Australian football authorities made an embarrassing apology Friday over the controversial axing of national women's coach Alen Stajcic, admitting his removal had nothing to do with misconduct following months of speculation and innuendo.
Alen Stajcic, who was appointed in 2014, was suddenly dumped in January -- just months ahead of the World Cup in France -- despite guiding the Matildas to as high as fourth in the world rankings in one of their most successful eras.
Football Federation Australia gave no explanation for the surprise move, but cited concerns over "workplace" and "player welfare" issues following two confidential surveys about the team environment and culture.
Speculation heightened after FFA board member Heather Reid told media that if people knew the truth "they would be shocked" and Stajcic would never work in women's football again.
The 45-year-old Stajcic threatened legal action, saying his career had been left "in tatters".
Reid on Friday issued an unreserved apology for "the damage, distress and hurt that I have caused to Alen Stajcic".
"I withdraw my statements entirely and unconditionally," she added. "I regret making these statements.
FFA said it wanted to "make clear that Alen Stajcic's contract was not terminated on the basis that he had breached his contract or had engaged in any misconduct", although it stopped short of giving details about why he was sacked.
"Any inference that has been drawn about these being reasons for Alen's contract termination is wrong," an FFA statement said.
"Alen's contract was terminated by FFA exercising its contractual right of termination by making a pre-agreed payment in lieu of notice.
"FFA's decision to do this was reached simply because its board formed the view, following a process undertaken by management, that the Matildas would benefit from a new coach for the FIFA World Cup in France."
Stajcic in March was appointed caretaker coach of struggling A-League side Central Coast Mariners, with the club's then sporting director Mike Phelan, now at Manchester United, saying he was "held in high esteem".
The FFA said that in the interests of the Matildas, the governing body and Stajcic had agreed to resolve their differences and move forward.
"Neither will be making any further comment on these issues," said the FFA.
Ante Milicic is now coach of the Matildas, who open their World Cup campaign against Italy on June 9.
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