Rooney: Ferguson limits my sponsors

Striker reveals United manager's control over players as he fights £4.3m court case
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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney yesterday revealed that he is limited to five sponsorship deals by his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, whose tight control over players' off-field commitments would clearly not have run to tolerating John Terry's free rein at Chelsea.

Rooney disclosed the limitations to his off-field work in the course of appearing in court to fight a £4.3m lawsuit brought by his former agents Proactive, following the Manchester United striker's decision to remove his work from them when his representative, Paul Stretford, was dismissed by the company in 2008 for gross misconduct. This followed a blackmail trial at Warrington Crown Court which collapsed after Stretford was said to have given "false and misleading" evidence.

Rooney's number of sponsorship deals, from which Stretford has continued to take 20 per cent despite the deals having been negotiated under the aegis of Proactive, was "based on what my manager tells me," Rooney told Manchester Mercantile Court, where the company, now owned by the Formation Group, is pursuing its claim against the 24-year-old.

The responsibilities of fatherhood have contributed to Rooney not even using up his quota, he said, with no plans to add to the four deals he has struck with Nike, Coca Cola, EA Sports and Tiger beer. "To be honest, I'm probably doing the max," Rooney said. "My wife has just had a baby. I need time to spend with them and I need time with my family as well. It could change but not at the minute."

Stretford, banned by the FA from representing players for nine months last May in the light of the blackmail trial, suggested in his testimony yesterday that Ferguson had had his fingers burnt in allowing United players freedom to maximise their off-field revenues. "Sir Alex Ferguson is known for his attention to detail," Stretford said. "That doesn't just go for training etc. He believes the priority of any player should be his football. I'm not naming any names but I think he has experience where commercial opportunities have got out of control."

Despite the strictures imposed by Ferguson, the case has provided a detailed sense of the vast sums earned by Rooney and his wife, Coleen – and thus Stretford, who takes a fifth as part of a working relationship in which the agent also helps to organise "my everyday life," as Rooney described it yesterday. "There's obviously a lot of stuff to be done and we needed someone to do it," Rooney said.

It was put to Rooney that the idea of a new sole trader in the football agent business – Stretford – claiming 20 per cent commission on a player's off-field income was unheard of. But Rooney, who wrote a character statement for Stretford at his FA tribunal hearing last year, insisted that Proactive had no right to claim money from him when Stretford had gone.

"I thought I could give 31 days' notice and leave Proactive," Rooney said. "The other team-mates I had at Everton [when the initial Proactive contract was signed] had that in their agreements – or they told me they did. I wanted Mr Stretford to look after me and I don't think Proactive could have provided the service for me. No one from Proactive called me to say, 'We will provide the services for you now that Paul Stretford has gone'."

It was put to Rooney that solicitors engaged by Stretford had forbidden Proactive from contacting Rooney and his wife. Rooney acknowledged the fact. "But before Mr Stretford got sacked from the company no one explained that he was going to be sacked [so we could prepare]," he added.

Rooney dealt with his testimony quietly and unfalteringly, though his mother, Jeanette, was clearly more indignant about her cross-examination. The court heard that Coleen Rooney would not be appearing, despite expectations that she would.

Proactive is seeking past and future commissions totalling more than £4m from Rooney and damages for a breach of contract. Court papers filed just over a year ago showed that on top of his then £90,000-a-week club salary, Rooney was also earning £1m a year from Nike, more than £200,000 a year from the computer games firm EA and £600,000 from a four-year deal with Coca-Cola.

Coleen Rooney's non-appearance means she will not be discussing details of her income from endorsements of perfume and make-up, plus magazine columns and her TV series Real Women. The hearing continues.