Football facing new Bosman battle

Football may be about to experience another Bosman-like tremor after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland brought clarity to Fifa's infamous Article 17 and went some way to spelling the end for the game's biggest transfer fees, reports The Times.

The specific case concluded in Lausanne was the long-running saga of Andy Webster, the Scotland defender, who was finally ordered to pay Heart of Midlothian a paltry £150,000 for walking out on the club for Wigan Athletic with a year remaining on his contract in August 2006.

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In effect, Fifa has established that a footballer is entitled unilaterally to terminate his contract with his club, even if it still has one, two, or sometimes three years left to run.

The controversy of the Webster case centred on Article 17, which was established two years ago as a bargaining tool between Fifa and the European Union to try to bring the rights of footballers into line with other EU workers. Under the rule, any footballer aged between 23 and 28 is entitled to walk away from a club, so long as he has served three years of a four or five-year contract.

But, more controversially, any player aged 28 or over can also now terminate his contract so long as he has served two years of its duration. Article 17, in effect, goes some way to abolishing huge transfer fees. For example, if a 29-year-old player wishes to leave one club for another - such as was the case with Thierry Henry last season - the only compensation due would be the value of his wages left on his contract.

In a statement, the CAS said: "We have determined that an amount of £150,000 has to be paid by Webster to Hearts as compensation for unilateral breach of contract."

Hearts had originally demanded £4 million-plus for the player. The Webster case is very much a cat among football's pigeons.

"I have always said that this would be the most significant development in football since Bosman," Higgins said yesterday.

"The clubs will now have to re-evaluate how they deal with players on longer-term contracts. And the most affected players will be the top 25 per cent. Basically, Article 17 gives footballers the sort of employee rights that anyone else would expect in the workplace. What it means is that any footballer can now serve notice on his club [in mid-contract] and move on to a new club."

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