Sainsbury on the shopping list
After his first full season as a Hyundai A-League player, there's little doubt the time is ripe for Trent Sainsbury to move overseas. It's not a question of if or when - but where?
It may be his first full season as a Hyundai A-League player, but there's little doubt the time is ripe for Trent Sainsbury to make his move overseas. It's not a matter of if, or even when. The big question is where.
Bolton Wanderers, Roda JC Kerkrade and Basel FC have all issued firm invitations for a trial. Southampton have spent the last three months completing a scouting report, and another invitation seems likely.
By the time Sainsbury jumps on a plane straight after Central Coast Mariners complete the group phase of the AFC Champions League, he'll have narrowed down the destinations. My big hope is that his ultimate choice will be a footballing one.
It says a lot about Sainsbury's evolution that he'll be a key player in Sunday's grand final. New owner Mike Charlesworth prefers to describe the Mariners as a "development" club rather than a "selling" one. In Sainsbury's case, he has an argument.
A player who was in hot demand when he graduated from the AIS three years ago chose Gosford because that's where he felt the coaching, and the culture, best suited his ambitions.
Learning the central defending craft from Alex Wilkinson and Patrick Zwaanswijk has provided huge compensation for being paid less than he would have earned elsewhere. He wouldn't be the player he is today without the mentoring he's received. He knows it.
But if the Mariners - and especially Graham Arnold - have done a fine job of developing him, they'll also be keen to sell him. The club makes no apologies for maintaining the stance that every man has a price. It's earned them around $3 million in players sales over the last three years.
Charlesworth is, first and foremost, a businessman. That makes Sainsbury vulnerable to being pushed in the direction of the highest bidder.
There's nothing wrong with that if the highest bidder is also the best option. But it doesn't always work out like that, and the reminder is close to home.
Mustafa Amini, Matt Simon and Tom Rogic have yet to become firs- team regulars since leaving Bluetongue Stadium. I'd hate to see Sainsbury end up in the same boat.
At 21, he's as ready as he'll ever be to make the transition from Australia to Europe as a starting player. Don't be surprised if he makes his Socceroos breakthrough as soon as the next round of World Cup qualifiers in June. He doesn't need to take one step back to take two steps forward. Which is why, for me, Basel FC is by far the best option.
English football, in itself, doesn't suit his game. Championship football would be a retrograde step, and while Southampton, and Argentine coach Mauricio Pochettino, offer a more cosmopolitan outlook, what are his real chances of immediately becoming an EPL regular?
Slim, at best, I'd say, and Sainsbury doesn't need to spend a season in reserve team football at this decisive stage of his development. What you do, as a footballer, between the ages of 21-25 generally defines your career. Why risk the upward trajectory?
Which, based on the current offers on the table, brings it down to The Netherlands or Switzerland. Dutch football has it's advantages, but these days not as many as there used to be. And Roda are a club in dire threat of relegation.
Basel FC, by contrast, are the dominant club in Switzerland and regular competitors in Europe. Swiss football is also a gateway to two leagues which best suit Sainsbury's game - the Bundesliga and Serie A.
And St Jakobs Stadium has already laid out the welcome mat for several Australian players over the years - among them Sainsbury's current teammate, Mile Sterjovski.
Ultimately, Sainsbury is master of his own destiny, and he'll make his decision in concert with his manager, Tony Rallis. It can't be easy concentrating on the grand final with all this in the background. But that's exactly why he's a test case in so many ways.
There have been thousands of words written, and much consternation from the mouths of Holger Osieck and Han Berger, about young Australian players making poor career choices at critical stages of their development.
Sainsbury - who reads the game and plays the ball better than most - could easily be wearing the green and gold in Brazil next year if he gets this one right. There's a lot of hope invested in him doing just that. We don't want another one going to waste.