The A-League will go back to the drawing board in search of a marquee star to boost flagging attendances and TV ratings after Fernando Torres turned down the chance for a Sydney FC sojourn.
Torres has confirmed he will sign for J-League club Sagan Tosu rather than take up an offer from the Sky Blues.
The 34-year-old will join another former A-League target, fellow Spaniard Andres Iniesta in Japan.
But it is a disappointing outcome for Football Federation Australia, who are desperate to bring some international star power to the A-League with their centralised $3 million marquee fund.
FFA and Sydney FC officials held joint talks with Torres, spending many late nights on the phone with his management to try to get him over the line.
While Sydney's salary offer could not compete with others on the table, it was hoped Australia's lifestyle appeal would sway the former Liverpool, Chelsea and Athletic Madrid striker to forgo those potential earnings.
Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend believed the interest was real and it's understood Torres went as far as inquiring about schools for his children to attend.
"Genuinely there were moments there when we thought we had the deal done," Townsend told AAP.
"It wasn't like we were a million miles away, because they would have kicked us into touch early on if we were nowhere near it.
"The fact that we were that close (shows) there was a genuine intent from him, his family and his management to look at Australia."
Townsend said he and deputy A-League chief Tracey Scott had offered to fly for a face-to-face meeting with Torres, which was turned down because he was on a family holiday in the Caribbean.
Torres was on a six-player shortlist drawn up by FFA two months ago, which also included Iniesta and Keisuke Honda.
Former AC Milan midfielder Honda is the only free agent left but he appears long odds of playing in the A-League.
The Japanese international is after a one-year contract worth $US5 million ($A6.7 million) on top of other benefits - well out of the A-League's price range.
But Townsend said Sydney and the A-League as a whole would not be deterred in its pursuit of big-name marquees.
"Just because we may not have the size of wallet to back us up, we've still got a lot going for us and we'll keep rolling the dice because it's the right thing to do," he said.