Rio Ferdinand will have to demand a transfer if he wants to move to Manchester United in a £30million-plus move.
New Leeds manager Terry Venables left his captain and England centre half in no doubt yesterday that a written request - which would cost Ferdinand more than £1m in loyalty bonuses - would be the player's only way out.
Venables met unsettled Ferdinand for the first time since taking over at Elland Road, with their London meeting lasting less than an hour before the former England coach had to fly out on a television assignment to the Seychelles.
But while using all the persuasive charm that has been a mark of his managerial career, Venables also laid it on the line that Ferdinand, 23, will have to force the issue if he wants permission to walk away.
Venables' hard- line approach - with the backing of chairman Peter Ridsdale - not only leaves Ferdinand with the problem of incurring the wrath of Elland Road's notoriously volatile fans. It also turns up the heat nicely at Old Trafford, where manager Sir Alex Ferguson is becoming increasingly anxious about landing a top quality central defender before the Premiership campaign opens on August 17.
Ferdinand, due to begin his World Cup-delayed pre-season training on Thursday, went away to consider Venables' warning as well as the glowing picture that was painted of the future at Leeds.
The former West Ham defender stepped from his talks with Venables into a longer sit-down with agent Pini Zahavi, who brokered his £18m move to Leeds 20 months ago. Ferdinand is due to fly out with Leeds on their tour to the Far East and Australia next Saturday, but he has been given no deadline to decide where he goes from here.
Ridsdale has always maintained that the Ferdinand situation, which has simmered all summer, was not a factor in Leeds' efforts to raise £15m to ease the club's debts by selling at least two players.
That financial pressure will ease further with the £9m transfer today of rebel Lee Bowyer to Liverpool and fellow midfielder Olivier Dacourt's expected £15m move to Juventus.