Gabriel Heinze, the Manchester United defender, could become one of the first Barclays Premiership players to "buy out" his contract by invoking a little-known clause in Fifa's new transfer regulations.
Under the legislation, the Argentina defender will be entitled to serve 15 days' notice on his contract in June and to join any one of his suitors in France, Italy or Spain, with United receiving a compensation fee of about £6 million.
Numerous leading players could be in a position to exploit the ruling in the summer, such as John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Frank Lampard at Chelsea, Xabi Alonso and Luis García at Liverpool and Gilberto Silva at Arsenal. But, while all of those are likely to be offered new contracts in the coming months, Heinze, frustrated by his lack of first-team opportunities this season, is understood to be giving serious thought to serving notice on his contract unless the club agree to sell him.
Under Fifa regulations, a contract ceases to be "protected" after a period of three years if the player was under 28 when he signed. At that point he or, more realistically, another club may "buy out" the contract at 15 days' notice, provided that a compensation fee is paid to the club owning his registration.
"I know there is interest from AC Milan for me, but now the decision remains with Manchester United," Heinze said. "I have a contract signed until June 2007 and I do not want to go anywhere in January. I want to wait until June to see what happens. I have a lot of other options in European clubs for the next season."
Those remarks baffled Ferguson, who confessed to have "dived for my file" upon reading that the player's contract expires in June. "I was sure that wasn't right," the United manager said. "We don't let these things happen. It's 2009 (that his contract expires)."
Although the contract has more than two years to run, it will cease to be "protected" in June, the third anniversary of his arrival from PSG. Unless Heinze signs a new deal before June, which is unlikely, he is expected to pursue a move.