There’s no sporting news in Australia like bad football news, and it keeps coming by the truckload. Sydney FC’s season has just taken another turn for the worse with the shock axing of CEO Dirk Melton.
Seven chief executives in seven years makes for bad reading, and when it comes with a new head coach yet to be announced and the team poised to miss the finals for the second season in a row, the Sky Blues could be viewed as a club in crisis.
Considering the pedigree Melton had coming into the Sydney FC role and the progress he made in it, his sacking yesterday was a big surprise. Along with Todd Greenberg, Melton has been credited with turning around the Canterbury Bulldogs brand following the Coffs Harbour sex scandal and salary cap rorts in the early 2000s.
By all accounts, he had been successful at Sydney FC at re-connecting the club with the community and improving its off-field presence. Admittedly, Sydney FC’s failure to sign a major sponsor has been disappointing.
But the club’s announcement yesterday hinted at dark underlying issues. Sydney FC’s statement was that Melton’s termination was a unanimous decision of the board following “a number of formal complaints of a serious nature by employees which were investigated and revealed behaviour in Mr Melton’s management of staff which was completely unacceptable”.
“The Board acknowledges that, during his period as Chief Executive Officer, Mr Melton brought enthusiasm and passion to the role and had set on a path to achieve the strategic long term goals of the Club,” the statement said.
“However, the board determined that Mr Melton’s behaviour towards staff was inconsistent with his obligations and could not be tolerated by the board, and as a consequence the club could not continue with him as Chief Executive Officer.”
No explanation of what Melton’s behaviour actually was, and the former Bullodgs chief operating officer and St George Illawarra executive manager of marketing has since come out denying any wrongdoing and said he is contemplating legal action.
“I [Melton] will not be commenting on the circumstances that have purportedly given rise to the board’s decision other than to deny strenuously any allegations that have been made against me suggesting that I have engaged in unacceptable management of staff or any other form of inappropriate behaviour,” Melton’s statement said.
“I believe my excellent relationships with the vast majority of Sydney FC’s staff speak for themselves.”
Regardless of the reason of his departure, this is not good timing for the club. Vitezslav Lavicka is departing at the end of the season and the club’s chances of making the finals are hanging by a thread. Like their big Melbourne rivals the Victory, this year’s A-League campaign is in a dire state. The Sky Blues’ form has been sporadic all season and a player cleanout may be on the cards.
Melton now joins Andy Harper, Edwin Lugt, Tim Parker and George Perry as former Sydney FC chief executives, with Stefan Kamasz now back in the top job in an interim basis.
In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Mike Cockerill called for a CEO “with football in his DNA” to be appointed – a preferable method but one that is not always feasible. Ex-Socceroo Kimon Taliadoros and former Wellington Phoenix boss Tony Pignata are the early front-runners.
But the club needs to hire the best candidate available; someone with a long-term vision for the club and who is a calm, stabilising influence, not just someone who knows about the offside rule or heading a ball. Football knowledge is definitely important, but should not the be-all and end-all.
It’s a big job, and like the head coach position, a vital one that that Sydney FC must get right. The clock’s ticking.