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'Rebuild' may be the dirtiest word to Malthouse

Bryce Gibbs (left) and Chris Yarran of the Blues look dejected after a loss during the 2015 AFL Round 03 match between the Carlton Blues and the Essendon Bombers at the MCG, Melbourne on April 18, 2015. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Pre-season bravado shifted to a 'rebuilding' strategy within two weeks at Carlton

TWO ROUNDS into a 22-match season, and Carlton Football Club’s powerbroker blinked.

When an AFL club’s president publicly volunteers the word “rebuild” in a well-planned and strategic mainstream media blitz in April, after losses to teams that the bookmakers said his club wouldn’t beat anyway, he is white-flagging the remainder of the year and sucking whatever hope remained from supporters.

Not surprisingly, those supporters, at the very next opportunity, failed to appear in the numbers that had been forecast for a once-traditional blockbuster match-up in a traditional Saturday afternoon timeslot - the sub-55,000 crowd for the match against Essendon well-down on AFL expectations.

714 games in, the Malthouse bat remains straight

It was a panicked Mark LoGiudice who chose to drop the “rebuild” word last week and who tried to defend the use of the word on the weekend.

Blues’ chief executive officer Steven Trigg, clearly wanting to assist LoGiudice’s messaging, also hit the hustings, and somehow got so caught up in the need for solidarity that he pondered if the age of 61, the age of his coach Mick Malthouse, was an age that might be too great for the energy requirements to be an AFL coach.

If the CEOs of NFL teams Seattle and New England, the winners of the past two Superbowls, dared publicly question the age-versus-energy requirements of Pete Carroll (63) or Bill Belichick (also 63), they would be pilloried. 

“Mick is 61 and it’s a long season,” Trigg said on the weekend.

“Mick needs to ask the question, ‘Does he have the energy? Does he still have the energy to do it’?

“It’s a really incredibly demanding business.”

Yep, it is, and one that Malthouse has been consumed by for 31 years. One that he is two matches away from breaking the AFL’s record for most games coached. A business that, only two months ago, he stated he wanted to continue in beyond this year.

The president talks of a rebuild two matches into a new season and the CEO brings your age into the spotlight. Nice treatment of a man who has been involved as a player or coach at VFL/AFL level for all but one year since 1972, and a man who should, regardless of his team’s form, be allowed to move toward his record-breaking 715th match as a coach without having to deal with the noise of men panicking around him. 

At least Trigg had the smarts to subsequently clarify his statements, saying on SEN the initial comment “didn’t roll out right to be honest”. 

But the damage, initially caused by LoGiudice, and festered by Trigg’s age observations, was already irreversibly done, and can’t be undone with subsequent spinning, and attempts to reinforce supposed certain key messages.

Two days after LoGiudice’s public use of the rebuild word, Malthouse used it too.

“Rebuild to me is November, that's a November-ism, or October, you've got the trade period, then you have the draft,” he said on SEN.

“There's no mid-year draft, there's no April draft. The side we've got, I would be embarrassed to put out people on the ground who are not ready.” 

LoGiudice’s version of rebuild, when he backed up on 3AW on the weekend his initial statements, was this:

"I think our supporters know where we're at. Maybe we're a little bit at fault for skirting around the edges of the word rebuild. We thought it was best to come out and say Carlton Football Club needs to rebuild the depth on its list.

“We're moving on. Draw a line in the sand. Whatever has been done in the past, has been done in the past. The football club is where it is today for whatever reason.” 

We wonder how far back LoGiudice is referring when he mentions the past. We wonder, because he has been on the Blues' board since February 2010, a vice-president between October 2013 and June 2014, and president since.

LoGiudice and Trigg have every right to wait on determining Malthouse’s future. But clouding it with public statements about rebuilding and questions about age suggest a decision has already been made.

Mick Malthouse makes a point to his players during last Saturday's loss to Essendon. Picture: AFL Media

 

LoGiudice’s failure to publicly confront Mark Maclure over his derogatory comments about Malthouse was another example of poor public positioning.

Maclure is a good bloke, a Carlton legend. He knows his footy and is a very good and experienced media performer. But when he attacked Malthouse after a round one loss to Richmond, LoGiudice did nothing publicly.

Maybe he was too busy preparing for his rebuild statement.

Despite all the internal bickering, noise, and panic, Malthouse will still back himself to make finals in 2015.

Is he dreaming? Almost certainly. But doing everything to win is all he's known for 43 years, and while LoGiudice may privately be hoping for a few more losses to assist his good mate and club list management and strategy manger Steve Silvagni with lucrative national draft positioning at the end of the year, Malthouse will be striving for wins against St Kilda this week, then Collingwood, the Brisbane Lions and GWS. 

The demise of the once-feared Carlton organisation has been staggering. It was only 16 years ago it played in a Grand Final, 15 years ago that, had Anthony Koutoufides not broken down, it could have challenged for another flag. 

The AFL’s heavy sanctions for salary cap breaches in late 2002 established the ensuing rot, but even Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard would have learnt how to really backstab and properly in-fight had they closely followed the goings-on at Princes Park in the 13 years since.

At one stage, there were 16 members of the board. It’s now down to (a still too many) 10. But everyone continues to tip-toe around the Pratt or Mathieson factions, or both. 

As silly as it may sound initially, maybe the club would be better breaking free of both.

Maybe the strings attached, by way of power plays and commitments to a certain number of seats on the board, to the money and clout both Jeanne Pratt and Bruce Mathieson have provided, are the strings which will never allow this club to do, as LoGiudice so desperately wants: rebuild.