MELBOURNE Heart have reaffirmed their interest in signing Jets captain Jobe Wheelhouse for the rest of the A-League season and probably longer.
The Heart first approached the Jets about the 27-year-old midfielder a fortnight ago, but the sudden retirement of Vince Grella on Monday has heightened their interest.
Coach Gary van Egmond initially knocked the deal on the head, but it is understood the Jets are now willing to release Wheelhouse.
However, the wholehearted playmaker and Jets foundation player is unlikely to accept a short-term deal.
The 28-day A-League transfer window closes on February 12.
The latest development casts further doubt over Wheelhouse’s future in Newcastle beyond this season.
He is one of seven players off contract.
Ruben Zadkovich, who took over the captaincy when Wheelhouse was sidelined with injury, is expected to put pen to paper on a new deal as early as today.
Talks have also reportedly started with marquee striker Emile Heskey.
Former Adelaide playmaker Zenon Caravella joined the Jets on an 18-month deal last week. Josh Brillante, Jacob Pepper, Ben Kantarovski (injured) and apprentice Mitch Oxborrow play the same position as Wheelhouse and are contracted for next year.
The club have also sounded out Newcastle-born midfielder Stuart Musialik about a return.
The Jets’ policy is not to comment on player-retention and recruitment matters.
Wheelhouse was strong in his return to the starting side in a 1-all draw with Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium last weekend.
But with in-form Zadkovich back from suspension, he faces a challenge to hold his place for the game against Sydney FC at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
Van Egmond has been strong in his praise of Brillante, who has started in the centre of the park for the past seven games.
But with Sam Gallaway suspended the Young Socceroo could drop to left back, creating an opening in midfield.
Caravella played seven minutes off the bench in Wellington. He immediately helped the Jets’ passing fluency, but both sides were down to 10 men by that stage and the game had opened up.
The Heart have been active during the transfer window.
Right back Michael Marrone was released to Hangzhou Shenxin a fortnight ago and left back Aziz Behich yesterday agreed to join Turkish top-flight club Bursaspor.
They regained promising striker Eli Babalj last week, after a failed move to Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade, and football manager John Didulica said the club had scope to sign Australian-based replacements for Grella and Behich.
The 22-year-old Behich, who has become one of Australia’s best left backs during his three seasons at the Heart, could be in line for his Bursaspor debut this weekend against Turkish Super Lig powerhouse Galatasaray and their new signing Didier Drogba.
‘‘It’s a dream come true, and I really can’t thank Melbourne Heart enough for giving me this opportunity,’’ Behich said.
His departure comes after Heart coach John Aloisi said on Friday that he didn’t want to lose more players mid-season.
He said he was disappointed to lose Behich but did not want to stand in his way once the Socceroo decided he wanted to pursue the opportunity.
‘‘It hurts to lose him at this stage of the season, but how can you stand in the way of a player fulfilling his dreams?’’ Aloisi said.
DECISION: Jobe Wheelhouse. Picture: Jonathan Carroll