Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard could use a little-known Fifa rule to negotiate new contracts at Chelsea and Liverpool that could earn them close to £175,000 a week and push them towards the world-record deal David Beckham recently announced with LA Galaxy. Purely for playing, Beckham will earn around £10m a year (£200,000 a week), with the rest made up of endorsements. On a like-for-like basis, Lampard and Gerrard could earn almost as much.
The rule which could help them is Article 17 of Fifa's transfer regulations, under which players can unilaterally cancel their contracts after a "protected period" expires, if they pay "buyout" compensation to their clubs, based on wages.
The three-year protection period on Lampard's current five-year deal runs out this summer, so he could theoretically leave then for around £8m, two years' wages. The protection period on Gerrard's four-year deal expires in summer next year, when he could leave for one year's wages, or around £5m.
Lampard's market value is closer to £25m, and Gerrard's next year will probably be around £20m. It is the difference between these figures and the much lower buyout costs that they could pocket in bumper new deals. Lampard wants a five-year deal starting this summer to take him to 2012. Using another Chelsea salary as a benchmark, Andrei Shevchenko's £6m per year, and adding the "differential" between Lampard's buyout and market values, he could argue for £181,000 a week, or £9.4m a year. He would settle for less.
Lampard's agent, Steve Kutner, told The Independent yesterday Lampard wants to sign a new deal at Chelsea, and that as things stand, "he's not intending to invoke the clause [Article 17]." He added, however: "We know about the rule, and I've talked to Peter Kenyon [Chelsea's chief executive] about what Frank's worth to Chelsea, and what he's worth to other clubs. The fact of the matter is that Frank's about as indispensable to Chelsea as anyone, not just creating goals and scoring them, but as a marketing icon. His shirt sales outstrip any other player by four to one."
Article 17 has caused disquiet since Andy Webster, a Scotland defender, became the first person in the world to invoke it to move from Heart of Midlothian to Wigan Athletic last summer.
Liverpool are known to be particularly concerned that Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia could use it to leave this summer, if so minded, while Gerrard and Jamie Carragher could do so next year. Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, has said privately that deals for all four should be a priority for the club's new owns, George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks.
Manchester United's Gabriel Heinze could also use Article 17 to leave Old Trafford this summer. The complexities of the rules mean Manchester United would receive about as much in compensation as the £6.9m they paid for him in 2004.
Arguably the most extraordinary example of the power of Article 17 to date was its role in Matthew Upson's January move from Birmingham to West Ham. Upson could have invoked Article 17 this summer, and left Birmingham for £1.5m at most. This would have been on the basis of a year's wages (£750,000), and a slice of his original fee. Birmingham did a deal that will earn them £7.5m instead, albeit with some of that due to Arsenal as a sell-on fee.
"In a normal situation where we could have realised his value in the summer, we wouldn't have sold," said Birmingham's chairman, David Gold. "But we became aware [of Article 17] and acted in the best interests of the club."