THE Newcastle Jets have started clearing the decks for next season after telling off-contract players Josh Mitchell, James Brown and Joey Gibbs yesterday that they would not be retained.
Mitchell, Brown and Gibbs are the first players to part company with Newcastle since the appointment of new coach Phil Stubbins on Tuesday, and they are expected to be joined in coming days by Young Socceroos defender Connor Chapman.
Chapman’s release to join Melbourne Heart is understood to be a fait accompli, although Jets chief executive Robbie Middleby declined to discuss the subject yesterday.
Middleby said Jets officials had moved promptly to tell players who would not be required because ‘‘they need a bit of clarity and we don’t want it to drag on’’.
‘‘For the individuals involved, it was important that we gave them early notice so that they can move on and potentially find another opportunity,’’ Middleby said.
‘‘It’s always hard to let people go, but we need to look at what we have to strengthen for next season.’’
Mitchell, a Swansea junior who debuted for Newcastle United in the old National Soccer League 12 years ago, returned to play 27 A-League games for his home-town club after stints in Romania and with Perth Glory.
The 29-year-old central defender, who was a mainstay in Newcastle’s backline in the last nine games of the season just finished, said he was not ready to comment when contacted by the Herald yesterday.
But, on Twitter, he accepted the setback with good grace: ‘‘Disappointing to leave my home town club but excited for a new challenge. Good luck to the @NewcastleJetsFC & Phil Stubbins next season . . . thank you to all the jets fans for their support. Such a wonderful football community. Hopefully the club experience success in the future.’’
In an interview in February, Mitchell was philosophical about the prospect of re-signing with Newcastle.
‘‘I’ve been around long enough not to let it worry me,’’ he said at the time. ‘‘I’ll just try and do well for the team, and whether I stay here or not, I’m sure I’ll be fine.’’
Middleby praised the three departing players ‘‘for the way they carried themselves as Newcastle Jets players both on the field and in the Hunter community during their time at the club’’.
Without Mitchell and Chapman, Newcastle’s only central defenders are former Dutch international Kew Jaliens and home-grown Taylor Regan.
The Jets have been linked to Sydney’s Matt Jurman, but it is understood Stubbins may have other plans.
‘‘He hasn’t signed,’’ was Middleby’s only comment regarding Jurman.
The release of Gibbs and Brown is hardly a surprise.
Gibbs, who is on holidays in Bali, scored the matchwinner on his Jets debut against Brisbane in round eight.
But the 21-year-old made only three other appearances in the season.
Brown, 24, was a high-profile signing from the defunct Gold Coast franchise but struggled in Newcastle.
Ankle surgery restricted him to 16 games in his first campaign with the Jets, then this season he featured only 12 times, just three of which were in the starting line-up.
After nine goals in 38 games for Gold Coast, the attacking midfielder did not score once for Newcastle and the frustration Jets fans voiced at games and on website forums clearly did little for his self-esteem.
‘‘He’s a confidence kid,’’ former Jets coach Gary van Egmond said in January. ‘‘You don’t want to hear the home crowd booing, or clapping when a player gets taken off.’’
It is understood the Jets have held talks with Joel Griffiths and David Carney nut may have to contend with interest from rival clubs.
● Chile star Arturo Vidal had right knee surgery yesterday, five weeks before his country’s first match at the World Cup against Australia on June 14.
The club, which won the Serie A title on Sunday, said it was unclear if Vidal would recover to play in Brazil.
The combative midfielder scored five times in 11 games during Chile’s World Cup qualifying campaign.