Auckland City FC have committed to participating in next year's FIFA Club World Cup in the UAE, despite not knowing how – or when – they will be able to return to New Zealand.
The club is hoping to receive a special exemption from the government around the possibility of home isolation in early February, otherwise they could face extra costs of up to $200,000.
The Oceania representatives will open the tournament, which also features European champions Chelsea, on February 3 against local side Al Jazira.
If they don't progress in the knockout format they will be on a return flight the next day, but home isolation for New Zealanders returning from overseas doesn't begin until February 14, which could leave the 35-strong club entourage in a difficult nine day limbo.
"If we lose that first game, that's a painful scenario," Auckland City chairman Ivan Vuksich told the Herald. "If we can't get help for an exemption we would have to come up with an alternative plan, which isn't going to be easy."
The club have helped put New Zealand football on the map at the FIFA tournament, with a famous third place finish in 2014, while also recording two wins in 2009 to finish fifth.
But their reputation took a hit last year, when they were forced to withdraw from the prestigious tournament, after being unable to secure MIQ spots.
FIFA threatened a $35,000 fine, plus associated costs, before ultimately withdrawing the sanctions, after other stakeholders made them aware of the complexity of the MIQ system.
However, football's governing body won't countenance any repeat this time round.
"We signed an agreement back in December to say we are going to get there, not like last year when we pulled out," said Vuksich. "If you pull out you cop fines and all costs associated with any change, it could be any number. So we are absolutely committed to going."
The club decided not to apply for MIQ spots, mainly because of the difficulty around not having a fixed return date (it is dependent on results), while hoping that the window for home isolation would intersect with their return.
It hasn't, which means the club need to urgently find a solution.
"We are working with New Zealand Football and the Oceania Football Confederation and we are going to try and approach the government to see if they will give us a special exemption – at least five days or something like that."
"If that fails we are going to have to stay up there for nine days. That's somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 dollars depending on your accommodation. That a huge expense for a club like ours and we would come back penniless."
Auckland City's share of the US$500,000 prizemoney, assuming they don't progress from the first stage, will be around US$150,000, due to a pre-arranged split with OFC teams (because the OFC Champions League was unable to be staged) and the standard divestment among New Zealand clubs.
Club stalwart and former Wellington Phoenix star Albert Riera will take charge for the Club World Cup mission, confirmed as head coach earlier this week, after the departure of Jose Figueira last month.
The 37-year-old Riera spent seven seasons at Kiwitea Street, making 142 appearances and winning the OFC Champions League three times.
The Spanish midfielder came to national prominence at the Phoenix. He made 68 appearances for the Wellington team and was voted player of the year in the 2013-14 season, also turning out for the A League All-Stars team against a Juventus team featuring Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba in August 2014.
Vuksich is positive a solution will be found but emphasised there is no turning back.
"We are all systems go," said Vuksich. "Our gear is on its way, our itinerary is ready, our players have training programmes. We are committed to going."
"The only thing that will stop us if it the government closes everything, if this Omicron [variant] changes things. I could understand that and hopefully FIFA would understand that too."