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THE Football Association are conducting a secret inquiry into the sensational revelations about the activities of football agents that emerged during the trial last October which featured Paul Stretford, the agent for Wayne Rooney.

Stretford had alleged blackmail by John Hyland, an associate of Rooney’s former agent Peter McIntosh and Stretford’s main rival for Rooney’s signature. But the trial at Warrington Crown Court collapsed after five days when it emerged that Stretford had misled the court about the date he took control of Rooney’s career.

But the fact that this inquiry is secret is concerning those who were involved in the case. Lord Carlile QC, a former front bench Liberal Democrat spokesman who represented Hyland in the trial, told me: “As somebody in public life with a lifelong enthusiasm for the game – man and boy Burnley supporter – I believe there needs to be a transparent open inquiry, some of it in public, into the actions of football agents.

“What I am saying is not directed at any individual. But the fact is money changes hands and is paid to agents. It is money paid by us, fans who go to the game. Fans are getting poor value, clubs are getting poor value and the agent is milking the cow at both ends.”

It was during Lord Carlile’s cross examination of Stretford that he was forced to defend the fact that although he was paid by Rooney for his transfer to Manchester United, he was also paid £1.5 million by United.

Asked by Lord Carlile whether it was not a blatant conflict of interest Stretford replied: “It is the normal structures of the business.”

Yesterday a spokesman for Stretford, 44, said he had not been contacted by the FA about any inquiry and, as far as he was concerned, there were no outstanding issues arising from the case.

Three days after the trial Stretford resigned from the board of Formation Group, the publicly quoted company who handle Rooney, saying he was doing so “for personal reasons”. However, he remained as head of Proactive Sports Management, Formation’s player-representation business who look after 225 footballers, and continue to act for Rooney.

After the trial, Hyland called for an FA inquiry. I understand that the FA did not have any observers at the trial which surprised some of the legal teams involved. It would have been normal practice, given the allegations and high profile of the agents involved, for somebody from the game’s governing body to be present.

However, in the last week the FA have decided to do something and letters have been written by Mark Gay, the lawyer who prosecuted Rio Ferdinand on behalf of the FA, to various people involved in the trial, including solicitors acting for McIntosh. The letters ask for co-operation. I can also reveal the FA have appointed leading fraud practitioner Anthony Arlidge QC to advise them.

But the inquiry is so secret that no announcement of it being conducted has been made and some of the top people at Soho Square did not even know it was going on. I am told it has been initiated by the FA’s compliance department under the direction of Jonathan Hall, the head of the FA’s legal services.

An FA spokesman refused to discuss the inquiry saying it was FA policy not to comment on such matters. However, the spokesman reiterated the FA are aware there are “certain shortcomings” in the regulations governing agents. The FA have drafted new regulations which will come into force in the summer. The spokesman said: “The emphasis is on improving transparency.”

This morning the Football League will issue their second report detailing what their clubs have paid agents during the previous six months. It will be more than £5 million.

League chairman Sir Brian Mawhinney said: “It is an enormous increase and when we publish the result club by club there will be some significant discussions. My guess is when we publish the figures the debate will hot up.”

It will also put pressure on the Premier League whose clubs pay even more to agents but who, United apart, do not disclose agents’ fees.
© Mihir Bose

      

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