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Wayne Rooney's long-term agent is under investigation by the Football Association for secretly paying staff and player wages at Derby County, Telegraph Sport can reveal.
A cheque worth around £1.6million was allegedly handed over to cover salaries in May in an attempt to help the American businessman Chris Kirchner get his failed takeover on track.
Paul Stretford, one of the most influential representatives in the domestic game, is now cooperating with an FA investigation into claims his intervention may have breached agent regulations.
As part of his deal to run the club, Kirchner is understood to have initially promised to cover player and staff wages after the first week of May. Stretford is believed to have covered the bill towards the end of the month, however, when the takeover first ran into serious problems.
The governing body is understood to be exploring potential conflict of interest issues, given his close ties with former England captain Rooney, who was at the time Derby manager.
If found to have contravened the rules by the FA, Stretford faces a fine, or even having his licence suspended. The investigation will also prompt questions around Stretford's working relationship with Kirchner. The pair were also said to have been close associates during the American's failed attempt to buy Preston North End.
Stretford, 63, who also represents Manchester United's Harry Maguire, is understood to have confirmed to the FA that he made the payment to keep the club going in May. Friends of the agent say he was acting in the best interests of the stricken club by handing over the funds. Staff wages had gone unpaid for around a month twice during Mel Morris' troubled stewardship.
When contacted by Telegraph Sport on Monday, Streford's spokesman said: "There's no comment available at the moment". The FA also said it had "nothing to add".
The alleged payment appears to have been made as Kirchner's takeover first ran into trouble. The American was willing to offer unsecured creditors 35p to the pound over the next three years to avoid a points deduction next season. He was named as the preferred bidder on April 6, to the immense frustration of rival bidders Mike Ashley and former chairman Andrew Appleby.
Derby County had been in administration for eight months by May 31, when Kirchner's takeover was expected to officially close. But despite having provided proof of funds to the Football League and passed its owners and directors test, problems emerged around the transfer of cash from a US account into the club.
In the ensuing weeks, Kirchner refused to answer questions, most notably while playing golf at the Saudi rebel circuit pro-am alongside professionals Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter. He eventually withdrew from the deal on June 13.
The investigation into Stretford now comes to light just three days after Rooney delivered the news Derby fans had been dreading by announcing he was leaving the club.
Rooney requested to be relieved of his duties during a meeting with administrators Quantuma on Friday.
Derby were relegated from the Championship but Rooney’s work against a backdrop of financial chaos was impressive, with the 36-year-old also rejecting the chance to speak with his first club, Everton, over the role as manager.
He had admitted towards the end of last season that he would stay on if Kirchner’s takeover bid was successful, but when he withdrew there were fears he would leave.
On Sunday, local property developer David Clowes had his bid to buy the club accepted and he now hopes to complete the purchase by Wednesday.
He announced his intention to try to take the Rams out of administration on Friday after buying Pride Park from Derby's former owner Mel Morris. His company, Clowes Developments (UK) Ltd - based in the Derbyshire village of Ednaston and with assets worth a reported £300m - had already given a loan to the club to allow them to start the forthcoming season after Kirchner's attempt to buy the Rams collapsed. Interim manager Liam Rosenior, 37, took charge of the team on Monday as they reported back for pre-season training.
Stretford, owner of the TripleS Sports & Entertainment Group, has worked closely with Rooney since his playing days. England’s leading goalscorer took temporary charge of Derby in November 2020 following the departure of Phillip Cocu.
There is no suggestion Rooney's departure is related to the FA investigation facing Stretford.
“Today I met with the administrators to inform them of my decision that it was time for me to leave the club,” Rooney said last week
“In fairness to them, they tried tremendously hard to change my decision but my mind was made up.
“My time at the club has been a rollercoaster of emotions, both highs and lows, but I have to say that I have enjoyed the challenge. Personally, I feel the club now needs to be led by someone with fresh energy and not affected by the events that have happened over the last eighteen months."