Frank Lampard is considering walking out of Chelsea and signing for Internazionale after receiving legal advice that, despite their threats, it would be impossible for the club to hold him to the final year of his contract at Stamford Bridge. It would then be up to Chelsea to try to recoup compensation for him from football's world governing body, Fifa.
In what has turned into a bitter dispute over his future, Lampard's lawyers have investigated whether he should invoke the so-called "Webster Clause" – Article 17 of Fifa's rules – which effectively allows certain players to unilaterally terminate their contract with their present club.
Lampard's stance shows just how far apart he is now from Chelsea. The 30-year-old was shocked at being told that they are not prepared to enter into any further negotiations over his future. Chelsea say that Lampard can either sign the four-year deal he has been offered or run down his present contract. They are not willing to offer him the five years he wants.
Yesterday, the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, insisted that Lampard would be forced to see out the final year of his contract if he did not sign the new deal. "We'd like to hope we can reach an agreement but if we can't we have always worked on the basis that he sees out the terms of his contract," Kenyon said. "The situation is ongoing. We have always maintained that we want Frank to stay and an offer was made to that effect. That offer is still on the table. Frank is under contract and he still has one year to run on that.
"Chelsea has made its position very clear to Internazionale and they have come back now with a financial offer. That will be rejected. Contrary to what you may have read it is totally untrue that [manager Luiz] Felipe [Scolari] was pushing the club or putting pressure on us to change the offer to Frank."
Chelsea yesterday formally rejected the £8m bid from Inter that was submitted on Sunday. The club initially claimed there had been no offer and although the Italians indicated that they are prepared to offer more to land their main transfer target once they have signed Roma's Mancini, Kenyon reiterated that he was not for sale.
That presents Lampard with three options. He can either sign the deal on offer from Chelsea – which he has now insisted he has no intention of doing – he can wait until January and sign a pre-contract agreement with Inter – which at present appears the most likely option – or he can go down the Webster route.
There is no suggestion that he is set to do the latter just yet, but it is significant that he and his advisers have investigated the possibility and feel it is a viable alternative. They certainly feel he cannot be kept at Chelsea if he does not want to stay and claim that there is no need to submit a transfer request.
The case they are citing is that of Andy Webster, the Scotland defender, who walked out on Hearts for Wigan Athletic with a year remaining on his contract in August 2006. The 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.
Initially Webster was ordered to pay £625,000 in compensation to Hearts, who had originally demanded £4m, which was roughly three times the value of the wages left on his contract. It meant that Lampard could have faced a bill of £12m. But in January Webster's payment was reduced by the Court of Arbitration in Sport to just £150,000 in compensation, which means, on a pro-rata basis, that Chelsea would receive far less for Lampard than is currently being offered by Inter.
Lampard, because he has not submitted a letter serving notice of his intentions within 15 days of the last competitive game of the season, would also face the possibility of "sporting sanctions". But his advisers believe that this would just be a ban from playing football for a small number of days.
Lampard's legal team think that Article 17 is intended to protect players precisely in his situation – when he wants to be allowed to leave but is being held to a contract. Lampard is also angry that he and his agent Steve Kutner have spent two years trying to sort out his future at Chelsea.Reuse content