Melbourne Heart’s re-awakening as Melbourne City has begun with five confirmed outs and a galaxy of rumoured ins.
Since a takeover by Manchester City was announced in January, fan and media speculation has drooled over the prospect of new international and Australian marquee players.
Those two spots are free from the constraints of the A-League salary cap, used to bring talent such as Alessandro Del Piero, Shinji Ono and Harry Kewell to the league.
The latest is a report from English tabloid The Daily Star, which suggested Heart would sign England and Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard at the eye-watering rate of $100,000 after tax a week.
While Heart dismissed the speculation as “absolutely without foundation”, the links to marquees of quality suggest the scale of their ambition.
Tim Cahill, Josh Kennedy and Mark Bresciano have all been touted as Australian marquees though each has drawbacks.
Cahill, the highest-profile Socceroo, is in the middle of a stint with New York Red Bulls and is thought uninterested and unavailable.
Bresciano has trained with Heart recently but is contracted to Qatari side Al-Gharafa while Kennedy’s J-League contract expires in December – well after the A-League season starts.
Heart’s “two Johns” – coach van `t Schip and football director Didulica – have spent the last two weeks with Manchester City as they seek to renew their playing list for the next season.
Top of van `t Schip’s shopping list should be a new defence after announcing the release of five defensive players on Wednesday.
Patrick Gerhardt, Sam Mitchinson, David Vrankovic and Jeremy Walker have been axed, while Turkish side Buraspor has recalled Aziz Behich after a year-long loan.
Of those, Behich will be the most missed, having held down the left-back position for much of the season.
That leaves Heart with just 13 contracted players, with at least seven spots due to be filled.
Following Sunday’s A-League grand final, Heart is expected to start announcing those positions, as well as the inevitable re-branding to Melbourne City with a similar sky blue kit of their parent club.