This year’s big news topic has already been decided. Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin has given the AFL media their long term project by announcing he will not be negotiating his contract until the end of the year.
Franklin is one of the biggest names in the comp, and arguably this contract saga will be bigger news than the Travis Cloke and Brendon Goddard contract talks combined, and maybe even eclipse Gary Ablett’s.
His appeal as a player, ambassador for his club and code, and sheer marketability as an athlete and person (he is a pretty good looking bloke let’s not forget) might not make him the number one player in the game, but certainly the number one commodity.
And the very thought of him leaving his premiership winning club, Hawthorn, who are once again in the box seat for the grand prize is hard to get one’s head around.
It’s a great story for the media. And the bloke is going to cop it all year.
In a clear sign of things to come, his recent interview, which was supposed to concern his captaining the Indigenous All-Stars Team against Richmond, quickly turned to contract talk.
Buddy was emphatic about his want to stay at his current club, stating, “I want to stay at Hawthorn… I’ve got no intention to leave the football club…it’s my decision.”
Pretty clear, right? Well according to AFL.com’s Mark Macgugan, it’s clear as mud.
Macgugan stated that we didn’t get “the answer as to WHY he put the contract talks on hold… he was a bit vague on that… all we can speculate is that it’s about money.”
Talk about reading too far between the lines.
The discussion, which can be viewed on the AFL’s website, then moved to the clubs who are in the box seat to take the star, including Fremantle and Adelaide, and the obvious fact that this story will be the big one of the year.
The clearest indication as to why the star made this choice came straight form the horse’s mouth.
“Internally it won’t be spoken about, we just look forward to playing footy and hopefully winning a premiership,” stated Franklin. That is a pretty legitimate reason.
In a year where the Hawks stand the best chance of winning the flag, following a year where they missed out only on the day, all players would know how important getting their own game right is, especially the man who, despite the ever increasingly talented support staff around him, will be required to kick the odd double figure bag of goals.
It’s never been more important for Franklin to have his body, form and mind right.
What we all remember about contract negotiations – thanks to the recent string of very public and very drawn out sagas from Gary Ablett Jr to Cloke to Goddard to Kurt Tippett – is the scuttlebutt, innuendo and seemingly inevitable exodus of the player in question.
Lines like “I don’t need the distraction”, “Obviously I love playing footy here”, and, everyone’s favourite, “I haven’t thought about it, I’m just taking things one week at a time,” are now so convincing to the contrary that we seem to live in a world where every player is viewed as a liar.
What we forget very quickly is that a contract negotiation can be incredibley draining and distracting. Anyone who has actually gone through the experience will know this.
You’re basically balancing your needs and desires with that of another party, while, in the case of star footballers, being bombarded daily by third parties.
We all seem to think the negotiating room is purely for the player’s manager and the man in the top hat holding a bag of money. Not true – of course the player is involved, this is their livelihood, passion, hobby and for many the reason they get up every day.
The difference between getting your contract right or not might mean a serious drop in pay, or even a relocation interstate, uprooting yourself and family and starting over.
But as I said, we all seem to be caught up with the memory of Ablett and Goddard, who delayed then walked out. We forget the Travis Clokes of the world, the Patrick Dangerfields and Taylor Walkers, Travis Boaks and Matthew Pavlichs.
Loyalty does still exist in football, despite the exceptions, and wanting to focus on your footy when the prize at stake is a premiership is a legitimate reason.
So let’s try and leave Buddy alone, please – there are bigger issues afoot, and the guy just needs to play footy.