Brett Ratten is set to coach Carlton for the final time on Sunday. Brett Ratten leaves Carlton yesterday.
ROHAN CONNOLLY: Record means little against the rapidly advancing tideROBERT WALLS: Malthouse a big risk as Blues err in axing Ratten
BRETT Ratten had breakfast with Chris Judd and his leadership group early yesterday. For all intents and purposes it was the soon-to-be-sacked coach’s last supper with the senior players who had failed him at Carlton’s penultimate hurdle against the Gold Coast.
Late yesterday Ratten would not reveal whether he said his private goodbyes over toast, fruit and coffee, preferring to leave his public thoughts until this morning’s scheduled press conference, which will formalise his sad and bitter ending. It is known that the players wanted him to coach them one more time and that Ratten agreed.
It is also known that all of them will be going through the motions. In a sense the Gold Coast game was for those who have plotted Ratten’s departure for months a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether or not the deal has been done – and Blues chiefs continue to vehemently deny it – the prospect of Mick Malthouse will now take centre stage, despite Malthouse having promised Ratten in June last year he would not take his job.
For Stephen Kernahan, the president who as football director re-signed and then sacked Ratten’s two predecessors, this next appointment will prove his last role of the dice.
Already there are powerbrokers who believe Kernahan’s time is up and have told him so, even though the Blues great seems determined to remain at the helm until 2014.
For both Kernahan and his chief Greg Swann, who were to join Ratten at today’s formal goodbye, Malthouse will make or break them. The Blues have worshipped for decades at the shrine of the messiah and in recent years that messiah has come in forms ranging from Denis Pagan to Richard Pratt to Chris Judd. Some have worked better than others.
Travis Cloke could prove another potential saviour in terms of the Blues’ brittle forward line, with Carlton players reportedly having met and endorsed a massive plunge on the AFL’s most famous free agent, who remains at contractual odds with Collingwood. Even if it means sacrificing their own pay packets.
You couldn’t script a more dramatic reigniting of football’s most famous traditional rivalry. The cold war that has existed between the Malthouse family and Eddie McGuire all season looks set to turn physical.
Paul Roos looms as the only potential spanner in what has seemed a done deal for months. The board is not united over Malthouse with several key directors, including Jeanne Pratt, determined to launch a bid for the Swans’ premiership coach.
Roos has declared he will not coach next year, but now there is a vacancy the view is this could change. Some Carlton directors believe money could change his mind and clearly the coming weeks will cost the club at least an extra $2 million.
But the spectre of Malthouse that has hovered over Carlton looks certain to materialise. In fact, the 59-year-old three-time premiership coach was almost over the line to cross to Carlton as long ago as May 2011. That was when behind-the-scenes negotiations even had key assistant coaches and football staffers in place. Then Malthouse, who appeared headed for a second straight flag at Collingwood, got cold feet and Ratten almost coached the Blues into the top four.
Collingwood now believes Malthouse will attempt to lure his close ally and respected high-performance boss David Buttifant to Visy Park as well, even though Buttifant has a contract. The Magpies have privately stated they would also welcome their former captain and Blues coaching assistant Gavin Brown back to the club.
Where all this leaves Ratten, 41, a Carlton premiership player, captain and three-time best and fairest is one of the game’s harshest realities. The criticisms of him have been that he could not instil enough of a hard edge into his players and that he allowed emotion to get in the way. Occasionally, his leadership was questioned. Ratten never won the PR battle with Carlton people and his termination was reportedly endorsed by some key sponsors.
There were strong suggestions last night extra sponsorship money has been promised should Malthouse or Roos sign.
Ratten coached superbly when his back was against the wall from mid-season. His Carlton teams improved each year until this year’s failure, and only at the end of 2010 after three full years as a first-time senior coach did he receive the off-field assistance commensurate with his rivals. Port Adelaide confirmed again yesterday that he is in the frame for that senior vacancy.
The reality is Malthouse was the architect of Ratten’s undoing after assuring him he would not take his job. Malthouse has spoken repeatedly about the cost of coaching on his family, despite the fact his children have grown up and he is a grandfather. He has insisted he will not coach again without their endorsement. In the same breath four days ago he said they would support him. Few take those protestations seriously.
This move will not say much for his sincerity or make him any more popular but Malthouse will not bother about that. He will thrive on it.
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