The two-month stand-off between want-away Max Burgess and Western United looks to be over, with the club expecting the attacking midfielder back in the fold imminently.
After helping propel the A-League newcomers to the finals in their debut year, a disgruntled Burgess, 25, has remained in his native NSW during the pre-season, agitating for a move elsewhere.
However, with a season still to run on his contract, the club refused to grant a release as A-League rivals waited in the wings.
The one-time Sky Blues junior is expected to fly back to Victoria as soon as re-imposed COVID-19 border restrictions ease again, and could be in contention for Western’s second round derby against Melbourne City on January 17.
Western CEO Chris Pehlivanis made it clear from the outset the club wouldn’t be arm-wrestled into allowing Burgess to tear up his deal to join an A-League rival.
“We’re getting close to having Max back,” he confirmed. “He’s been keeping fit in Sydney and we’re optimistic when the borders re-open he’ll be on his way.
“Max was keen to explore other possibilities but in the end it was down to him having an existing contract.
“Max is a good kid and an important player for us.
“From our point of view we stuck firm to the principle that a contract is a contract.
“If we have a player we don’t want we can’t just get rid of them.
“There was no anger in our discussions. But what do you want us to do?
“If you allow these things to happen it means contracts aren’t worth anything.”
Burgess, who followed coach Mark Rudan from Wellington to Western, is managed by the same agent who oversaw Bernie Ibini’s controversial exit from Newcastle Jets to the Wanderers.
With six goals in his last nine games, he became a hot property fuelled by a desire to return to play for a home-town team in 2020-21.
That might ultimately still happen - but not until next season.
“The way things have panned out is the best outcome for us, for Max and for the game in general,” Pehlivanis added.
Western and Adelaide United kick-off the new A-League season on Monday in Geelong.