It's next season or never for injury-plagued Australia star Jason Culina, as he battles to return to football after a 17-month absence.
Back in training after radical knee surgery late last year, the two-time World Cup midfielder set himself a target of returning to the A-League in the 2012-2013 campaign as he seeks to reconstruct a career sabotaged by debilitating cartilage problems.
Should his progress fail to live up to the expectations the 58 times capped one-time Socceroos mainstay has placed upon himself, he will not continue the fight-back beyond this year.
Out of action since breaking down at the 2011 Asian Cup, the 32-year-old – who last month reached a severance settlement with Newcastle Jets after being locked in conflict with the club cover insurance and compensation issues – is digging deep to win a contract elsewhere.
A source close to the former Ajax, FC Twente, PSV Eindhoven and Gold Coast United maestro revealed that he is training six to seven days a week, mainly alone.
He is seeking to convince himself, and the likes of Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners, that he is still worth investing in.
In between training stints, he is receiving on-going treatment from long-time friend and Sydney FC physio Stan Ivancic as part of his recuperation from surgery performed by Sydney’s Dr Leo Pinczewski, which involved breaking his left leg and re-aligning the limb to relieve wear and tear on the articular cartilage.
Culina is reluctant to publicly comment on his progress until he is positive the comeback is almost complete.
But he is leaving no stone unturned, training at the Allianz Stadium gym and pool for several hours each day with the bike and treadmill regular features of his gruelling program.
Culina is doing extra work to strengthen to the muscles around the knee to provide extra stability to the joint.
With the season starting in October, Culina is, according to sources, "doing everything humanly possible to play again".
"I wouldn't have put myself through what I have if I didn't know that I'd play again and nothing will hold me back," Culina said earlier this year.
"I am certainly not quitting. I also want to play for my country again. I'm delighted how the operation has worked out."
Sydney FC appears to be the favourite to snare Culina should he get his body back into match condition; with the club having three vacant spots on its roster after the signing this week of Croatian Krunoslav Lovrek.
The Sky Blues' top priority is a second striker but Culina, providing he accepts a lot less than the $850,000-a-season he commanded at the Jets, for whom he never played, would certainly attract the attention of coach Ian Crook.
He also has close links in the west where Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic is a former Socceroos team-mate.
Wellington Phoenix's recruitment under coach Ernie Merrick began with the signing of 22-year-old former Perth Glory goalkeeper Lewis Italiano.