West Bromwich Albion is likely to appeal against a landmark court ruling preventing football clubs taking legal action against doctors for negligent treatment of players.
Mr Justice Royce made the ruling at the High Court yesterday as he considered Albion's claim against a doctor whose advice that reconstructive surgery be performed on midfielder Michael Appleton cost the player his career.
Appleton, now 30, suffered an injury to his right posterior cruciate ligament in training in November 2001.
Consultant surgeon Mr M El-Safty advised that reconstructive surgery should be carried out, but the operation was unsuccessful and Appleton was forced to quit the game.
The judge said it was "common ground" that this advice was negligent. The injury should have been treated conservatively which could have led to Appleton being fit again within four months, he said.
Appleton said recently that he would have liked "at least another eight or nine years" as a professional footballer. He is currently assistant academy coach at Albion.
The club, which had paid Appleton's medical bills, attempted to sue Mr El-Safty for breach of contract and negligence.
However, in a preliminary hearing in London yesterday, the judge ruled that neither claim can go ahead.
Judge Royce said it would not be "fair, just and equitable" for medical consultants advising "a Rooney or a Beckham or a Flintoff" to run the risk of being sued by their club or national sides if the treatment did not work.
He said to rule otherwise could expand the principle to all other patients who are considered valuable assets to their employers, such as musicians or managing directors. It could give their employers scope to sue in such circumstances. This, he said could put doctors at risk of spiralling insurance premiums.
"Should a consultant for example advising a Rooney or a Beckham or a Flintoff have a potential tortious liability to their club/county or England for negligent treatment - a liability running to many millions of pounds?" asked the judge.
"What about negligent treatment of a resident conductor of an orchestra or a leading player in a rock band or the managing director of a major company?
"The consultant would probably know each patient was a valuable asset. Should the consultant take steps to ascertain their value so as to evaluate his potential liability? Should he seek to put in hand a disclaimer or limitation of his liability? How would he do this? How would insurance premiums be affected?"
He added: "In my judgment, one only has to pose these questions to conclude that it would not be fair, just and equitable for there to be liability in such cases."
Rejecting the contract claim, he said: "I accept that he (the consultant) firmly believed that his duty was to the patient and not to WBA. I accept his evidence that he had no intention of entering into a contract with WBA.
"A substantial company may well have a group employees health insurance policy and may well, on a regular basis, send its employees for treatment to a particular consultant.
"In the normal way, the consultant would not owe a duty of care to the company. I do not consider the present case is materially different."
Appleton started his career with Manchester United, before moving to Preston North End in 1997. He was signed by West Bromwich in January 2000 for £750,000.
A club spokesman said last night: "It is likely we will appeal."