Central Coast have suffered a twin blow to their A-League title defence, with key defender Trent Sainsbury off to the Dutch top-flight and striker Daniel McBreen granted a transfer back to China.
The Mariners confirmed on Friday that Sainsbury – their 2012/13 player of the year – had signed a two-and-a-half season deal with PEC Zwolle effective immediately.
The A-League club had initially blocked 36-year-old McBreen’s bid to move back to Asia but announced late on Friday that he would re-join Chinese Super League outfit Shanghai East Asia on a one-season deal.
The 22-year-old Sainsbury, an aspiring Socceroo, says he is excited to further his career in the Eredivisie, one of Europe’s top leagues.
But having been with the Mariners since 2010 and playing an integral role in their maiden championship last season, Sainsbury admits it will be difficult to leave.
“The Dutch first division is big and now I have to go there and give it my all,” Sainsbury said on Friday.
“I am happy but it’s going to be hard to leave the boys.
“The players here are like family to me and the fans have always done the right thing by me. I’ve loved my time here.”
The Mariners were in disagreement over the initial transfer fee offered by the Dutch outfit, but CEO Bruce Stalder said he was happy they could come to terms.
Sainsbury will join the likes of Tommy Oar and Adam Sarota in the Netherlands, where the duo play for FC Utrecht.
The Mariners had been playing hard ball with McBreen’s former Chinese club Shanghai, where he spent six months last year.
The 36-year-old veteran forward bagged 19 goals and claimed the golden boot in last season’s championship-winning campaign.
Despite McBreen not leaving Australia until at least late next week, the transfer makes him ineligible for Sunday’s A-League clash with Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium.
“Being with the Mariners has been one of the most enjoyable times in my football career,” McBreen said on Friday.
“But at this time in my life, I need to think about my family, and another opportunity like this might not happen again.
“I am extremely grateful to the Mariners for coming to this agreement, and I am sure that the team will continue to perform strongly – as they have done many times in the past when losing players.”
Mariners coach Phil Moss added: “(Trent) Sainsbury and (Daniel) McBreen have given us fantastic service and were important parts of our championship and premiership-winning sides.
“Both players leave with our full blessing and backing and, while it’s always sad to see players go, they’re moving on to fantastic opportunities for themselves.
“I can assure our fans that we are very active in the transfer market, and there will be further announcements over the next couple of days.”