Legal threat in battle to keep window open

Fifa warned as clubs step up campaign to end transfer restrictions

Fifa may face legal action unless they make drastic changes to the transfer-window system, according to sources at the Football League. The game's world governing body have already announced a review of the current rules, to take place next summer, and are likely to relent. However, if clubs are not satisfied with the outcome - they want the window scrapped for domestic transfers - they may threaten to take the matter to the European courts.

This action is likely to be encouraged by the Football League, who represent those outside the Premier League. It could come collectively, from an individual club or even from a player who feels he has been denied a lucrative transfer because of the restrictions. The clubs also claim they have been severely penalised by being barred from selling players to bigger clubs outside the window.

The Football League also intend to withdraw from the Professional Football Negotiating and Consultative Committee, who determine the terms and conditions of players' contracts, if they are not listened to. The committee are made up of the League, the Professional Footballers' Association, the Premier League and the Football Association. A withdrawal could involve relegated clubs who are preparing for a drop in income cancelling the contracts of high-earning players.

A meeting is to be scheduled between the Football League's chairman, Sir Brian Mawhinney, and Fifa's chief executive, Sepp Blatter, at which documentation will be produced from the European Commission which clearly shows the ban was only intended for "international transfers" and not those between clubs in the same country.

"If we are not satisfied we would have to look at other options," said a League source. "A challenge could be mounted by a Premier League club who feel they have been denied the right to improve their squad and as a result were relegated. That costs them £15m straight away. Take the example of West Ham United a few years ago; they appeared to be going down and went out and bought John Hartson and Paul Kitson and survived."

The present arrangements prohibit player transactions between 1 September and 31 December, and 1 February to the end of the season in May. It was introduced - with Uefa's backing - to try to dampen an overheated transfer market in which fees were approaching £50m. The regulations were also part of a deal with Fifpro, the international players' union, to protect the status of contracts and avoid free movement of players even when in contract. In reality, the need for a window began to look less urgent once the change was ratified two summers ago. Almost immediately, club finances started to wobble.

In England, with the collapse of ITV Digital leaving Nationwide League clubs owed £178m, the need to be able to sell players at any time far outweighed the inconvenience of being able to buy them only during one month between close seasons.

A spokesman for the Premier League said: "The transfer window is something that we did not want but Fifa implemented it and we have to comply with it. We will offer the Football League our support and lend our weight." However, the body would not support legal action.

Meanwhile, Manchester United moves for Louis Saha and Gareth Southgate and a Chelsea bid for Roberto Ayala would appear to be the only big deals expected when the January window opens this week, with loan deals again dominating.

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