Wayne Rooney was exploited when he signed his first commercial contract, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association Gordon Taylor told a court yesterday.
Taylor was appearing as a witness in the case in which Rooney is being sued for £4.3m. The sum represents monies he has diverted to agent Paul Stretford instead of Stretford's former agency Proactive, since Stretford was dismissed by the company for gross misconduct in 2008. Taylor said he felt Proactive had taken advantage of Rooney and his family's naivety by tying him to an eight-year contract in 2003 when the striker was 17.
"Having looked at the evidence I have great concerns at certain arrangements that were made [for him] as a youngster at 16," Taylor said. Asked if he felt Rooney had been exploited with the length of his contract, Taylor added: "If you wanted me to say yes or no, I would say 'yes'. I don't think eight years was reasonable. With regard to the terms, we have already heard evidence it was impossible to get out of his contract during the eight years. I didn't think that was the world I wanted to create for footballers." Taylor said it was his job was to ensure young players were not exploited; on average players have a career lasting just eight years and must use that time to "capitalise on their abilities." In an exchange of some drama, Taylor added that he felt Paul Gascoigne had not been looked after properly, while the former England player's agent Mel Stein sat just across the court from him.
"Someone who has been mentioned, particularly Paul Gascoigne, where now he's in a situation where he comes to us to help provide a roof over his head. Actually I feel he could have been looked after better during his career. I'm not pointing any fingers here. There was a good opportunity to provide for his old age and that's not happened."
Taylor said he had known Rooney and his family for a long time and was prepared to give evidence in the case and wanted to make sure he was properly looked after and "not taken advantage of".
Earlier Stein said Rooney was "underpaid" by Manchester United and in a statement to the court said the player may have been able to double or treble sponsorship payments if another agent had secured better deals. Stein said firms who agree sponsorships with top players, "want to keep their clients happy".
He added: "I'm simply saying, in the real world, people do renegotiate contracts, however long they are, at early stages and companies and clubs renegotiate because they want to have a happy client. Mr Rooney, from my understanding, I don't know precisely what he's on, is underpaid. When he renegotiates his contract he will get a lot more money. It is likely to improve after the World Cup."
The hearing is expected to conclude on Friday though a final written decision by the judge is not expected for some time.
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