Max Burgess has likely played his last game for Western United, with the Melbourne-based club granting the attacker's request to return home to Sydney to see out the remainder of his contract on Tuesday.
After a breakout conclusion to 2019-20, Burgess, 26, spent much of the following preseason agitating for a move away from Western and back home to his native New South Wales, where he remained during this standoff.
The resulting impasse between player and club ultimately saw the former blink first, with the attacker -- after several false starts due to COVID-related border restrictions -- flying down to join the Western squad following the beginning of the campaign.
The Bondi-born player first broke into the A-League as a Sydney FC prospect but has not been based in the Harbour City since leaving NPL NSW side Sydney Olympic to sign with Mark Rudan's Wellington Phoenix ahead of the 2018-19 season. He would subsequently follow Rudan to Western the following season.
However, with Basque import Iker Guarrotxena increasingly establishing himself in Burgess' position in the Western front-three, the highly-talented former Rockdale City Suns junior was a notable absentee from his club's following wins against Macarthur FC and Melbourne Victory.
And on Tuesday, the club put out a statement confirming that they had granted a request from the wantaway attacker to return home to Sydney.
"Western United would like to advise that Max Burgess has returned home to Sydney," a Western spokesperson said.
"Max remains a contracted player however the club respects his wishes to return home at this time."
Speaking to ESPN, Western CEO Chris Pehlivanis confirmed that, despite his return to Sydney, Burgess remained under contract with Western and was, therefore, unable to sign with another A-League club.
"He's requested to go back home and we've accepted his request," Chris Pehlivanis told ESPN. "You can't force someone to stay. So he's still contracted but he wants to go back home.
"[Burgess' contract will] run out [at the end of the season] and he's free to go wherever he wants.
"He's made the choice and we've respected his wishes -- as we'd do with most of our players. If [our players] don't want to be there we're not going to force them.
"He's more than welcome to come back at any time."
Pehlivanis, however, did admit that Western would still entertain the possibility of a swap deal with another A-League club that sought Burgess' services before he hit the open market, or his potential sale to an overseas club.
"The club was approached, we respected Max's wishes and at this point, we don't intend to force Max to be here," the Western CEO said.
"However, we're not going to also allow him to play for an opposition club without proper compensation. We're going to allow him to have his wish to return home and see out his contract like that.
"We will entertain anything but in terms of the A-League, we've got to defend the club and put Western United before anyone and in this situation, we don't think we've done anything wrong.
"We'll be open to discussions with any other club if they think they can provide us with something beneficial."