Western Sydney Wanderers axe eight players in postseason purge
Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic has axed eight players in his annual purge but will do everything in his power to ensure on-loan stars Nico Martinez and Terry Antonis return next season.
The Wanderers announced on Thursday the departures of captain Dimas Delgado, vice-captain Mitch Nichols, Perth Glory-bound Scott Neville, Uruguayan midfielder Bruno Pinatares, veteran attacker Ryan Griffiths and young trio Liam Youlley, Stefan Zinni and Emilio Martinez.
They join Mario Shabow, who has signed for Newcastle Jets, and foundation player Shannon Cole, who flagged his departure earlier this week. It leaves Popovic with plenty of work to do to rebuild his squad, but he has already set the foundation for next season with 18 players locked away.
However, the futures of Martinez and Antonis are out of the club's hands.
Antonis was central to the Wanderers' late-season improvement and established an impressive attacking midfield partnership with Kearyn Baccus, after arriving on loan from PAOK in January.
The 23-year-old Antonis' contract with the Greek Superleague club runs for another year, while Martinez is tied to parent club Olympiacos until 2019.
"They're two players we obviously like," Popovic said.
"It's not as simple as us having a decision on that. We'll speak to their clubs and see whether something is possible.
"If it's not, of course we have to look for alternatives, but we'll be in discussions with both clubs.
"There's a few [other players] we want to look at. We need to improve in that final third, not in terms of our play but our conversion and goals we score."
The Wanderers' other priority will be recruiting a reliable striker to join the excellent but ageing Brendon Santalab.
Popovic has had no luck in that department over the past two seasons after Federico Piovaccari and Kerem Bulut failed to fire.
But Popovic has stressed goals should come from the whole squad, rather than just a centre-forward like Santalab, who contributed one third of Western Sydney's goals this season.
"That's an area we're looking at but I don't think it's just the striker," Popovic said.
"Our striker this year scored 14 goals but we didn't get enough contribution throughout the rest of the group.
"If you look at the champions [Sydney FC], their striker scored 15 goals but they had contributions all over the park."
The Wanderers are still yet to confirm the long-speculated signing of Curacao midfielder Roly Bonevacia from Wellington Phoenix, which would leave Popovic with two foreign spots left to fill.
Imports Jumpei Kusukami and Aritz Borda are contracted for another year.