NEVER has the line between success and failure been as blurred as it is with Sydney's recruitment of superstar forward Lance Franklin.
Eight words in Franklin's unveiling as a Swan, in October 2013, apparently set a bar he had to clear to avoid being a bust: "Hopefully, we can win a few more premierships."
The critics place less emphasis on the first of those words and more on the fact Franklin and Sydney played in two losing Grand Finals, after being the minor premier on both occasions.
Now, with the 33-year-old suffering a right hamstring setback at training on Wednesday – after missing more than half of last season with the same ailment on his left leg – they are out in force again.
The obituaries are already being written.
The Melbourne football mafia are again shaking their fists and demanding the Swans pay 'Buddy' out in full, regardless of if he makes it to the last season of his deal in 2022 or not.
Gillon McLachlan, then Andrew Demetriou's heir apparent as AFL chief executive, could not have been clearer on this at the time.
"If he's injured and not able to play … they're obliged to pay him, and that money is obliged to be in the (salary) cap," McLachlan told Trade Radio.
The AFL even obtained written guarantees from every Sydney board member that Franklin's contract would be paid out in full. It will happen, so stop the fear-mongering.
The Swans' $10 million, nine-year free agency offer to secure Franklin was audacious – outrageously so at the time – yet long-term contracts are becoming more common these days.
Ruckman Brodie Grundy inked a seven-season deal in January that ties him to Collingwood until 2027, while both Andrew Gaff (2024) and Josh Kelly have player options to trigger many more years.
Less is known about 25-year-old Kelly's arrangement, although there's speculation he could add another six seasons once he comes out of contract in 2021.
Possibly the best comparison to Franklin's situation is the Western Bulldogs' luring of Tom Boyd from Greater Western Sydney on a $7 million, seven-year contract in 2014.
Boyd, the No.1 draft pick in 2013, never went close to reaching Franklin's heights but his 2016 Grand Final performance – coincidentally against Sydney – and the Dogs winning ensured a pass mark in most quarters.
Meanwhile, Franklin sustained an ankle injury early that day and wasn't his usual self.
So, here we are again. All that matters are flags.
This Buddy debate is kind of, in a roundabout way, the AFL's equivalent of the NBA's GOAT argument between Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
That one often fizzles down to the fact Jordan's six titles dwarf James' three.
Franklin's decision to leave Hawthorn, fresh from winning a second premiership and preceding the Hawks claiming two more, was multi-faceted.
Swans membership numbers before buddy - 30k Swans members now - almost 62k.— david sheppard (@davidsheppard73) May 27, 2020
He wanted to move to Sydney to be closer to family and friends, including his girlfriend and future wife Jesinta, and saw the Swans as more capable than the Giants of contending in the immediate years afterwards.
The huge money and long-term security were clearly appealing, too. Franklin said at the time escaping the Melbourne "fishbowl" was not among the reasons.
For Sydney, there was more than one factor as well.
Clearly, the Swans, who won the 2012 flag and made a preliminary final a year later, were eyeing the ultimate success and felt this move would heighten their chances of achieving that.
In twice falling short on the biggest stage, they failed to do that. But this wasn't a failure, is already a success and it ain't over yet.
Sydney's bold play to win Lance Franklin's services is already a success. 2 x Grand Finals, 364 goals in 118 games, 4 x All-Australians, 2 x Coleman medals, 5 x Swans leading goalkicker, and a marketing goliath in a non-AFL market. I won't be writing him off.— Marc McGowan (@ByMarcMcGowan) May 27, 2020
Like Tony Lockett, Barry Hall and even Warwick Capper before him, Franklin brought wider appeal than other mere mortals, which is hugely important in a non-AFL market.
His output's been outstanding: 364 goals in 118 games, four All-Australians, two Coleman medals and winning Sydney's goalkicking five times.
Sure, Shane Mumford was squeezed out and the Swans weren't able to offer Tom Mitchell more money. But who would you rather?
Sydney's membership base has spiked from about 36,000 pre-Buddy to beyond 60,000, while home crowds, corporate sponsorship, merchandise sales and Swans matches in marquee timeslots all went up.
If none of that matters to you, then at least respect Sydney's dare, hustle and willingness to take a risk.
The Swans found a way to land arguably the greatest player of the modern era and did so wanting to improve, whereas others are content sticking with the conservative route.