Wellington Phoenix captain Steven Taylor has quit professional soccer with immediate effect and will return home to England, citing the strain of playing in COVID-19 hubs in Australia and lockdowns in New Zealand.
The former Newcastle United mainstay joined Phoenix in 2018/19 and made 61 appearances for the A-League side, who have had to base themselves in Australia for much of the last two seasons due to COVID-19.
"The thought of having to relocate and hub again - I got caught in a lockdown at the end of last season and then again (in Wellington) one day after I got out of managed isolation - it feels like it’s followed me everywhere," the 35-year-old said in a team release.
"I haven’t had any type of a normal life for some time.
"It’s come to that period of my life where family is more important than football and I’m excited for the next chapter and to see my family back home in the UK."
Taylor's retirement robs the Phoenix of leadership and leaves coach Ufuk Talay short of central defenders two months before the 2021/22 season kicks off, but general manager David Dome sympathised with his decision.
"COVID has been tough on this club, its players and staff over the past two years; especially for Steven with six stints in quarantine - that’s three months alone in a hotel room - over the past two-odd years," he said.
"That kind of thing takes a toll on a person."
Wellington finished seventh in the 12-team A-League last season, narrowly missing the playoffs.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)