Ballarat’s Stefan Nigro is one of four players to have been released by Melbourne Victory, just weeks after its A-League championship.
Nigro and substitute Matias Sanchez will leave the champions, along with long-term injury absentee Mitch Austin and youth teamer Cameron McGilp.
Nigro might be the unluckiest of the four.
The 21-year-old stepped into the defence in Rhys Williams' absence through the semi-final and grand final. He has not been recontracted despite being one of Victory's leanest earners.
Coach Kevin Muscat said telling the players they were surplus to requirements was "the hardest thing in the world".
"It's so raw and close to the bone...nothing hurts more than having to look players in the eye after such a high," he told AAP.
"But we're tasked with the responsibility to get better and the situation that we're in, with the salary cap, and restrictions on age and visas, there's a lot to throw in. One or two players might be unfortunate but there's a lot of thought that goes into it."
Austin, 27, scored four goals for Victory since joining two years ago from Central Coast but had this campaign ruined by an ACL rupture.
Argentine midfielder Sanchez made 25 appearances, 11 from the bench, after joining on a one-year deal and was widely expected to depart. The quartet might be the first of several faces to leave Victory, with a host of uncontracted players still to have their futures resolved.
Captain Carl Valeri, 33, is still considering his playing future, while club best-and-fairest winner Leroy George is weighing up an offer to stay on with his personal circumstances. Lawrence Thomas is likely to stay with the champions on a two-year deal and Leigh Broxham will also sign a new deal.