Carlton is a club with major issues at several levels. Its players lack fight and on-field direction. Coach Mick Malthouse has changed his tune and whatever message he’s sending now isn’t getting through. And the Blues’ administration is paying a price for having overestimated the team’s capabilities.
They are problems that won’t be solved with some magic wave of the wand. But if that tendency has perhaps been Carlton’s greatest flaw for its entire modern history, it’s still no less a danger now.
The Blues have been dogged for decades, arguably ever since Ron Barassi’s fabled arrival at Princes Park back in 1965, by a lack of patience, and an incessant search for a messiah, either on the field, in the coach’s box or at the board table, to lead them in from the wilderness.
And after club benefactor and “pokies king” Bruce Mathieson’s latest salvo at the club he supports, you can see the stirrings among a very disgruntled fan base evolving into a plaintive call either to the billionaire or some other would-be saviour to take charge.
President Stephen Kernahan, and to a lesser extent chief executive Greg Swann, are the latest targets of Carlton supporters’ ire, tied inextricably to the hiring of Malthouse and firing of predecessor Brett Ratten, the man who took the Blues as close as has any coach in 15 years to top-order respectability.
Mathieson has already had one stint on the Carlton board and has a nephew, Craig, who’s there now. He has money to burn and, clearly, plenty of angst as well. Other sources during the week were heralding the potential return of AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick.
The Blues have sought similar “get-outs” before. Through the bluster of John Elliott and the money of Richard Pratt. But “dial-a-quotes” are in abundance in football these days, and corporate clout and buckets of cash count for less in the socialised world of AFL football.
The bottom line is that Carlton could install King Midas himself as chairman and it wouldn’t make the process of lifting the club from its current perilous state any quicker.
Mathieson has repeatedly pointed the finger at the Blues’ recruiting, and he may well be right. But change has already been made. Shane Rogers having headed up that department for only the past two drafts, any judgment on the likes of Troy Menzel, Tom Temay, Nick Graham, Patrick Cripps and co. will not be relevant for some time yet.
Kernahan and his board have made some big mistakes, their premature jettisoning of Ratten looming as the biggest. Carlton was a kick away from top four in 2011, and was still 10th with a 50 per cent win-loss record in an injury-ravaged 2012.
Had the administration held its nerve for another 12 months it may well have had a choice of Ratten, Malthouse or Paul Roos at the end of last year. It didn’t, and for the moment at least, Malthouse looks merely like Carlton’s latest version of the 1990 return of the prodigal son in Alex Jesaulenko, or 2002’s ill-fated appointment of Denis Pagan.
But tip-toeing Malthouse at this stage would mean another huge payout, and another step back in order to go forward. What must be established pronto is whether he has the energy or desire to oversee another rebuilding mission, a far different job description to the one for which he was signed.
Players? Carlton doesn’t have enough of quality, and dangerously few of its best are capable of dragging a team along with them. Perhaps that, too, is a symptom of the messiah complex, via the wholesale dependence upon the superstar qualities of Chris Judd for a good five years after his 2008 arrival.
Call the recruitment of Dale Thomas a much lesser version of the Judd signing, but it’s already patently clear his arrival wedded to some promising kids was never going to be near the level of turnover required to make this list a viable challenger.
So what will turn the tide? The short answer isn’t just this or that single decision, but a longer-term view across every facet of the club
Carlton won’t be able to go out and buy a Kernahan, Bradley and Motley like it did in the mid-1980s. Nor another “super coach”. Nor will the installing of a different version of a tub-thumping boardroom boss alter the current bottom line.
What will be the first step towards painting a different picture is something a lot less immediately appealing, a quality called acceptance. An acknowledgement not only that mistakes have been made, but that rectifying them will take time and patience.
There are no messiahs in the modern game, but if the Blues do need some comfort in theology, the embracing of a puritan work ethic is far more likely to take them closer to where they want to go than the quick fixes that have failed now for far too long.
DON'T FORGET THE DEMONS
A pity in a way that the identity of the victim in Melbourne's first win of 2014 ensured it and not the winning team would be hogging the headlines.
As hapless as Carlton appears right now, this was a fine effort by the Demons, who showed welcome resilience after being jumped at the start and challenged at the start of the final term.
Nathan Jones turned in one of the season's best run-with efforts on Marc Murphy, Tom McDonald was terrific on Lachie Henderson and James Frawley a constant threat in an unfamiliar forward role.
Good signs for the future too in the games of ruckman Jake Spencer and on-ballers Jack Viney and Matt Jones as well.
Gold Coast on the MCG presents a genuine opportunity for Paul Roos' side to pinch a second win.
WELLS A WIZARD
Age columnist Garry Lyon feted Geelong list manager Stephen Wells in these pages on Saturday, and could have added a footnote after the Cats' big win over West Coast the same evening.
While the senior players turned in their usual reliable games, just as prominent were the likes of Cam Guthrie, George Horlin-Smith, Jordan Murdoch and George Burbury, another battalion of youngsters introduced to senior level and now leaving their mark.
That development shouldn't be underestimated, but the talent has to be identified and selected to begin with, and no one in the AFL has done it as well for as long as Wells.
Indeed, scan the list of Geelong's recruits via the draft over the past decade and the ''misses'' are remarkably few for an imperfect science in which so many other factors play their part.
''Best of'' administrative lists aren't quite as sexy as those about players, but if the Cats ever do the exercise, Wells will take some toppling as the Ablett of his field.
HANG ON …
We've generally been a fan of the greater latitude being allowed in the contests so far this season, but we can see a debate looming on the issue of scragging, not only in the marking contests but at ground level.
Collingwood certainly wasn't pleased about the attention paid Travis Cloke in round three, but had a square off of sorts on Friday night in the shape of Brent Macaffer's tagging job on Richmond skipper Trent Cotchin.
It was certainly effective, but you can rest assured Macaffer's peers at other clubs will now be upping the ante as well.