MOVE over, Central Coast Mariners. It looks like the Newcastle Jets might have found themselves a new grudge match.
Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna was a model of diplomacy this week when he fronted the media, but behind the scenes everyone at the club is entitled to be disappointed - to say the least - about the shock departure of coach Carl Robinson to Western Sydney Wanderers.
As McKinna explained, when Robinson signed with Newcastle in February for three-and-a-half seasons, the former Wales midfielder insisted on a clause that effectively left him indefinitely open to offers from rival clubs.
If another club contacted the Jets to express interest in Robinson, Newcastle were obliged to pass that information on and allow negotiations to proceed.
After the Wanderers sacked recently appointed coach Jean Paul de Marigny on Monday, reports soon surfaced that Robinson was the preferred candidate to replace him, and three days later a three-season deal was announced.
McKinna said Wanderers were "straight above board" and had no complaints about their approach to Robinson, nor the coach's decision to end his stint in Newcastle after six wins, three draws and loss from his 10 games at the helm.
Jets fans, however, are entitled to take a dim view of Western Sydney's rather ruthless coup.
There are countless highly qualified coaches around the world. Why did the Wanderers have to pilfer one who was already under a long-term contract to a fellow A-League club?
There is, of course, little room for sentiment in professional sport, and codes that are as mercenary and dog-eat-dog as soccer are few and far between.
The Wanderers were within their rights to pursue and sign Robinson, yet some would say it's hardly a good look, especially at a time when A-League clubs should be showing solidarity.
Nonetheless, most coaches would have made the same decision as the former Wales international and English Premier League midfielder. Getting ready for his first pre-season in charge of the Jets, suddenly an opportunity arose to join a club with a vastly bigger budget, state-of-the-art training facilities, the A-League's largest fan base and a near-new stadium.
By all accounts, the former Vancouver Whitecaps manager is highly ambitious and aspires to eventually coach in the EPL, and perhaps he believes the Wanderers can deliver the sort of success that will enhance his CV.
The Jets were always likely to be a stepping stone in his career. It's just a shame, for the club and its long-suffering fans, that he opted to take the next step so soon.
Concern about Newcastle's financial position was undoubtedly a factor in the 44-year-old's decision.
"Was it the main reason [I left]? No," Robinson said on Thursday. "Was it a reason? Yes. But I'm joining the biggest club in Australia and when you get that opportunity and that comes calling, you don't say no."
At the press conference to discuss Robinson's departure, McKinna was hopeful the Jets were close to changing hands and made the remarkable revelation that incumbent owner Martin Lee, the Chinese businessman, had not spent "one penny" on the club since October 9 last year.
"He just said: 'I won't pay any more money in'," McKinna said, adding that the club was in debt and there had been times when he feared it was "close" to the point where Football Federation Australia "could step in and take the licence away and close the team down".
FFA has confirmed "a number of prospective buyers" are interested in taking over the Jets, and McKinna was optimistic a change of ownership could be agreed within a month.
All of which leaves Jets fans with a sense of deja vu.
Like Con Constantine and Nathan Tinkler before him, Lee has discovered that owning a football team is an expensive hobby. Another owner bites the dust, leaving the club in a parlous financial state.
Meanwhile, if and when the new owner(s) are finally in place, having agreed to settle whatever outstanding debts the Jets have accrued on Lee's watch, they will then have to turn their attention to the next obvious dilemma - who to appoint as Robinson's successor.
Robinson's departure means that, when next season kicks off, the Jets will have had four coaches in the space of 12 months.
Finding a replacement has been complicated by the logistics of overseas travel in the coronavirus era. It might not be practical to import a foreigner, and potentially his family, so Newcastle officials are likely to be looking for an Australian coach.
And naturally enough, until a new coach is appointed, by the new owner or owners, it's unlikely that there will be many new players signed.
Among the departures since the end of last season are Dimi Petratos, Abdiel Arroyo, Wes Hoolahan, Joe Ledley and Matt Millar, while new signing James Donachie has been loaned to India, and Joey Champness is intent on joining Brisbane.
The only addition so far is young winger Ramy Najjarine, on loan from Melbourne City, but Newcastle officials remain confident they have a strong, experienced nucleus of a squad.
At a time of great uncertainty, at least Jets fans should be in little doubt about who to boo loudest next season.
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