SOCCEROOS star midfielder Jason Culina will almost certainly complete a stunning switch to the Newcastle Jets next season after Gold Coast United yesterday announced they would allow their marquee player to talk with rival A-League clubs.
And the big-name signings might not stop there on the Hunter, with the Jets reportedly set to table an offer to Manchester United striker Michael Owen to become their marquee player next season. Still only 31, Owen would be the biggest name to land in the A-League, arguably eclipsing Robbie Fowler and Dwight Yorke.
However, while plans to bring Owen to EnergyAustralia Stadium still seem a little far-fetched for now, it would be no surprise to see Culina link up with his father Branko, who coaches the club.
At the announcement of Nikolai Topor-Stanley's re-signing earlier this week, Branko Culina said the Jets were on the verge of ''a real big name'' signing, with further talk coming from club officials that it would be a ''current Socceroo''.
Jason Culina attempted to play down speculation in his column on The World Game web site but still didn't commit his future to Gold Coast, adding that while several players are set to leave the club ''all the guys are totally committed to honouring their contracts'' for the rest of this season.
''While all the boys are focused on our finals campaign, there's no doubt we are going to have to make some new signings [next season],'' he wrote. ''At the moment, there is no thought of what's happening next season, it's all about the present. Our goal is to reach the final and that's what we're going to do.''
Curiously, Culina opened his piece with a subtle dig at the Gold Coast, who have struggled to attract fans. ''I won't mince words here: no fans, no club … the fans make the club, it's as simple as that,'' he wrote. ''Without them there would be nothing.''
Culina snr has refused to build up the links between the Jets and his son, only saying ''the club has been negotiating with a number of players'' and that they wanted to ''bring really quality players in''. However, he said that Owen was exactly the type of player who could get the turnstiles clicking at EnergyAustralia Stadium.
''I don't know about Michael Owen but there is no secret that we are looking for a player that will add to our strength on the park and also give us profile off the park, to ensure that we can attract additional supporters,'' he said. ''I mean it would be great for the A-League as well if that is to happen with one of the high-profile players, whether it be Michael Owen or someone else.''
Gold Coast yesterday went on the front foot to announce that Culina was free to leave. "We've had discussions and we've agreed to allow him to talk to other clubs, here and overseas,'' said United chief executive Clive Mensink. "There's no doubt he's a quality player but we've got to move on and think ahead if he does decide to leave.''
It's not the first time Culina has thought about leaving the glitter strip, for he actively sought a deal in preparation for the 2010 World Cup and then contemplated a switch to Sydney FC in the advent that Gold Coast withdrew from the league.
While Sky Blues chief executive Edwin Lugt confirmed there had been informal discussions about Culina last year, he said they hadn't yet decided if they'd enter the race 12 months later. ''We were interested in him last year, that's true, but Gold Coast remained in the competition, so he stayed with them,'' Lugt told the Herald. ''He's a very good player but it's still too early to say we will go for him this time.''