Jason Culina arriving on crutches at a press conference to announce his three-year $2.65 million contract - the biggest in the Newcastle Jets' history - was, in hindsight, not a good sign.
Flagged as a routine cartilage clean-up, courtesy of a knee injury he picked up on duty for the Socceroos at the Asian Cup a month earlier, Culina was hopeful of playing "the back end of the finals" for then club Gold Coast.
That was February 2011.
He didn't play a minute for the Jets.
Instead of being the face of the club, Culina became embroiled in a bitter 16-month saga that ended with his father, Branko, being sensationally sacked as coach on the eve of the 2011-12 season and a protracted contract stoush.
Accusations flew. Reputations were sullied. There were backflips, battles with Football Federation Australia, battles with insurance companies ... an absolute mess.
In June 2012, a year into what was supposed to be a three-year stay, the FFA confirmed that the Jets and Culina had "reached a settlement by mutual agreement".
The recruitment of Culina, a celebrated current Socceroo, was a chance for the Jets - the region - to beat its chest. Newcastle were among the big boys.
The fact the midfielder hobbled into a harbour side restaurant to trump a reunion with his father in Newcastle barely raised an eyebrow. There were still seven months before he was to kick a ball for the Jets.
For his part, the meticulous Culina mapped out a training program to the minute, aimed at being in peak condition for the season kick-off in October.
"Every day you are doing something to try and make yourself stronger, and you are aiming to get back on the pitch. Hopefully for me that is in a couple of weeks," he said in June.
By that stage, Culina, wife Terri, and young boys Roman and Julian had settled into their multi-million dollar beachside home in Merewether.
The extended lay-off had sparked rumours concerning Culina's long-term playing future.
Following his surgery in February, Gold Coast coach Miron Bleiberg implied the former star had "the knees of a 50-year-old".
"There is a lot of nonsense floating about," Culina retorted.
Then, after six months rehab and on the eve of a much anticipated pre-season hit-out against Wollongong in September, Culina felt a "pinching sensation" in his left knee.
More scans. More specialists.
Though concerned by the setback, Hunter Sports Group CEO Troy Palmer, who had assumed control after the departure of executive chairman Ken Edwards, remained comfortable with the decision to sign Culina.
"When we signed Jason we knew what the injury was, but with the long pre-season we were confident there was enough time to get it right. We are certainly not disappointed with the process," he said.
Palmer also indicated that owner Nathan Tinkler was understanding of the situation.
"He owns 500 racehorses and knows injuries are unavoidable," Palmer said.
After more treatment failed, Culina had more surgery and would be sidelined for another 12 months.
At the same time, it emerged that Culina's $850,000 a season wage was not covered by insurance as it was a pre-existing injury.
The revelation raised questions over the signing of Culina.
"The outcome to date of Jason's injury is disappointing but the club believes Jason will be a major contributor to the Jets and Newcastle over the coming years," Palmer said. "More importantly we back his integrity."
Tinkler's reputation suggested he didn't take kindly to stuff-ups. Especially not stuff-ups of the expensive variety.
On October 5, Branko Culina talked up the new era at the Jets at the A-League season launch.
By lunchtime, he was no longer part of that future.
One year into a five-year deal, the coach was summoned to Tinkler's office in central Sydney to be informed his services no longer would be required.
Tinkler simultaneously applied to FFA to "set aside" the three-year contract of Jason, who the day before had been released from hospital, where he had a fragment of his tibia removed in an attempt to straighten his leg and take the pressure off his damaged knee.
The players union represented Culina as the matter went to arbitration.
On the pitch, Craig Deans was installed as caretaker coach. Newly promoted captain Jobe Wheelhouse - the club's first home-grown skipper - was confident the saga would not rock the playing group.
Indeed, the Jets won two of the opening three games.
"The club's been through some adversity and so have the players for many years now, so it's nothing new to us,'' Wheelhouse said.
Gary van Egmond returned for a second stint in charge and went about a radical change to the way the team played, focusing on an up-tempo, possession-based style.
The early signs were encouraging. A come-from-behind 3-1 triumph over a Harry Kewell-fuelled Melbourne Victory 3-1 in front a season-high crowd of 17,245 at home moved them into fourth place on 13 points, a third of the way through the campaign.
"We are pretty headstrong in what we want to achieve and how we will go about it," van Egmond said.
However, a meagre return of a solitary point in the next four games, caused fans and some players to question the coach's tactics.
Egmond and senior player Kasey Wehrman fell out, with the latter exiled.
"The philosophy and style of the play is how I want it to be done," van Egmond declared. "Now, if that proves unsuccessful, well I'm the one who's putting my head on the chopping block."
The Jets sat in the bottom three from weeks 11 to 17 of the 25-week season.
But adapt they did, moving up the ladder to sixth in week 18 and staying in the finals picture until falling at the last hurdle, going down 3-2 to Sydney to finish seventh on 35 points, two points outside the play-offs.
That wasn't the end of it.
On April 10 - 19 months after responding to FAA's SOS call and saving the Jets from the scrap heap - Tinkler bailed out.
The coal baron felt he had been taken for a ride over a $3.5 million acquisition fee when he took over the licence and also had major concerns over the financial viability of the league and the lack of input to its running from club owners.
FFA chief executive Ben Buckley responded to Tinkler's bombshell, pointed out that HSG was contractually bound to underwrite the Jets until June 2020 and threatened to file a $100 million damages claim against the former billionaire.
Then, three weeks later in a stunning backflip, HSG said it would continue to fund and operate the Jets in the A-League for the next eight years
The catalyst for the turnaround was a meeting between Tinkler and FFA chairman Frank Lowy in a hangar at Brisbane airport.
"Frank Lowy flew to Brisbane to meet with me face to face and I took that as a sign of goodwill," Tinkler said. "We now have a way forward and I remain committed to ensuring the Newcastle Jets is one of the most successful clubs in the A-League."