Socceroo Harry Kewell says putting his family first is behind his decision to quit the Melbourne Victory and the A-League.
Kewell, 33, was set to sign a new contract with the Victory, for whom he played last season. But his actress wife Sheree Murphy's mother is gravely ill, and he has decided to remain in England with her and their young family for the foreseeable future.
"It was one of the toughest decisions we've had to make," Kewell said in a statement issued by his management.
"I enjoyed playing for Victory and living in Melbourne, but family comes first and together we made a decision that it was best for us to remain close to our family at this time."
The Victory was only informed of the shock decision late on Saturday, and had been convinced up until then that Kewell would agree a new deal to remain at the club. New coach Ange Postecoglou was saying publicly late last week he expected Kewell to remain, and that the Socceroo attacker would be an integral part of his plans.
"I was looking forward to working with him this season, but he has family matters that need his attention so while it's unfortunate, I completely understand," Postecoglou said on Sunday. "We'd been working very hard to come to an agreement with him and we were extremely confident both parties were close to finalising the deal, but these things happen and we wish Harry and his family all the best."
Kewell's A-League career looks to have ended with the decision.
His immediate playing future now looks to be in England - and almost certainly in the north of the country where the family are based. A strong season at the Victory will have convinced possible suitors his body is up to the rigours of Premier League football.
He scored eight goals in 25 games in his only A-League season, with no major injury concerns and some strong showings at national team level during his stint in Australia. Kewell activated a clause to terminate his original incentive-based three-year contract at the Victory at the end of the 2011-12 season.
He was then expected to sign a two-year deal, and while he had been linked with the new West Sydney franchise, Kewell had been keen to play on at the Victory until this weekend's developments.
The former Leeds United, Liverpool and Galatasaray star signed with Victory amid great fanfare last August. He was the A-League's highest profile signing in its seven-year history.