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Salary cap pressure could force break-up of Sydney FC squad

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 3 days ago Dominic Bossi

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Sydney FC could be forced to release a host of star players at the end of the season as salary cap pressure threatens to break up their high-flying squad.

Four years of success in the A-League is set to come at a high cost as the Sky Blues struggle to retain the core of their squad, with 13 players coming off contract at the end of the season.

Sydney have been the masters of juggling the A-League's stringent payment laws in recent years,  enjoying sustained success despite the cap's aim of ensuring parity among the clubs. But the rise in value of some of their long-serving players could see others forced out  next season.

Miloš Ninković holding a ball: Off-contract: Adam Le Fondre and Milos Ninkovic are in the final months of their contracts. © Getty Images Off-contract: Adam Le Fondre and Milos Ninkovic are in the final months of their contracts.

That period of dominance has coincided with a sense of squad stability. The Sky Blues moved two points clear at the top of the table over the weekend but already their attention has moved towards keeping the playing group together.

"Our focus is to retain as many of our current squad as possible and we are well on our way to doing so,” Sydney FC chief executive Danny Townsend said.

However, retaining the core of their first team may not be possible. According to one club source, "something will have to give" when it comes to keeping this squad together. Of the 13 coming off-contract, six have been regular starters this season: Luke Brattan, Adam Le Fondre, Milos Ninkovic, Andrew Redmayne, Paulo Retre and Michael Zullo. Of those, most have increased in stature and demand since they last signed with the club and could command significantly better deals on the open market.

a person wearing a costume: Sky Blues keeper Andrew Redmayne is a target for English clubs. © Wolter Peeters Sky Blues keeper Andrew Redmayne is a target for English clubs.

Possibly the man whose price tag has jumped the highest is goalkeeper Redmayne. Since his last contract extension nearly two years ago, Redmayne has blossomed into arguably the best goalkeeper in the competition.

His performances have been recognised by the national team and the 30-year-old became a Socceroo in July, making his international debut in Australia's 1-0 friendly defeat to South Korea. He has been called up to every squad since.

His rise has not only caught the attention of rival A-League clubs but also teams from overseas and sources close to Redmayne suggest he has received significant interest from an English League One club.

Versatile player Retre is another whose asking price is expected to rise having joined the club as a back-up player in 2017 but has since played more than 60 games for the Sky Blues in all competitions.

Full-back Zullo is one of the higher paid players in the Sky Blues cap and his value hasn't dropped over time while defensive midfielder Brattan was an expensive addition this season the club won't be looking to let go soon.

Complicating matters for Sydney is the situation of their star playmaker, Ninkovic. The Serbian international was a marquee player earning close to $1 million but sources suggest he accepted a deal worth significantly less to move inside the cap. His current earnings aren't a true reflection of his worth and the player has already attracted interest from rival clubs.

Le Fondre has been registered as a designated player (marquee) this season sitting outside the cap and could trigger an automatic contract extension with Sydney FC for next season.

The club is also juggling the difficult task of keeping hold of their promising youngsters. Australian Under-17 internationals Ryan Teague and Marco Tilio are coming-off contract at the end of the season alongside Joel King, Trent Buhagiar, Tom Heward-Belle, Luke Ivanovic and Harry van der Saag.

Their future could be determined by what's left in the cap after Sydney FC retain their first-team regulars.

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