SOCCER superstar Dwight Yorke's brief flirtation with the A-League abruptly ended last night when he quit Sydney FC for English club Sunderland.
Coming three days after the resignation of master administrator John O'Neill, it was another sledge hammer blow for Australian football as Yorke was released with a year of his contract remaining for what sources in England say is a fee close to $1 million.
After a deal was sealed just 11 hours before the transfer window closed overnight, Sydney part-owner Peter Turnbull confirmed: "Dwight has come to terms with Sunderland and while that's a huge loss we will leave no stone unturned to recruit another marquee player."
Turnbull insisted Sydney had helped turn around the career of Yorke, 34, making him a saleable commodity on football's futures market.
"When we signed him he was struggling to get a first team place at Birmingham," he added.
"We helped him resurrect his career. He went to the Clubs World Championship, won the A-League and went to the World Cup (as skipper of Trinidad and Tobago).
"Now he has a fantastic new contract at Sunderland. That's a credit to Sydney FC and the entire A-League. Dwight helped establish the A-League,
"Of course we'll miss him but now we can go out and find somebody of equal calibre."
Sunderland, who will raise Yorke's salary from $900,000 a year to $1.5m, only made contact with Sydney 48 hours ago in what turned out to be a whirlwind romance.
The midfielder cum striker earlier in the day recalled with fondness his friendship with Keane – a teammate in Manchester United's triple winning team of 1999 – saying: "That's a factor in my thinking and it's in my mind.
"He's a top mate and he's going to do a great job at Sunderland (in getting them back into the premiership from England's second tier).
Asked if he would miss Sydney, where he has been a one-man billboard for the club on-field and a chick magnet in the nightclubs off it, Yorke gazed out at the harbour outside his Pyrmont penthouse and replied: "Wouldn't you miss this? "It's absolutely tremendous."
But Yorke is known to have been dismayed by Sydney's seeming indifference towards keeping him for the second year of his contract as the cold cost-cutting hand of the mega-rich Lowy family took an iron grip on the club at boardroom level.
Turnbull added: "We have got a good fee for Dwight and we have to move on now. The club will not go backwards, there are two many good players here.
"We wish him well and no doubt he'll play his part in helping Sunderland win promotion to the Premiership."
Sydney chief executive Tim Parker revealed the the club was preparing for life without Dwight, explaining that when the next transfer window opens in November they will pounce.
Meantime, Sydney would be able to sign an immediate replacement, so long as he isn't contracted to another club. Or they have the option of bringing in guest players to fill the chasm.
To that end chairman Walter Bugno is already in Italy where he will sound out contacts over a possible replacement.
Parker insists there will not be a post-Yorke apocalypse, adding: "We have such a committed following in Sydney. I think it's more a worry for other clubs whose gates rise when Dwight makes an appearance.
"You can't deny the impact signing him has had on the competition. It's a shame other clubs didn't do the same."