Wellington Phoenix have been rocked by the departure of long-serving captain Andrew Durante.
The Phoenix legend confirmed his exit on Tuesday ahead of an imminent move to new A-League club Western United where he will join former coach Mark Rudan in what will likely be his last season before retiring.
"I have represented the Wellington Phoenix in the best way I knew how and I'd like to think I have made a positive contribution to growing football in this country," said Durante, in an emotional farewell.
"I have tried to be the best possible role model for all aspiring footballers in this country and if I have been able to help inspire just a few of those kids to chase their football dream then that brings me no greater joy.
"But it has come the time for me to put myself and my family first and move out of my comfort zone. I have an opportunity to challenge myself in a new environment, to take on a new adventure with my wife and kids, closer to our family."
Already reeling from the losses of star strikers Roy Krishna and David Williams, confirmation of Durante's exit is a seismic blow for the Phoenix, who were preparing for a major rebuild under new coach Ufuk Talay but now face the impossible task of a replacing a 300-cap veteran who has given his heart and soul to the club for more than a decade.
The Phoenix were aware that Rudan's Western United had made an offer for their inspiration leader, who they were keen to recruit as their foundation captain, and to counter that tabled a dual player-management role in the hope of keeping the 37-year-old involved at the club post his playing career.
However, Stuff understands Durante has elected to follow Rudan and notified the Phoenix of his decision earlier this week.
He is currently on holiday with his family in Bali.
"For me life is about taking on new challenges, to test yourself in places that may make you uncomfortable, to experience new things and to grow as a person. Not everyone will agree with it, not everyone will see my view on things, but that's OK. That's football and that's life.
"I sincerely wish the club and its loyal fans the best in the future. I have made life long friends here and that is what I will miss the most, the people of this country are some of the best people you will ever come across."
Durante joined the Phoenix from Newcastle Jets after winning the A-League title in 2008 and the centre-back cemented his legend status through his longevity. His contribution to the club throughout the past decade has been enormous, riding every high and every low.
His 313 appearances are the most by any A-League player and that invaluable experience will be sorely missed next season in what is an end of era for one of the club's greatest servants.
"My connection to this club and this country will always be there. Our three daughters were born here in Wellington, we made it our home and it will always be a place close to our hearts.
"From the bottom of my heart, thank you for accepting me as one of your own, thank you for accepting my family as one of your own. It really feels like we are leaving home, but we are excited about the new challenge we are about to face as a family."
After sitting on the bench for the Socceroos, Durante also represented his adopted country on the international stage, making 24 appearances for the All Whites between 2013-2017 — an achievement he was incredibly proud of.
"I never thought I that 11 years on I would still be captaining the team having played over 270 games for the club.
"On top of that, never in a million years would I have thought that I would also go on to represent the New Zealand national team on 24 occasions, even captaining New Zealand on two occasions, an honour I am extremely privileged to have experience."
Durante will be the third Phoenix player to follow Rudan to newcomers Western United, where he will reunite with goalkeeper Filip Kurto and midfielder Max Burgess.