Contractual stability or contractual stupidity?


Both of my former Hyundai A-League clubs, Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix, have a few things in common right now.

Both of my former Hyundai A-League clubs, Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix, have a few things in common right now.

Firstly, they are both outside the top six finals positions with a quarter of the season gone – but let-s not get too carried away just yet with this. Only four points separate third-placed Perth Glory and cellar-dwellers Gold Coast United, and there is a long way to go yet.

Secondly, they both have coaches locked into long-term contracts. This is the more substantive issue I want to address here.

Taking Adelaide first, they backed Rini Coolen very publicly and very early in his tenure, rewarding a good start to last season with a lucrative four-year contract that caused a collective sharp intake of breath among many observers in South Australia.

Coolen has made big calls early on in his time with Adelaide, breaking up a successful squad that has in recent years made headway in the finals and competed in Asia. He brought in the likes of Usucar, Slory, Bodrusic, Dilevski and Levchenko, all of whom are yet to set the league alight, to replace popular players such as Dodd, Pantelis, Hughes, and Reid.

Sure, he-s only been at Hindmarsh for one season, but Ange Postecoglou turned Brisbane from a struggling bottom-end team into title winners in the same time frame, and he did so without inheriting a previously successful squad.

Then we have Ricki Herbert with Phoenix, or “Sir Ricki”, as he seems to be regarded over the ditch in New Zealand. Despite a modest win ratio of only 33 per cent coming into the season (compared with 46 per cent enjoyed by the sacked Ernie Merrick at Melbourne Victory), Herbert has just been rewarded with a two-year extension, with a further two-year option on “football-related matters”. Reading between the lines, that looks a like a comfortable Director of Football-type role.

He may have coached Phoenix to back-to-back finals series, but only once, in 2009/10 have they actually won a finals game. They are yet to play in a Grand Final. And with six out of 10 teams qualifying for the finals series, it-s not exactly climbing Everest to sneak into sixth spot.

In his defence, it will always be hard to attract top domestic players to Wellington for geographical and family reasons. His cause has not been helped by the meltdown of Terry Serepisos- finances, and the frugal approach that the new Welnix consortium appears to have adopted from the outset.

The fact remains, though, that Wellington look like a weak squad, and ultimately in professional football teams are judged on results, regardless of off-field dramas.

The problem with both clubs is that they run the very serious risk of being hamstrung by long-term lucrative contracts when the on-field results are going the wrong way.

We have the Branko Culina debacle at Newcastle Jets as a cautionary tale. Less than 12 months into a four-year deal, the Hunter Valley club was thrown into disarray by the sacking of Culina, causing much head-scratching amongst observers who rightly wondered how the Jets board could have got their decision so wrong only months earlier?

Equally, making coaches earn their corn on a year-by-year basis can be disruptive and counter productive, with under-pressure managers understandably scared to try new ideas and young blood as they scrap for results.

Perth Glory are the obvious example here, with highly rated attacking youngsters such as Adam Taggart and Jesse Makarounas being held back from first-team duties by veterans such as Travis Dodd, Liam Miller and Mile Sterjovski.

It is also very hard to plan for next season when uncertainty surrounds the future of the coach. How can you target players from other teams, when you don-t know who will be in charge and what type of players that coach will be looking for?

The lesson here? Stability for the sake of it is counter-productive. Flogging a dead horse will not bring it back to life. Of course, coaches need time to implement their own ideas and be judged on them, but two years is plenty of time to do this. If a coach can-t show positive results within that period, it-s time to move on.