|By PADDY HIGGS
Michael Marrone's exit from Melbourne Heart has been sealed despite doubt on the future of his new Chinese club, while promising Australia international Eli Babalj could yet rejoin the A-League club.
Heart football director John Didulica confirmed to Goal.com that the club had received the transfer agreement and fee for Marrone's transfer from Shanghai Shenxin, who the 26-year-old elected to join despite not knowing in which division the club will be playing in 2013.
Shenxin finished second from bottom in the 2012 season, but were set to avoid relegation due to the merger between Dalian Shide and Dalian Aerbin. A dispute over transfer fees could scupper that, however, and the matter is still with the Chinese Football Association.
The club has three foreigners on their books already - the limit for the second tier - and Shenxin administrator Qin Ping told the press on Sunday that the club may look to loan Marrone out if its top-flight status is lost.
The CFA's decision could be some days away, given they are still working on finding a replacement for president Wei Di after his sudden sacking last Thursday.
But despite the doubt on club's future, Marrone is confident the risk is worth the reward.
"I had a dream to play football abroad; anywhere was OK, I just wanted to gain experience there," he told Shanghai Orient Sports on Monday, having landed in Kuming on Saturday.
"I had trials in England, Scotland, Italy before... I am 26 years old, there was a chance [with Shanghai Shenxin], and if I didn't take it there might not be any in the future.
"I didn't want to have any regrets in my career."
Babalj, meanwhile, could return to Heart just seven months after his departure, with Serbian Superliga club Red Star Belgrade yet to pay the final instalment on what was believed to be an AU$600,000 transfer.
The 20-year-old, who won his first cap for Australia in December, has made just eight substitute appearances for one goal since his move. Reports in Serbia have already linked him with a departure, but a resolution on his future could be made within the "next 48 hours", according to Didulica.
He said the club would have no trouble fitting Babalj under the A-League salary cap: "We've been trying to resolve it with them to see what outcome suits everyone - us, Eli and the clubs," he said.
"… All the discussions have been cordial with Red Star and we're trying to work with one another to make sure it's a good outcome.
"You can never have too many good players at your club, and Eli showed last season he was an exciting talent, so if it comes to pass he returns, we'll certainly be strengthened. But there is still a fair bit of water to go under that bridge."