Former Waikato FC captain Adam Thomas will be sidelined from national league football for a month following his late-notice request to transfer to Team Wellington.
Thomas was Waikato captain at the start of the season, before being invalided out with a knee injury, and when all players were asked to declare their intentions last month following Waikato's sacking of coach Declan Edge, he indicated he had no plans to leave.
But just before Christmas he suddenly advised he was seeking a transfer to Team Wellington, which is fifth equal with Waikato in the ASB Premiership.
Thomas - the only starting-choice player in last year's New Zealand Olympic football squad not to have secured a professional contract - indicated his transfer request was for personal reasons connected with a desire to progress his football career.
Thomas has long been a member of Edge's training group previously based at Melville United. Edge is this month taking up a coaching post at Porirua's Ole Soccer Academy after being shunted out of his two former Hamilton-based coaching positions, and is taking about a dozen players with him.
The academy offers programmes to help teenagers land US university scholarships. Thomas, 20, said he hoped to train at the Ole Academy, as part of his rehabilitation from minor knee surgery on December 5, though was not planning any formal membership and had no interest in pursuing a scholarship.
Team Wellington sought Thomas' transfer, but Waikato FC pointed out under his playing contract he was required to give five week's notice.
A written request was received on December 21. Under agreement with Team Wellington, Waikato FC will release Thomas after four weeks on the condition he also not play in the match between the two franchises in Wellington on January 26.
Waikato FC chairman Brendon Coker said Thomas' lack of communication fell well short of what was expected.
"He has he shown a total lack of respect for all involved in Waikato FC," Coker said. "He has let people down, including the fans, and he needs to be aware there are consequences for breaching contracts."
Thomas countered that he had never made any commitment to stay with Waikato and there was no guarantee he would be fit to play until the stand-down period was complete anyway.
But Coker said player fitness was beside the point, with his conduct as a senior Waikato player the key issue.
"Unfortunately it appears Adam has had very bad advice from those influencing him, and probably needs to start getting a second opinion on football matters. It would be sad if he was to gain a reputation at his age for being an unreliable player, when it is far more likely he is just a pawn in someone else's game."
To date Thomas is the only Waikato player who has been sought by another franchise, ahead of the transfer window opening on January 14, with national league seemingly a thing of the past for the rest of Edge's youngsters.
Meanwhile Melville United chairman Bruce Holloway also weighed in, saying the only reason Thomas should go to Wellington would be to join the Phoenix.
"Adam has the potential to rank alongside the likes of Marco Rojas and Chris Wood as a Waikato football product," he said. "And with such talent there always has to be an expectation that players will move on.
"But I think it's fair to say that while we always expected to lose Adam at some stage, we thought it would be to a higher level of football, rather than to a team no more successful than Waikato FC this season."
Holloway said the wider challenge was for the national body to identify feasible career paths for emerging elite young players like Thomas.
"Adam is one of a group of 4-5 very good young players from around here, but these kids are like The Midwich Cuckoos - someone else does all their thinking for them, and decides all their moves. You have to sometimes wonder if such moves are in their long term interests.
"These lads need independent third-party advice about their football pathways."