Friday 5 June ~
Wayne Rooney seems to be bearing up quite well considering that he is involved in a bitter conflict that has rumbled on for seven years. The warring parties are his current agent Paul Stretford and Streford's former company Formation that he left last year. Formation are suing Stretford over the £3.5 million they claimed to be owed for a portion of Rooney's commercial deals. A spokesman for Stretford told the Daily Mail today that "this is an ill-constructed, ill-conceived action and we will defend it like the Russians did Stalingrad".
While Stretford and his colleagues steel themselves to eat their pets and make soup out of wood and glue, other members of their profession achieved a major victory earlier this week. At FIFA's annual congress, general secretary Jerome Valcke conceded that their system for regulating agents has been a dismal failure.
According to FIFA's own statistics, only 25 per cent of transfer deals are currently carried out by licensed agents. The rest are handled by family members, lawyers or other intermediaries working on behalf of agents who have been officially barred for breaching regulations. FIFA don't issue agents' licences, relying instead on national associations to administer their own systems, which appear to be fairly easy to get around. Paul Stretford, embedded in his Cheshire bunker, is currently barred from acting as an agent due to a long-running dispute with the FA but seems to be kept busy nonetheless with his Triple S Sports Group, co-owned with former Newcastle chairman Freddie Shepherd.
FIFA have done what many organisations do when confronted by flagrant disregard for existing regulations – they have set up a think-tank or, as Jerome Valcke puts it, "a sub group involving different stakeholders", one of which is the international players’ union, FifPro. This may turn out to be a talking shop that achieves very little but there is a pressing problem that the football authorities urgently need to address.
Most of the headlines generated by agents have to do with legal disputes of the sort that Paul Stretford is now wrapped up in but at the opposite end of the scale, professional football as a business is blighted by criminality with countless numbers of players from Africa and Latin America trafficked to Europe then abandoned if they don't make the grade. All parties involved in the buying and selling of footballers are capable of behaving ruthlessly. Many clubs publicly complain about certain agents when it suits them but will blithely continue to do business with the same individuals if it seems to be to their advantage.
It is only through more effective regulation of football at government level that the system will be reformed. But FIFA are notoriously quick to step in when they believe that football in any state is subjected to “political interference” – countries have been suspended from international competition when football administrators have been sacked or sanctioned by national governments. The fact that football often perceives itself to be above the law has led to this situation and it is difficult to see how that will change.