HEARTS last night launched an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, as they seek up to £5million compensation from Andy Webster's controversial move to Wigan Athletic last summer.
FIFA announced three weeks ago that 625,000 was due jointly between Wigan and Webster after he became the first player to invoke Article 17 of the governing body's transfer regulations by terminating his contract three years into its intended four-year duration. At that point, FIFPro, the international players' union who have worked closely with the 25-year-old throughout the year-long case, hailed Webster as a pioneer and the decision as a victory for players, but conceded they were unaware how the compensation figure was reached.
Hearts are also perplexed by the lack of clarity, but the Edinburgh club insist they are due up to a further 4.4million in order to be recompensed for the cost of replacing the Scotland defender, and that their work in developing his ability is recognised. They feel the issue of finding a replacement for Webster is backed up by Scottish law.
"This matter is much wider than Hearts, Andrew Webster and Wigan," explained Campbell Ogilvie, Hearts' director of operations. "It is about the good of football and preserving the interests of clubs that invest in players and youth development in order to reap the rewards of those investments.
"Players and clubs should be working together for mutual benefit, but, when players can leave the club in breach of contract for a fraction of their market value or replacement cost, then it is football that will suffer, not simply the club concerned."
Hearts have hired the London-based law firm Hammonds, who specialise in sports legal cases and have worked closely with Chelsea and Arsenal, to oversee their appeal.
Stephen Sampson, a partner in the company who attended the club's press conference in Edinburgh yesterday, said he expected it to take up to six months for the Court of Arbitration to discuss the Webster dispute.
Sampson added: "It is not an exaggeration to suggest football is facing a new Bosman and, for that reason, it is crucial that clubs, firstly, are fully aware of this issue and, thereafter, have an opportunity to act to counter the threat that the existing position presents.
"FIFPro's whole approach does not add up. The decision has gone against them, significantly. The sums do not add up either, which is part of the reason Hearts have launched this appeal."
Hearts and Hammonds argue that if the 625,000 settlement was allowed to stand, clubs would resist from handing players any more than a three-year deal at any time, or a two-year deal if the player is 28 or older at the time of signing. The club are also concerned that the case allows movement of players without terms being agreed between two clubs.
Sampson expressed his belief that, because the European Commission has endorsed a transfer system within football, it should be allowed to operate.
However, FIFPro appeared to counter such a statement earlier this month when they said the EC had wanted to abolish the transfer system, only for FIFA to integrate Article 17 into their legislation in an attempt to find middle ground.
Hearts have used the transfer of Joleon Lescott, a 24-year-old central defender, from Wolves to Everton for 4 million last summer as a basis for reaching their valuation of Webster. They added that their valuation of Webster, who moved to Tynecastle from Arbroath before going on to gain international recognition, has been agreed by an "independent expert." The club stress that the residual value of Webster's contract, 150,000, should not be used as a basis for any compensation payment as FIFPro have intimated it should be.
"We believe there is a severe threat to the good of the game," Ogilvie said. "There are a lot of clubs who have been enquiring about the situation to us, both in Scotland and down south, and there is a lot of interest in it, which shows how important it is."
There will be no impediment to Webster - on loan at Rangers and expected to complete a permanent move to the club Hearts refused to sell him directly to in the summer of 2005 - playing while the case is ongoing.