Nikolai falls from favour as Jets head in new direction

WHEN Nikolai Topor-Stanley committed to two more years with the Jets 18 months ago it was hailed as a turning point in the club’s history.

Sydney FC had offered a king’s ransom to lure Topor-Stanley back to the harbour city. But in the end the Jets considered the towering central defender and 2010-11 player of the year too important to let go.

They raised the ante and Topor-Stanley inked a new deal, becoming one of the club’s top earners.

‘‘Certainly in my time at Newcastle it’s the first time that we’ve actually kept a player that’s had an offer from a so-called bigger club – and I think that will change with Nathan and where we are now – but I think that’s a real positive,’’ then coach Branko Culina said.

‘‘I think that’s going to send a clear message to the rest of the players, hopefully, within our team and from outside, that, hey, these guys had better offers but they decided to stay.’’

Yesterday, the same player they fought so hard to retain was regarded as surplus to requirements and released from the final year of his contract.

Why the dramatic shift?

For starters, Gary van Egmond replaced Culina as coach.

They are different characters with different philosophies and different expectations.

Van Egmond insists on playing out from the back.

There is no question Topor-Stanley has limitations in that department.

On a couple of occasions last season he struggled to find a player in red and blue, but it is an aspect of his game that has improved.

On the flip side are his strengths.

He is incredibly quick for a big man, probably the league’s best in the air and a great one-on-one defender.

Presumably those traits did not weigh up.

It is unlikely that age was a factor. Topor-Stanley recently turned 27.

Likewise durability. He played 25 of 27 matches last season. Apart from minor Achilles and knee trouble that require management, he is in good shape physically.

There is a school of thought that Topor-Stanley simply did not fit van Egmond’s mould of young, athletic, amenable tearaways.

He is not a conformist but, by the same token, he is hardly a rabble-rouser.

In making the assessment, van Egmond no doubt looked at the big picture, the A-League’s $2.35million salary cap foremost in his mind.

Topor-Stanley was on about $250,000 a season. His defensive partner Tiago earns about $200,000.

Is it good business to have such a large chunk of the salary cap taken up at the back end of the pitch?

The Herald understands Tiago was offered $50,000 to walk away from the final year of his deal, but he appears to be back in favour.

The Jets did not reveal the details of Topor-Stanley’s exit other than to say it was a ‘‘mutual release agreement’’.

Any payout must be included in the salary cap.

Whether Topor-Stanley is replaced remains to be seen.

It certainly won’t be with another high-priced defender.

Newcastle-born former Perth Glory defender Josh Mitchell has been training with the Jets for a week.

Home-grown product Taylor Regan has proved he is more than up to it.

There are big raps on 17-year-old former Australian Joeys captain Connor Chapman, whom van Egmond brought to the club towards the end of last season. Sam Gallaway also plays there.

After inheriting the side last season, van Egmond was always going to be judged on this campaign.

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