty’s ruling was correct and say the appeal should be dismissed.
The hearing, due to end later this week, adjourned for the day and continues tomorrow.
Neither Rooney nor his wife were at the hearing.