Melbourne Victory and their most celebrated player, Archie Thompson, have some tough talking to do over the next few weeks.
At issue is not whether Thompson has a future, albeit limited, in the game, but whether the veteran has a future with the only club he has ever played with in the A-League.
Thompson will be 37 shortly after the start of the next A-League season, but the former Socceroo still believes he has something to offer at the highest level of the local game.
It’s hard to argue with his claim. He notched up his 200th A-League appearance for Victory earlier this season. So far he has chimed in with nine goals, making him second on the club’s scoring roster this campaign behind only Besart Berisha, the Albanian international expensively acquired from Brisbane Roar this season as his replacement.
It’s not a bad effort considering Thompson has not started anywhere near as often as he used to and his key role these days is as an impact player off the bench.
The decision is a delicate one, as Thompson has made it clear that he is in all likelihood prepared to leave Melbourne and move elsewhere if he is offered a deal to prolong his career, even if it is for only a season.
There would certainly be clubs interested in offering him a lifeline. A number have been suggested as potential suitors, while the latest agent-inspired gossip suggests that his former manager at Victory, Ernie Merrick, could be interested in him as a Wellington Phoenix target.
Thompson’s preference would surely be to stay in navy blue, but given his mindset it is not a given if Victory do not come up with an offer.
It’s a delicate one for the club, too. Coach Kevin Muscat will have to be convinced that Thompson could do a job for another season, but that is not the only criteria he has to consider.
Would Thompson’s continued presence act as a roadblock for a young striker like Connor Pain, who re-signed with the club earlier this season? Pain has not seen anything like the game time this year some might have expected.
In part that is because he has not been able to force himself into the line-up, kept out by the heroics of the first choice frontmen, including Thompson, who have made Victory the league’s most prolific scorers this campaign, averaging two goals a game.
Both Victory and Thompson have to also consider the question of his legacy, which might not seem that important to the player contemplating his footballing mortality now, but could be later in life.
For the club Thompson has been a totemic figure alongside his former teammate, captain and now coach, Muscat.
People who knew nothing about football or Victory during the early years of the A-League knew Thompson, his dazzling smile, goalscoring exploits and effervescent personality giving the club a brand image and identity that other clubs could only dream of.
Thompson could run the risk of ruining that image and his own reputation as a Victory icon if he goes, while the club would not want to look as though they were forcing out a favourite son on a marginal decision.
A fairytale solution might present itself if Victory was to win the grand final and Thompson was on the pitch when the final whistle went. There would never be a better moment for either party to cement their relationship but also end the playing phase of it, with Thompson perhaps moving into some unspecified off-field role with the club so that both could preserve their links.
But fairytales don’t happen very often, and if Thompson is determined to play on, and Victory doesn’t offer him a deal, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him front up at AAMI Park next season in the strip of a long-time rival.
More pressing for Muscat and the Victory contract managers is the fate of Fahid Ben Khallfallah. The club is desperate for the French-born Tunisian international to stay, but the wide man, who has had a hugely impressive first season, wants a significant hike on his salary to remain in navy blue.
With Berisha as its marquee player there is precious little wriggle room for Victory to retain a player who has been a key to their attacking prowess this season.
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