Proactive Sports founder and chief steps down

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The Independent Online

Paul Stretford, the high-profile sports agent, yesterday stepped down as the chief executive of Proactive Sports, the company he founded and floated.

Proactive, which specialises in representing football players including England star Wayne Rooney, has been at the centre of controversy in recent times over allegations of conflicts of interest, due to some of the best-known managers in British football also holding stakes in the company.

Manchester City manager Kevin Keegan and his Newcastle United equivalent Sir Bobby Robson, are among a number of football managers who are also Proactive shareholders.

Proactive has struggled in recent times with the drop in activity in the transfer market, caused by both a financial squeeze in European football and the introduction of the transfer "window", allowing players to be transferred only during specified periods of the year.

The new chief executive, Neil Rodford, who steps up from his current role of chief operating officer, said that Mr Stretford, who started the company from the cellar of his house in 1987 and continues to hold a stake in the company of almost 12 per cent, had "not enjoyed the corporate nature of running a listed company". Mr Stretford will remain with Proactive in an executive and full-time capacity as its sales director and on his current salary of £110,000.

The company has seen its share price slide from a listing high of 40p to close at just 6.12p yesterday.

The board changes coincide with the announcement of the company's acquisition of financial services firm Kingsbridge Asset Management in a £2.5m deal as Proactive attempts to broaden its range of services to counter the effects of the downturn in the football representation market. The company also announced that it had entered into a joint venture with the law firm Couchman Harrington to provide legal services to Praoactive's clients. Mr Rodford said the model for the company was to become a "football equivalent of IMG", the original sports marketing agency.

Although the purchase of profitable Kingsbridge added well-known players from other sports as clients, Mr Rodford said that the company would remain "football-based".

Mr Rodford added that footballer representation "is not easy" and hoped the company's business would be evenly between its three core divisions of sports marketing, player representation and financial services in the future.

The deal 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.

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