On Sunday, the Guardian‘s Daniel Taylor wrote a piece in which he praised Leighton Baines as the model for transfer window behaviour. He wrote that Baines, following interest from Manchester United, had “not forced the issue… he does not have a team of people working in the shadows to put pressure on Everton, planting stories, kicking up a stink.”
Buried in this article is a disturbing insight into the mind of Paul Stretford, Wayne Rooney’s Mr 15%. The following is taken from Taylor’s piece.
[Rooney’s] agent, Paul Stretford, to use Sir Alex Ferguson’s description, is “not the most popular man” at Old Trafford.
Yet Rooney sometimes appears to be in thrall of him. “It’s like dad and son,” as someone closely involved put it a few days ago. “It’s nothing like the usual player and agent relationship.” And Stretford, for the most part, is clearly used to getting his own way.
He is not someone I know well but I have been flicking through Stan Collymore‘s autobiography over the past few days and it offers his own insight into what it is like being a Stretford client. Published in 2004, shortly after Rooney moved to United, it also has some advice for the teenager. “I hope Rooney knows what kind of animal Stretford is,” he writes. “I hope he doesn’t fall for all the emotional shit.”
Collymore remembers Stretford going from being “a thorough, professional, understated guy to this horrible parody of an agent”, wearing a long Gucci coat and sunglasses and christened, behind his back, as “Toad” by the player’s mates, because he reminded them of the character from The Wind in the Willows. That may sound fairly inconsequential. Yet Collymore also came to think of himself as “a doormat” as far as Stretford was concerned and, explaining why he eventually severed all ties, depicts him as a deeply manipulative character. “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.”
One time, shortly after Collymore had moved from Liverpool to Aston Villa, he says he took a telephone call from Stretford begging for money. “His business was expanding and he had calculated I owed him £80,000.” Collymore says he ran some checks and worked out he did not owe a penny. “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?'” Collymore wrote a cheque because “that was the kind of hold he had over me”.
This time, however, Stretford is not going to get what he and his client want. United, as the Guardian revealed last week, are not going to let Rooney join Chelsea, no matter how many roubles Roman Abramovich chucks at it or what the player and his agent cook up next.”
Whilst some may argue that it would be risky to take the word of Stan Collymore as gospel, it is a deeply disturbing portrait – the “you do love me, don’t you Stan?” part in particular, especially after Collymore has since revealed how he battled depression and problems with alcohol over the course of his career.
Though some of his behaviour over his career was inexcusable, Collymore’s autobiography nonetheless paints the portrait of an extremely vulnerable man who was manipulated and taken advantage of at every possible turn.
With Taylor’s sources and description, it is not difficult to imagine that Stretford whispering, like a fatter version of the snake to Eve in the Garden of Eden, in the ear of Rooney that he’s better off at another club.
Whilst the role of agents in these transfer sagas is discussed, it is not discussed enough. Rooney is the public face of his own discontent, but Stretford is the private one. It might be disrespectful to Wayne Rooney to suggest he is a simply a puppet with Stretford’s hand inserted firmly into the back of his head, with no desires and grievances of his own. But reading Taylor’s piece, with Collymore’s comments on the “emotional shit”, it feels like the Rooney’s transfer request in 2010 and this summer’s dragging saga just became a little easier to understand.