Anthony Caceres had long been tipped for big things in the Australian A-League, but few, if any, of his keenest admirers ever expected a move to super-power-in-waiting Manchester City.
The 23-year-old will leave Central Coast Mariners for just $300,000 Australian - around £144,000 - in a deal which will no doubt raise City’s profile in Australia even further, following the City Football Group’s takeover of Melbourne City two years ago and Luke Brattan’s move from Brisbane Roar to Manchester last October.
In fact, it is Melbourne that stand to benefit from Caceres’ talents in the short term, with a loan move mooted.
Much like their foray into MLS, however, it seems the CFG may come under fire from local clubs and administrators down under if the loan move goes ahead.
The furore surrounding Frank Lampard’s City spell caused embarrassment for New York City FC and the MLS commissioner when it emerged that the former Chelsea man would be kept in Manchester for a full season, rather than move to the US for NYCFC’s maiden MLS campaign as previously expected.
This time the issue surrounds the A-League’s transfer rules. Clubs in Australia’s top flight are not permitted to pay each other fees when players move on, but it seems certain that Caceres, born to Uruguayan parents and not in possession of a European passport, will end up at Melbourne.
While City are free to loan Caceres wherever they choose, having purchased him outright, there is sure to be a degree of consternation among Melbourne’s rivals.
Sydney FC were one of several clubs interested in Caceres, but head coach Graham Arnold, who previously worked with the midfielder, summed up the feeling earlier this month: “I don’t think the Mariners would let him come to Sydney FC somehow. I think Anthony is probably one of their most-prized assets.
“Knowing Mike Charlesworth [Mariners owner and chairman], he wants money. If they’re going to let him go anywhere, I’d say it would be for a sale. I don’t think they’d hand him over to any other A-League club.”
But that appears to be exactly the case, and with the Mariners profiting at the same time. Caceres has been highly rated for some time, but despite starting to deliver on that promise over the last 12 months, there is no chance of him being named in Manchester City’s squad in the near future. Quite apart from the football capacity required to hold down a spot at a club challenging for the top honours in England and Europe, Caceres has no international caps to his name and a British work permit is impossible.
He looks destined, therefore, to continue his career and perhaps fulfil his potential in Australia.
"I've got wraps on him because of what I see him do on the training pitch every day and I know what he is capable of, and with games he will get more confidence and will have more of an impact on games," former Mariners coach Phil Moss effused in 2014 after the then 21-year-old justified his inclusion in place of the club’s captain with a fine goal against Newcastle Jets.
His high points since then, however, have come as his team-mates have struggled. Soon after a 3-1 defeat to Guangzhou R&F in an Asian Champions League play-off in February of last year, Caceres highlighted the match as his best performance in a Mariners shirt.
His team, based in Gosford, New South Wales, finished last season eighth in the 10-team A-League, but things have not improved even after replacing Moss with Manchester-born Tony Walmsley, a former Manchester United academy director in Oceania as well as head of academy recruitment at Sheffield United.
Walmsley is committed to playing very attacking football in a 4-1-2-3 formation, but Caceres will depart with the Mariners bottom of the division after 14 games. Caceres has improved in that free-flowing approach – “The key for me is getting on the ball more and get involved,” he said last year – but Manchester City will surely hope his next destination will provide more competitive surroundings.
With Melbourne four points off top spot, and in talks to end former Hull City midfielder Robert Koren’s contract early, Caceres could be set for a defining role in their season.
It will also allow him to stay in Australia, where his partner, a qualified primary school teacher, plays for Western Sydney Wanderers.
Manchester will have to wait.