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COLM'S CORNER, #100


Colm Kavanagh lifts the curtain and peeks in on ProActive Sports Management

 

 Agents of Darkness

 
 

Paul Stretford with Jeffers and Rooney

Paul Stretford "Pro" Active?

Were you present inside The Racecourse at Wrexham on the night Wayne Rooney opened a new chapter in Evertons history?  Were you inside Goodison Park, caught up in the joyous disbelief as young Wayne cut then League Champions Arsenal down to size with a goal straight from Roy Of The Rovers?  Did you feel that Evertonian pride within on the night Wayne Rooney was paraded before the media after signing his initial contract with the Club? 

For a number of years previous, Everton Football Club had kept a tight lid on the growing reputation of this wunderkind Rooney.  Wed seen it all before through players like Branch, Cadamarteri and even Jeffers all youngsters hyped beyond their actual ability, failing to live up to high expectations when the chance arose.  The same mistakes would hopefully not be made this time with the emergence of Rooney.

If it meant wrapping the precocious young striker in cotton wool then so be it afford the kid a chance to grow as a person and a player away from the full glare of a savage media known best for a build em up and then knock em down philosophy.  Manager David Moyes was often criticised for the manner in which he protected the kid from the media but, when you consider the mauling and condescending attitude Rooney received after his appearance on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, he felt vindicated.  The front door, to Rooney, remained firmly shut.  All in good time folks. 

Unfortunately, with all eyes on the baying media outside the front door, the back door remained unguarded.  Paul Stretford, like a vulture hovering above a carcass, needed no further invite he was in.  Sod the fact that Rooney was under contract to Peter McIntoshs X8 agency.  Rooney was pound signs.  Lots of them

The day he signed his contract with Stretford by his side was the day Everton Football Club lost controlling interest in (arguably) the finest young prospect to rise through the ranks in one hundred and twenty five years of Everton Football Club. 

It speaks volumes for the general mess the game finds itself in today.  Clubs no longer own the players they pay excessive wages which is a ridiculous statement in itself!  Agents be they good, bad or indifferent call the shots today.  The day is coming when Wayne Rooney, a player we deem to be the future of Everton Football Club, will no longer don the famous Royal Blue shirt.  No amount of money can compensate for his departure you simply cant put a price on dreams and aspirations.  Blame the Club all you like.  Blame the player for not staying loyal to his boyhood Club.  Or, perhaps, take one long look at leeches like Paul Stretford and in the meekest of voices, with your I Love Everton hat on, ask, why?

Heres why

The Proactive Sports Group plc is responsible for the personal management of some of the worlds top footballers and is a leading name in football-specific sports management and marketing.

Thats what it says on the tin and who are we to doubt their word and their integrity?

They also organise exclusive hospitality packages for prestigious sporting events at venues such as Old Trafford for Manchester United, St James's Park for Newcastle United FC and Anfield for Liverpool FC.  Packages can also be tailored to meet specific requirements.  Oh Im sure they can indeed be tailored to meet specific requirements

Kenny Dalglish, who is gainfully employed by ProActive, carries the imaginatively titled position of Football Operations Director.  He offers this; the football division operates to provide our players with a highly comprehensive service, covering every aspect of their lives, whilst allowing them to concentrate on their performance.  Every player is attended to by a dedicated team of staff, who understand what the demands of being a professional footballer are and therefore what a management team needs to deliver.  What I find somewhat baffling is precisely why other than seeking a maximum return for their outlay in a certain footballer would a sports management company provide their client (the player) with such a comprehensive service?  Do they genuinely serve the best interests of their client?

On their own website, ProActive inform the reader that they offer advice on contractual negotiations in accordance with FIFA regulations for licensed agents.  They also claim that they offer a full management service with a commitment to excellence, professionalism, honesty and integrity staying ahead of the game.

Honesty and integrity?  Ah, you couldnt script it any better could you? 

Believe what you want to believe

Vincenzo Morabito, founder of First Artist Corporation (one of Europe's premier professional football management and representation businesses) claims in every business where there is money there is always the risk of corruption.  Is that the sound of a nail being firmly hit on the head I hear?

To become an agent requires a license and adherence to regulations set in place by FIFA.

Peter McIntosh runs the X8 Sports Management Company from his Merseyside base.  Working alongside him is ex-Everton player, John Ebbrell.  McIntosh caters more for local players rather than importing players from abroad and then looking after their interests.  Arguably his best-known client today is Jason Koumas, now playing for West Bromwich Albion. 

Not so long ago he had the name of one Wayne Rooney on his books.  He says, the lad was absolutely tremendous, a very very good player.  Everton had spotted this from 12 years of age.  Wayne was playing 3 years above his age group.  When he was fifteen he was playing for Evertons U-19s and was playing in the FA Youth Cup, which was also U-19s.  Everybody in Liverpool knew about Wayne but nobody outside of Liverpool basically knew about Wayne till he played a Youth Cup tie against Tottenham, which opened him up to the media in London.

It was therefore somewhat ironic that Wayne Rooney chose a day when ProActive client Franny Jeffers returned with league champions Arsenal (then unbeaten on their travels for more than one year) to announce his arrival on the Premiership stage his last-minute curling shot beating a hapless David Seaman and ending Arsenals long unbeaten run.  How Jeffers mustve looked on in envy after taking the option to walk with ProActive (entering a cul-de-sac career-wise?) a cursory glance at the 16-year-old kid in Everton Blue already adored by the Everton faithful.  The Rooney bandwagon was about to begin and with no less a person than Arsne Wenger acclaiming the kid as the finest hed seen. 

Wayne Rooney, simply put, was the talent that every agent wanted; the talent that every agent dreamt of.  On 17 January 2003, Wayne Rooney signed that golden first professional contract.  However, on this occasion, Peter McIntosh was not to be found seated alongside the greatest prospect (as Wenger had labelled him).  Sitting at Rooneys side instead was Paul Stretford of ProActive.  Stretford, who founded ProActive from the cellar of his house back in 1987, was now one of the biggest players in the cutthroat world of player representation.  Rooney was offered a contract paying him over 13,000 a week and today it is estimated his sponsorship deals can earn him in excess of 10 million.  Big money for all concerned

Peter McIntosh, needless to say, wasnt amused:  Call it naivety, call it whatever you want stupidity! but we thought we were fine.  We had a shake hands deal that they would sign a new contract with X8 when the original contract ran out and we were quite confident.

The Everton deal was very good for Rooney and for ProActive.  But to get there, ProActive apparently had to bend some rules.  Fifa Rules.  One of them stated in the Players Agents Regulations, from Fifa, players agents shall, without fail, refrain from any action that could entice clients away from other parties.  When ProActive, and Everton Football Club, announced the signing of a new contract for Wayne Rooney, the player himself was still under contract to Peter McIntosh and X8.

Whats that you say Mr Stretford honesty and integrity?

We feel that theyve taken our player and they shouldnt have done that, says McIntosh.  X8 were not going to give up their golden boy without a fight.

They claimed compensation from ProActive and for a negotiation meeting with Paul Stretford at the De Vere Daresbury Hotel, on Merseyside; they brought with them a three-man team led by John Hyland, a well-known Liverpool boxing promoter.  What they didnt know was that Paul Stretford had hired a former SAS agent who was secretly videotaping the meeting from the room next door.

The voice of Peter McIntosh can be heard clearly Stretford is saying we dont legally owe you anything.  Your contracts have lapsed.  We (ProActive) are now representing the player.  Thats it.  You will not get anything.  Its over

What then happened at the hotel is told by a police officer who was not willing to appear in front of a camera after twenty minutes of general talk, the door opens and in come three men one of which is John Hyland.  Hyland does a good impression of a psychopath, banging his fists on the table.  Throws a phone across the room and then threatens Stretford, saying youve got that contract here and I want it signed now, dont mess me about.  There was no direct threat to kill him, no direct threats to his family but still very scary.

After the meeting Paul Stretford handed over the tape to the Police; John Hyland today faces blackmail charges at Warrington Crown Court while neither ProActive, nor X8 are willing to discuss what happened at the hotel.  However, the solicitor representing John Hyland, Peter Quinn, said the real issue that will arise with regard to Rooney is not so much what they are making now but what will arise if and when Rooney is sold by Everton.  Presume Wayne Rooney is sold for 20M 25M sometime in the future whoever is his agent at that stage will make a huge amount of profit out of him.

English football has a lurid history of dodgy money and dubious transfer deals at the very highest level.  In 1993, former England manager Terry Venables was fired by Tottenham Hotspur after being exposed taking 70,000 to share with Forest manager Brian Clough after the purchase of Teddy Sheringham.  In 1995, Arsenals George Graham was caught with a 300,000 pay-off from the purchase of Danish midfielder John Jensen.  The FA later suspended him.  Even Sir Alex Ferguson has been questioned on money turning up in his son Jasons account, in relation to transfers with Manchester United. 

These scams, and others, have turned the football market into a political issue.  Andy Burnham, Chairman of the Football Task Force, and a sitting Labour MP, asks, In whose interest are these people acting, other than their own?  I cant find an answer to that.  I dont see its in the players interests.  Its certainly not in the supporters interests and its certainly not in the interest of the wider game because theyre just pulling money out of the game and its just bad for all concerned.

Despite action taken from the political side and from the FA scams still appear, and ProActive Sports Management has its own way of doing business.

Mikkel Bischoff

Dane Mikkel Bischoff, now with Manchester City, is one such player happy with his agent.  Its every players dream, isnt it brilliant! he says.  One extremely happy ProActive client

However, his former club in Denmark wonder whether the deal was correct.  Laust Joen Jacobsen, a member of the Board at AB Copenhagen said, even getting the hunch of being manipulated in a deal like that is, of course, very amazing.  Bischoffs club was content with the 1.1M they received for their talented right winger.  That is until the profit made by the agent (ProActive) was disclosed.  A leaked internal ProActive report showing six months revenue from players transfers and the Bischoff deal was conspicuous. 

Laust Joen Jacobsen, when shown a copy of that internal report was shocked 350,000?  Thats more than DKr 4M that they got?  Amazing.  Shocking.  Really, thats some fee isnt it?  His surprise is more than justified.  There is no limit to how much money an agent can make in a transfer but the 5% mentioned in the Fifa Regulations is considered to be a recommendation the players agent is entitled to payment of compensation amounting to 5%

In the Bischoff deal, ProActive got 32%.

Laust Joen Jacobsen, from AB Copenhagen:  A provision of 32% is way beyond anything reasonable.  I think anyone would agree.  Im sure if you asked ProActive they would say the same.

ProActives dealings trace links to many active players and prominent club officials.  One of those is Kevin Keegan, manager of Manchester City, who according to the most recent list of ProActive shareholders shows he has 200,000 shares in the company.  Fifa regulations are very clear.  Agents are not permitted to hold a position in a club.  That, however, does not refer to agent company shareholders!  From the Fifa Regulations an applicant may not, under any circumstance, hold a position with Fifa a club or any organisation connected with these institutions.

Kevin Keegan was a central player in the Bischoff deal, recommending him to Manchester City for purchase.  This was put directly to Keegan on a pre-season tour of Denmark as Keegan moved through a gathering of kids all eager for his autograph.  Mr Keegan why do you have shares in ProActive? asked the reporter.  Keegan grimaced and moved hastily for the team bus, still carrying the half autographed shoe of a young fan!

Conflict of interest perhaps?  The Bischoff transfer is not the first time ProActive has turned up on more than one side of the negotiating table.  In 2001, Aston Villas manager and ProActive shareholder John Gregory announced the purchase of Sporting Lisbons goalkeeper and ProActive shareholder Peter Schmeichel.  When the double loyalties of John Gregory were disclosed Aston Villa sacked him.  For Peter Schmeichels agent, Paul Stretford, the deal was agreeable.  According to press reports Paul Stretfords fee was 360,000.  Schmeichel was then again transferred this time to Kevin Keegans Manchester City!  ProActive associates everywhere!

Watchdogs?

Andy Burnham (Chairman of the Football Task Force) hits the nail on the head, again, when saying, what is actually allowed is a lot of individuals to make a lot of money for their own private pockets out of these clubs that were built up by generations of local people.  Football, increasingly, appears to be an industry serving the needs of few.  Increasingly so it is people like Paul Stretford who are in total control.  They, not the club who pay the wages, own the players and dictate who they move to and when. 

Wayne Rooney is the brightest diamond in their ever-expanding collection and though every Evertonian prays that he remains an Everton player for a long time to come, the reality is that he is a pawn in a lucrative industry surrounding ProActive Sports Management.  Stretfords not one for crying crocodile tears when Evertonians realise that the kid who is living their dream is no more an Everton player.  He stands to pocket an absolute fortune as he touts the hottest prospect in the game.  Look back at how Don King managed the best interests of Mike Tyson are things any different for Wayne Rooney under Paul Stretfords guidance?

Their interim results for the six months ending in February of this year shows that the Representation Division (of ProActive) currently acts for 271 players throughout the world of whom 134 have represented their country at international level.  111 players are based in the UK, 129 in Europe and 31 in the rest of the world.  The divisions turnover was 1.2 million (2003: 1.6 million) and contribution of 164,000 (2003: 38,000).

They completed 33 transfers or contract renewals in the period, an increase of 22% year on year and in line with their expectations.  Turnover has reduced in the period as a result of the impact of the disposal of Proactive Sports Management Europe at the end of the last financial year.

I noticed when reading the Chairmans comments that they intend changing the name of the holding company to Formation Group plc.  They also acquired Kingsbridge Asset Management a company that provides financial services and advice to a client base, which includes professional football players, managers and coaching staff from the 92 professional football clubs.  Kingsbridge Asset Management currently advises over 600 UK based footballers, managers and coaching staff.  In addition to its football clients, the company also advises clients from other sports such as Rugby, Cricket, Golf and Racing.

The deal, acquiring Kingsbridge Asset Management, will be satisfied by a 1.1M cash payment and the issue of almost 16 million new shares at 6p with a further cash payment of 400,000 payable on 1 September 2004. 

Has the bubble burst?

ProActives share price has slumped somewhat alarmingly since they were first issued.  Have they bitten off more than they can chew, as reality now bites football in the bollocks?  More and more clubs are facing financial ruin.  The days of paying millions for players are gone and so too are the excessive wages and lengthy contracts.  Football, borne out of necessity, has become an industry increasingly watchful of where the pennies are spent.  There is no money left in football and most certainly no investment on the scale required.  The financial boon of the past decade has served to benefit not clubs now struggling with what appears terminal debt.  I dont recall the playing career of people like Paul Stretford and yes it does rankle that he has made an absolute fortune on the backs of others.

Stretford will not care a jot what people say about him, he has his money made with plenty more to come.  He owns Wayne Rooney and unless Wayne chooses to act otherwise it is he who will dictate the future of Rooney with or without the aid of a Fifa Regulations manual.  A frightening prospect I am sure you will agree.

Colm Kavanagh
27 Jun 2004