England international Jermain Defoe could leave Sunderland for nothing this summer if the club do not retain their Premier League status.
Sources on Wearside have confirmed to Press Association Sport the existence of a clause in the contract extension the 34-year-old striker signed last June which would allow him to depart for no fee in the event of relegation.
The chances of Defoe, whose current deal runs until 2019, remaining at the Stadium of Light should the club drop into the Sky Bet Championship are remote anyway.
That is despite the sterling service he has given Sunderland since arriving from Toronto in a swap deal with United States international Jozy Altidore in January 2015.
He earns around £80,000 a week and while most Sunderland contracts have a relegation clause written into them which include a significant salary reduction, the overall fall in revenue means massive savings would have to be made.
In addition, the player has acknowledged that any realistic hope he has of making it to the 2018 World Cup finals with England – he scored on his return to the international fold in Sunday’s 2-0 qualifying victory over Lithuania – would depend on his continued presence in the top flight.
But the fact cash-strapped Sunderland would receive no return on their investment, which effectively amounted to around £6.5million, may come as a blow to fans who have taken him to their hearts.
Defoe was the subject of a rejected £6million bid from West Ham in January, with Sunderland unwilling to let him go, and the Londoners have been credited with an ongoing interest.
In the meantime, Black Cats boss David Moyes will continue to bank on Defoe’s goals to get them out of trouble once again as they find themselves in the thick of another scrap at the foot of the table.
As a team, they have found the back of the net on only 24 occasions in the league – and Defoe has been responsible for 14 of those goals.