Essendon coach John Worsfold earlier this season. Picture: AFL Photos

AT HIS unveiling as Essendon coach in October 2015, John Worsfold spoke of his grand plan for the Bombers.

"The aim is to give this club the opportunity to have a squad that's capable of winning a premiership and grabbing that opportunity," he said.
Five years on, Worsfold is into his last week in the job. A big question will linger beyond his departure: are the Bombers actually any closer to a flag than they were then?  

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Worsfold's has been a coaching stint unlike any other in the history of the game. He took on a club that was on the eve of its lowest ebb, with 34 of its past and present players suspended for a year for anti-doping breaches three months after he succeeded James Hird in the role.

Essendon CEO Xavier Campbell, chairman Paul Little and James Hird front the media in 2015. Picture: AFL Photos

2016 is fairly not counted when assessing Worsfold's results at Essendon, when the Bombers claimed their first wooden spoon since 1933. 
But since then they have finished 8th, 11th, 8th and are languishing in 13th position with one round to play this season. In both of their elimination finals they have been thrashed, and in those four years they have won 42 out of 84 games, making them as middle of the road as a squashed bug.

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Worsfold's place in the club's history will be forever etched for guiding the Bombers through the turmoil of the drug bans and also for the coaching handover to Ben Rutten, a first for the club. 
But eyes must also turn to results and the Bombers have underperformed. 

Assistant coach Ben Rutten looks on during the Dreamtime in Darwin match between Essendon and Richmond at TIO Stadium in August. Picture: Picture: Getty Images

He inherited a club with issues but also with two top-10 picks that year and then the No.1 pick at the end of his first season. The Bombers' list in 2018 also had seven Virgin Australia AFL All Australians, which was more than any other side was fielding. He was aided by the players the club traded in, and the Bombers offloaded three first-round picks during his five off-seasons to ensure he had guns at his disposal. 
So how didn't it at least see the club break its competition-leading 16-year drought of a finals victory? It depends who you ask. 
Some at the Bombers will say they prematurely returned to the finals in 2017 when they were reintegrating players back into the club, and that adding three new, albeit very good, players in 2018 (Adam Saad, Jake Stringer and Devon Smith) was a big adjustment.

They point to the game plan as another change in 2019 and how injuries have decimated them in 2020. But the performances this season have cast more doubt on the Essendon that Worsfold will leave behind.


Inside the club the Bombers will admit it has taken them longer than they would have hoped to bed down the new style.  
After starting the season with a Richmond model of forward handballing and defensive set ups, the Bombers remain susceptible to full-ground turnovers and still fold back defensively instead of pushing up the ground and squeezing space. 
When they go slow, and try to switch the ball and work it around the boundary, the Bombers have lacked the foot skills to execute this method. 
After a number of first-half failures this year, they have also resorted to old plans after the main break. They have started games playing a 'plus one' at the stoppages, sending an extra forward up the ground. It has left them one short in attack, where opposition sides have kickstarted their scoring chains. 


In a number of games, including against St Kilda in round 12, the Bombers scrapped that plan and went back to a six-six-six format of even numbers across the field after half-time and performed better for it.
The chopping and changing has seen a shuffling of focuses for some assistant coaches during the season, and also led to frustration on the field, with the Bombers gaining a reputation from rivals about on-field bickering around who should be where.  
The Bombers, in part, made the coaching change at the end of last year because they didn't believe their run-and-gun game plan could win them a flag. They targeted what they believe is a more sustainable brand.

He is not a rant and rave coach, and far less brutal than his on-field demeanour as one of the hardest players in West Coast's history

It was the latest in a run of changes in Worsfold's five years at the club. Continuity, for a range of reasons, hasn't existed. Two years into his time at Essendon football boss Rob Kerr left and was replaced by Dan Richardson, and halfway through the next year he lost strategy assistant coach Mark Neeld. Responsibility was given to Rutten to run the Bombers' defensive mechanisms for 2019, and Blake Caracella was added for 2020 to steer the ball movement. 
Worsfold has watched from the interchange bench this year as Rutten and Caracella work the magnets in the box. Mainly, he has taken centre stage in the press conferences. 
Some of the messaging has raised eyebrows, including the selective referencing of the supplements saga and draft penalties, not least remembering that the Bombers gained access to Andrew McGrath because of the fallout. 


He has also spoken of the Bombers making "big inroads" this season, despite winning two of their past 11 games, and their last three wins coming against the bottom-three sides on the ladder. 
Throughout his time at Essendon, Worsfold has maintained a consistent public face and his media persona is not dissimilar to what he shows behind closed doors. He is calm, doesn't waver and prioritises value and culture. 
He is not a rant and rave coach, and far less brutal than his on-field demeanour as one of the hardest players in West Coast's history. Insiders recall one time in the middle of 2018, in the wake of Neeld's departure, when Worsfold fired up at the Bombers for messing up a straightforward training drill. 
Although on the receiving end, the players enjoyed it and wanted more of the 'tough love', but it wasn't in his nature as coach to instruct that way. 
Essendon has maintained its view that the succession plan has worked this year, albeit in different circumstances than hoped due to COVID-19, and Rutten will enter the role with runs on the board as an assistant, a renowned work ethic and an intense drive to get better. 

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If he had a coaching checklist, Rutten has ticked all the boxes. Undoubtedly, too, he will have made important gains this season by being at the helm in every way except officially. But no first-year coach since Collingwood's Nathan Buckley in 2012 will face the same amount of analysis. 
Worsfold, meanwhile, is open to offers elsewhere. His legacy at Essendon will be two-fold. One, for steering the sinking ship into clearer waters after the hellish 2016, and two, for how the Bombers fare as Rutten takes the reins.