Jets risk A-League cred on eve of new season
“We’re trying to turn the team into a club and it’s on the right track”. So said Branko Culina just hours before he was sacked as coach of the Newcastle Jets on the eve of the new A-League season.
While the cruel irony in that comment is more than palpable, Culina’s sacking, along with the club’s decision to try and have his son and marquee player Jason’s contract “set aside”, throws up a raft of questions, including one that cuts to the very core of the A-League’s existence, but more on that later.
First lets deal with the handling of the announcement.
Putting your coach up in front of the national media at the A-League season launch when the decision to terminate his contract has already been made not only humiliated the NSL championship winning coach but was, as AAP described it, “brutal”.
There remain grievances with the timing of the announcement as well. At best it was naïve, thinking it would get lost amongst all the noise from the season launch. At worst it was negligent, as Hunter Sports Group has now undone much of the good work the club achieved over the off-season and taken the positive news stories around the league off the media’s agenda.
The more pressing issue though is that of player rights in Australia’s only fully professional football league.
To attempt to set aside the contract of a player because of an injury, a normal part of professional football, is startling. Coming on the back of other questionable decisions pertaining to player contracts at Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury, it becomes a real worry.
As PFA chief executive Brendan Schwab explained to the Newcastle Herald, “Medical matters can necessarily become very complicated, so the collective bargaining agreement … protects players because injury is an inevitable occurrence for any professional footballer, and we certainly don’t see it as a basis for termination.”
There may well be something the Jets have left out regarding Jason Culina’s injury that might justify their decision, but it must be significant and irrefutable.
Player rights, just like those of fans, stand at the very core of the fundamentals that under pin the game.
Furthermore, while it might be unpalatable to discuss such a negative and challenging topic on the eve of the most highly anticipated A-League season to date, to not do so would be a disservice to everyone involved in Australian football. We must always consider the tough questions we’re faced with, even when we stand on the verge of a great success.
The essence of this issue is simple – if we cannot afford to treat the players who we ask to thrill and entertain us fairly, then we must ask ourselves whether we’re doing justice to this great competition we’re building.
As the Jets players returned to training on Wednesday, midfielder Kasey Wehrman was right when he said, “It’s done now, we just need to get on with the job.” It’s just a shame two of his now former Newcastle colleagues won’t be able to join them.