Mercurial.

Sometimes you scratch your head when the trade period is upon us. Clubs tend to make ‘discrete’ inquiries about the availability of footballers they have their eyes on and play the straightest of poker faces to disguise their thoughts. By the time the deal is done everyone has run a myriad of assumptions up their club’s flagpole. Blokes you rate, players you think are underrated, sneaky good footballers and guns you wish played in your colours.

Everyone’s an expert and everyone knows which players are good and which are duds…. Problem is, the impression we get of footballers are one-dimensional. Very rarely can you accurately assess every facet of that certain -to-be-gun-midfielder you reckon no one else rates. While he might be cultured with the pill in hand, using it precisely and effectively, out of that matchday spotlight he might be ‘flawed.’

It’s the moniker that rings alarm bells. To be described as such immediately puts that player into one of two places. Either he’s ‘mercurial’ and therefore worth mollycoddling; or he’s deemed to be lacking in the discipline required to be a professional footballer and on his way out of the floodlit AFL stage. Richmond have two prime examples of wayward talents. In fact, both could be neatly described as the poster children for the flawed genius postulation. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dustin Martin and Aaron Edwards.

Dustin Martin impresses with his complete understanding of the game. His hands are clean and precise, his kicking penetrating and accurate. With pace to burn and the most (in)famous don’t-argue in the game, he is a very good player and proves as much every week. But there are several giant-sized caveats to his talent. Onfield he has the reputation for ‘going missing.’ Richmond supporters are only too happy to share their frustration with you about how dominance for a half can suddenly evaporate into MIA. Off field Dustin has tripped up regarding the tenants of team discipline several times. His last infraction, a club-induced suspension, arguably cost his team mate Dan Conners a place in the big time. Martin certainly can’t be held responsible for the actions of Conners but the Richmond Football Club appear to have made a tough call- To keep Martin on the right path they dismissed another incredibly mercurial footballer they had been working to rehabilitate for several years. The implication of that act is clear. While football clubs pride themselves on looking out for their player’s welfare, the professional standard has been set by the industry at large. Teams that hold onto the belief that ‘boys-will-be-boys,’ tend to find themselves losing both the contest and the PR battle. One too many footballers caught being involved in after hours fracas and the court of the daily media cycle has its way with your club’s most valued asset- The culture.

Clubs spend endless soundbites and press releases talking of nothing else. Culture is the imprimatur of success. Geelong have a successful culture and are held up as the example. Collingwood make loud noises regarding theirs but the list of indiscretions is long and the window of premiership contention appears to be shutting. What both example suggest is that there is a simple path to follow to victory. Get your list to behave and self-regulate commitment to the team and you are bound for glory. Let the tail wag the dog and give players their head and you are bound for failure.

Surprisingly, the truth is much more complicated than that. The problem lies in the power of the concept of team culture. The shelves of every bookstore are heaving with business tomes written by sporting greats that extol the virtues of sporting teams as perfectly formed workforces. Steve Waugh for one should know better. His latest team treatise is out now, right as SK Warne reminded everyone of the tensions between the pair during their successful era. The baggy-green-as-legacy, is the invention of Waugh’s captaincy. He created the Australian team culture anew, reflecting his attitudes towards success and using the baggy green as the definition of that outlook. It was incredibly successful but then again winning is always a panacea. St.Kilda’s terminal decline this season is yet more proof of culture meaning only as much as the football you can produce out on the ground.

That takes us neatly to Aaron Edwards then. When the Tigers made a play for him last summer there was little logical reason according to Richmond folk. What would he be required for, given the club already had a solid collection of small forward options? He didn’t help his cause by then immediately being involved in another late night incident. Edwards was only available to the Tiges because North Melbourne had begun to tire of his indiscretions. A classic mercurial footballer at the crossroads, Edwards has found a place for himself in the yellow and black. Five goals against the Giants just the latest instalment in his handy contribution on the year.

Sometimes the change of club does the trick. The second chance syndrome is rife in the league. It might be as simple as a player getting his chance or as complicated as the playing style and team setup suiting their skill-set more thoroughly. Other times it might be a simple case of maturation. Dustin Martin could very well become the elite talent he clearly should be as a matter of course. Patience is a virtue Richmond will only be too happy to apply given the brilliance he already exhibits.

With Richmond’s annihilation of the Giants and the Saints breakthrough victory against the Suns, there was a sense of that need for patience as young talent comes on. Ironically, given the youthful nature of the competition’s second youngest club, it was the Saints that had the youngsters on show. The Suns have had a breakthrough season, one that suggests they might be in finals reckoning very soon. The youngest club on the other hand, copped a hiding that suggests nothing other than a young team who have run out of juice in a long season. The Giants are suffering growing pains. They are a list who will have to learn together. The Suns made good from their concessions. Ablett is the best player in the league, his recruitment has made Gold Coast immediately competitive. GWS didn’t get so lucky. Both the Suns and the Giants took on experienced players from the rest of the league to help the best young talent find their feet but while the Suns got the talent of Gary, the Giants didn’t get that lucky. Without a surefire elite player on offer, they gambled on the possibility of Tom Scully. It hasn’t worked out so far, Scully becoming a run-with player when all postulations suggested he was destined to be an elite midfielder. He still might evolve into just that, he has the time but he is at the mercy of football’s transience. Today’s mercurial is tomorrow’s wasted talent.

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