Madjid Bougherra to expose Rangers to FIFA’s Webster ruling

by Willie Gannon

Five years after benefiting from the “Webster ruling,” Rangers look set to lose out on one of their star players after Madjid Bougherra signalled that he wants to leave the SPL champions.

It is widely believed that the Algerian defender, a signing from Charlton in 2008 for £2.5 million, has told the club that he will not only turn down their recent contract extension offer but that he will now most likely invoke Article 17 of the FIFA transfers and contracts rulebook if he is not sold. Under the ruling players over the age of 28 can buy out the remaining years of their contract, regardless of length.

In 2006 Andy Webster made football transfer history when he became the first player to invoke a loophole in Article 17 of new transfer regulations FIFA had adopted to bring football’s transfer system into line with EU working time law. This enabled the centre half to cancel his contract with Hearts in the third year of a four-year deal, with the main proviso that he join a club in a foreign country and that he issue sufficient notice to his former club about the impending transfer.

Webster’s transfer to Wigan Athletic was then ratified by FIFA on 4 September 2006, thus creating a legal precedent for the conduct of international football transfers.

The ex-Hearts defender’s stay with the Latics was a short one though, as after just four games he amazingly returned to Scotland on loan to Rangers. Unfortunately for the player though his time with the Gers was devastated by injury and he only managed to play three times over the following two seasons.

It is generally accepted that the “Webster Ruling” could hold the same kind of significance as the “Bosman Ruling” as far as football is concerned but as of yet no major player has chosen to use the ruling to his benefit.

In October 2010 as Wayne Rooney began contract negotiations with Manchester United it was revealed the Red Devils striker had informed the club that he would look into using Article 17 if contract talks did not go as he and his advisor hoped. Under the ruling, it is believed that Rooney could have bought out the remainder of his contract for as little as £5 million.

This time last year, Rangers’ Old Firm rivals Celtic benefited from a similar contact loophole when they signed Joe Ledley from Cardiff City on a free transfer. The midfielder was out of contract but as he was under the age of 23 Cardiff could claim compensation but only if he moved to a team in the same jurisdiction. Stoke City had already agreed upon a transfer fee of £3 million with the Welsh club only for Ledley to choose to move north of the border to Celtic where no compensation would have to be paid.

As far as Bougherra is concerned his potential loss will come as a major blow to the champions as they prepare for life in the Champions League next term. Since joining in 2008, the skillful centre back has won many admirers for his impressive performances and he has become something of a fixture in the Rangers rearguard with 79 appearances over the last three seasons.

During the title run in the 28-year-old defender had signalled his intentions at extending his stay at Ibrox, but with QPR having won promotion to the Premier League and seemingly interested in signing him, Bougherra has now said that he wants to leave.

Should Bougherra decide to invoke the ruling it is understood that he will have to pay the club an estimated £1 million, so Rangers are now faced with either having to sell the player for a similar amount, taking the £1 million from the player, or the worst case scenario where the player sits out the next year of his contract before leaving for free in June 2012.

Having given Rangers the required notice of 15 days and his intention to leave, it looks as if the 2011/12 SPL season has already gotten off to a tough start before a ball has been kicked.

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