The race for Tom Rogic's signature could go down to a three-way battle between A-League rivals with Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners all in hot pursuit of the Socceroos star.
The 21-year-old attacking midfielder's proposed move to Japanese club Vegalta Sendai collapsed on Wednesday, opening the door for the A-League clubs.
Both Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory have entered preliminary negotiations to sign Rogic from Scottish giants Celtic, with the Sky Blues said to be preparing a multi-year offer. The Victory is also very interested in bringing Rogic to the club on loan, while his former employer, Central Coast Mariners, will join the potential 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. There's space to sign a player or maybe even an Australian marquee option for Tommy. He would qualify for that spot … because it's in the Socceroos' best interest to have him here.
''He knows that he has to play before the World Cup, there's no secret to that. 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,'' Moss said.
Rogic appeared set to leave Celtic for Vegalta Sendai on loan where he would be reunited with former coach Graham Arnold, but the club decided against the deal as it did not see it viable due to the limited games he would be able to play.
With the J-League beginning on March 1 and breaking on May 17 for the World Cup, Rogic could only play a maximum of 12 games before having to leave Sendai.
Arnold's manager, James Hardy, said his client still admired Rogic's talent but the time frame for him to be of much use to Vegalta before he would have to link up with the Socceroos was not going to work.
''Tom is an exceptional talent who is highly admired by Graham Arnold,'' Hardy said. ''However, the financial terms offered - considering Tom's limited availability … makes this move to Sendai not feasible.''
With Michael Lynch