Paul Stretford, Wayne Rooney's agent, was paid by both Rooney himself and Manchester United for his role in delivering the 18-year-old striker to United from Everton this week. Of the £1m paid to Stretford's Proactive Sports Management agency - rising to £1.5m if Rooney stays at Old Trafford for five years - part was paid by Rooney, for Stretford negotiating the terms of his £50,000-a-week contract, and part was paid directly by United, for Stretford bringing Rooney to sign for the club.
Deals where both a club and a player pay the same agent for working on a transfer seem to scream of potential conflicts of interest. There is no evidence that Stretford did anything other than negotiate the best deal for Rooney. However, in such a situation there could be a risk that because the agent stands to profit financially from having his player join that club, he could go easy in the contract negotiations, not fight fully for his player, to make sure the player signs.
The rules on agents' conduct, as set out by football's world governing body, Fifa, and administered here by the Football Association, state, apparently clear as crystal, at Article 14: "A licensed players' agent is required to represent only one party when negotiating a transfer." This is one part of the often mysterious agents' world perhaps best understood by the wider football public: an agent cannot work for both parties because that amounts to a glaring potential conflict of interest.
However, if supporters conclude that Stretford's role in Rooney's transfer, for which he was paid by both sides, clearly breaches those rules, they would apparently be mistaken. The FA told me this week that the way Fifa applies its rules leaves the way open for agents and clubs to operate like this.
United's new practice of transfer glasnost, in which they publish a breakdown of money paid to the selling club and to agents, which followed the furore over the extent to which Sir Alex Ferguson's son, Jason, had been paid by United for working on transfers, has lifted a very helpful lid on the way the football industry conducts its transfers.
In an apparently innocuous section of the official statement United released on Tuesday, the club said of the £1m-£1.5m they are paying Stretford: "Fees payable to Proactive Sports Management Ltd in relation to both acquisition of player and negotiation of personal terms."
Phil Townsend, United's official spokesman, put some flesh on the bones of that sentence. Take the second element first: negotiation of personal terms. That is the standard work of agents as supporters understand it. Stretford sat down opposite United's chief executive David Gill to wrest from him the £50,000 a week plus performance-related trimmings in Rooney's new, fat contract. Rooney has agreed to pay his agent a proportion of the deal as his commission, between five and 10 per cent according to Proactive. To save United writing Rooney a cheque which he immediately has to pay out to Stretford, United, for convenience, pay Stretford directly. That is common practice.
But then there is the first element of the payment to the agent: "acquisition of player". Townsend explained that United had agreed to pay Stretford directly for successfully bringing Rooney to United, separate from the money Stretford was also to get for negotiating Rooney's contract. The way this worked shines a very revealing light on the conduct of transfers, and agents, in this country.
Rooney's transfer, which left Everton fans shell-shocked this week, is a saga with plenty of background, but it moved astonishingly quickly in the fortnight before the transfer window closed last Tuesday. Gill had said earlier in the month that United were not interested in signing Rooney now, and the club are adamant they were going to wait until January, the next transfer window, to make a bid.
Then, 10 days before the August deadline, Newcastle United suddenly announced a £20m bid for Rooney. That is another controversial episode, given Newcastle's chairman Freddy Shepherd's friendship with Stretford and the fact that his son, Kenny Shepherd, works for Proactive out of an office in St James' Park - and has 88,000 shares in the agency. Another potential conflict of interest some might think, but all sides - Newcastle, Proactive and Manchester United - maintain the Newcastle bid was genuine and that the Shepherd connection was irrelevant.
Newcastle's bid, as Ferguson made clear this week, prompted United to suddenly move for Rooney because they wanted the teenager all along and were not prepared to see him go to Newcastle, as Alan Shearer did when he moved from Blackburn in July 1996. At that point, Townsend told me, once Everton were making it apparent they were now entertaining bids, United stepped in in earnest. They agreed with Stretford that if Rooney joined them, United would pay him directly. "We agreed to pay the player's agent for bringing his client to United, helping to sort out the deal, and making sure we achieved our end goal of securing Wayne Rooney for United."
Townsend was very clear that Stretford's work on United's behalf did not involve negotiating the sale with Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman, whose disposal of the club's most valuable player has earned him derision from many Everton fans. Kenwright himself - because Everton currently have no chief executive - negotiated the sale directly with Gill, Townsend said. So Stretford's role, for which he was paid by United, was to talk to Rooney himself, his own client. He would be paid by United for discussing the move with Rooney and smoothing the path for him to join United. "It was not for negotiating with Everton. We paid Paul Stretford for bringing his client to United. He was paid on delivery, for success."
Townsend said that is the way many transfers are conducted, an agent is paid a "success fee" by a club, and by the player for negotiating his terms, although it is not usually the same agent performing both roles. When the striker Louis Saha joined United from Fulham in January for £13m, according to insiders at Old Trafford, United paid the Israeli agent, Pini Zahavi, £500,000 for opening and conducting talks, on behalf of the club, with Fulham's owner Mohamed Fayed. Fayed had been extremely reluctant to sell Saha, and Zahavi opened that door for United. Saha's own agent, Branko Stoic, was paid £250,000, by United on behalf of Saha, for negotiating the terms of Saha's contract.
Townsend said that when player transfers are being discussed, United assume other clubs will also be paying agents to deliver their players: "That is the market we are in," he said.
Ian Monk, a spokesman for Proactive, contradicted the version set out in United's breakdown, saying Stretford's fee was "all one", purely a fee from Rooney, worth between five-10 per cent of the deal, and did not include a payment direct from United. However, Townsend insisted that was the case, and that the payments had to be set out separately to identify the sum attributed to Rooney on which he would have to pay tax.
Working for two parties when negotiating a transfer is forbidden by the Fifa rules, as administered here by the FA. However, an FA spokesman, Andrin Cooper, finally clarified that, in fact, the FA did not consider that the rules had been breached in this case; the Fifa regulations have not been interpreted to outlaw payments, like this one, made both by the club and the player.
"There is nothing in the Fifa regulations," he said, "to prevent a transfer from being seen as more than one element; separating the negotiation of the transfer itself from the negotiation of the player's terms."
What that apparently means is that Fifa's rule might look clear, but in fact it isn't. They regard the work an agent does persuading his player to join a club, for which he is paid by the club, as separate from negotiating the player's terms with that club in the same transfer. This despite the fact that one depends on the other; the agent would not be paid by the club unless in the end his player agreed to the personal terms.
The nation's most exciting young footballer has moved at 18, spattered by tabloid revelations and with an injured foot, after just 40 full appearances, and 27 as substitute, from the club he and his family have supported all their lives, to world football's richest plc, for a fee rising to £30m. He has the big house and the lucrative contract, and Paul Stretford, whose "Player Representation Division" turned over £4.5m in the whole of 2002-03, has pulled off a guaranteed £1m fee, for his work done in the last couple of weeks, paid by both sides. This, we are told by all involved, falls squarely within the rules, and is the way things are done these days.