The race for Socceroos star Tom Rogic's signature is becoming a three-way battle between A-League rivals Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners.
The 21-year-old attacking midfielder's proposed move to Japanese club Vegalta Sendai collapsed on Wednesday, opening the door for the three A-League clubs to fight over one of the brightest prospects in Australian football.
Both Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory have entered preliminary negotiations to sign Rogic from Scottish giants Celtic. The Sky Blues are said to be preparing a multi-year offer to sign the talented youngster as a possible Australian marquee.
The Victory are also interested in acquiring Rogic through a loan.
His former employers, Central Coast Mariners, will also joining the bidding war.
''I'd love to see Tommy back in a Mariners shirt again and I know the boys would be happy to have him in the dressing room if the opportunity arose,'' Mariners coach Phil Moss said. ''There's no doubt that we see Tommy as a Mariners boy and the club that gave him his chance, so we've just got to get in touch with the right people over the next couple of days to see if there's any life to it.
''There's space to sign a player or maybe even an Australian marquee option for Tommy. He would qualify for that spot, I've got no doubt because it's in the Socceroos' best interest to have him here, but we'll see how it goes in the next 24 to 48 hours - but our door is open to that possibility.''
Moss already had informal discussions with Rogic but was awaiting the outcome of his proposed move to Sendai before making an official approach. Now that Rogic could return to Central Coast, Moss is eager to sign him as a replacement for the injured Marcos Flores.
''He knows that he has to play before the World Cup, there's no secret to that [as] Ange [Postecoglou] has made it public that players have to be playing regularly and playing well,'' Moss said. ''Our club has a very close relationship to Tommy and we want to make sure that he's in the best shape possible to make the Australian squad for the World Cup.''
Rogic appeared set to leave Scottish giants Celtic on loan for Vegalta Sendai, where he would reunite with former coach Graham Arnold, but the club decided the deal was not viable because he would be able to play only a limited number of games.
Rogic could play only a maximum of 12 games before having to leave Sendai. The World Cup begins on June 12.
Arnold's manager, James Hardy, said his client still admired Rogic's talent.
''Tom is an exceptional talent, a tremendous footballer who is highly admired by Graham Arnold and all staff at Vegalta Sendai,'' Hardy said in a statement. ''However, the financial terms offered - considering Tom's limited availability as FIFA states that all players are to be released by May 17 for the World Cup and the J-League doesn't start till March 1 - makes this move to Sendai not feasible.
''Sendai have also just recently sold their goalkeeper and they might possibly need to strengthen this position. We are all disappointed; however, we hope this puts an end to the speculation.''
with Michael Lynch