The Wellington Phoenix have lost their skipper.
In a huge blow, captain Steven Taylor has decided against seeing out the final two years of his contract, parting ways with the club by mutual consent.
During a two-year stint in Wellington, the popular former Premier League defender played 49 A-League games, starting every one of its 27 matches in the just-completed season.
Taylor became an instant fan favourite for his wholehearted commitment, assured defending, easy-going nature and love for both the Phoenix and the city of Wellington. He took the captain's armband when 11-season skipper Andrew Durante departed at the end of the 2018/19 season.
Taylor said he would cherish his time in New Zealand.
"It is with a heavy heart that I am saying goodbye to the Nix," he said.
"I want to say a huge thank you to the club owners, the Board and the many great staff that I have worked with, and I want to especially thank Ufuk for his faith in me and making me captain of this great club. To my teammates, I will miss playing together but I know I have made life-long friends.
"Finally, to the supporters, you are truly one of a kind, amazing; I hope that you will be back in Sky Stadium soon backing the team so loud and proud," Taylor said.
Taylor signed a two-year contract extension on New Year's Day, committing to the club until the end of the 2021/22 A-League season, so his departure can be attributed entirely to the difficulties caused by Covid-19. During the disrupted 2019/20 season, the 34-year-old reportedly took a substantial wage-cut to allow others to be paid and was a driving force in the side completing the season while being based in Australia and away from home for 80 days.
With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement currently being thrashed out between the A-League club owners and PFA in the wake of a reduced broadcast deal, Taylor (and others) face further cuts to their contracts for next season, reportedly up to 30%.
Taylor joins fellow Englishman Gary Hooper in leaving the club this week. Hooper was off contract, as is midfielder Matti Steinmann who has returned to Germany with his future unclear.
The club's remaining two imports – English striker David Ball and Mexican playmaker Ulises Davila – are under contract for next season, but Taylor's exit must place those deals in doubt. Davila has returned home to be with his wife and their newborn for the meantime, while Ball has remained in Wellington with his young family.
Phoenix Coach Ufuk Talay could now face a second rebuild in as many seasons, with young kiwis Liberato Cacace and Callum McCowatt also departing to take up contracts in Europe and a further five players – Walter Scott, Liam McGing, Luke Devere, Callan Elliot and Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi – not yet secured for next season. Twelve players are signed for 2020/21, including Davila and Ball.
Talay said Taylor's will to win is one of his greatest attributes.
"Steven was the right choice for us as captain," he said.
"He's an experienced leader who not only says the right things but leads by example too. He put his imprint on the team this past season and helped to create a positive, winning culture for the players – it'll now be up to our next captain to continue that great work and to build on the third-place finish we achieved last season.
"We thank Steven for his incredible contribution to this club these past two seasons; for his hard work on the field, his mentoring of the younger players and the positive way he engaged with the fans – no doubt he's a classy player and we wish him all the best."