Incoming Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has been given room to manoeuvre in player recruitment with five off-contract players not offered new deals.
Foundation player Tony Lochhead, Alex Smith, Dani Sanchez, Jimmy Downey and Lucas Pantelis are the players concerned, with Downey and Pantelis both having been hampered by injury during their two-season stints.
Pantelis didn’t make a single Hyundai A-League appearance for the Phoenix after sustaining a serious knee injury in a pre-season game against Central Coast Mariners in Tauranga following his high-profile transfer from Adelaide United.
Downey was dogged by injury during his two-year spell with the Wellington club and managed only seven appearances.
In contrast to those two players Lochhead is the club’s most capped player with 130 games to his credit, and Phoenix General Manager David Dome paid tribute to the contribution the All Whites fullback has made to the club.
“Tony has been a fantastic servant for the Phoenix and the decision to let him go wasn’t made lightly,” Dome said.
“We have a new head coach coming in and he has definite ideas about the way the team will play and Tony didn’t quite fit in with those plans.
“Throughout his time with the Phoenix Tony has been the consummate professional and we thank him for his services over such a long period.”
Smith and Sanchez, who made 42 and 41 appearances respectively, were both classed as imports and their release will give Merrick flexibility when it comes to signing overseas players.
Merrick is keen to see more of Ian Hogg, who had a short-term contract with the Phoenix at the end of last season, before a decision on his future with the club is made.