Round 5 – Carlton v Collingwood: Stuck in the middle with Mick

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.
-Stealers Wheel

The player in navy blue has the ball in defense. He surveys the options ahead of him: there are few. The opposition have structured their defense well, denying space. There is little movement from team mates ahead to try and separate defenders. The only option requires a perfectly weighted kick, which the player lacks the confidence and skill to risk. Called to play on, he either kicks down the line to a pack, or chips sideways, passing the buck to a mate. Either way, the ball is invariably rebounded by the opposition, who react quicker, run patterns that create space, and deliver the ball with more penetration and purpose. Each time this happens, already fragile belief drains from the navy blue team. And where there is no belief, effort wont sustain.

Anyone who has watched Carlton games this year will be all too familiar with the above scenario. It played on continuous loop during Mick’s supposed big night.

It is usually a mistake to confuse accumulation with quality. Those who last the longest aren’t always the ones who matter most. A strong argument can be made that Len Smith (107 games coached, 0 premierships) leaves a more influential legacy than Mick Malthouse (715 games and counting, 3 premierships). But this isn’t to say longevity counts for nothing. After such a long career, the one thing that could be confidently stated of the Malthouse method is that it has been reliable, yet adaptable enough to have seen him through decades in a constantly changing environment.

Considering this, the striking thing about Malthouse’s time at Carlton is how little difference it has made in the areas it was expected to. For those Bluebaggers who were happy to blame all on the perceived failings of Brett Ratten, your cover alibi is well and truly blown. As big a target as Mick Malthouse might be, this is a much bigger problem.

The least meaningful comment to be heard (repeatedly) on Friday night was that ‘the boys had let Mick down’. This reveals nothing other than football’s devotion to its own clichés. The days of doing it for the Gipper are long gone. If professional footballers have to look to the coach for motivation then everyone’s in trouble. The more pressing question after a performance like that is why won’t they do it for themselves? There can’t be any joy in such a night.

Team sports are relationship exercises. I’m wondering about the state of relationships at Carlton. I’m wondering what Patrick Cripps (7 games, laid 6 tackles on Friday night, after 11 the week before) is thinking about the senior players of the group this week? I’m wondering what Mark Whiley (who spent much of the night resembling a rabbit in a spotlight, but still stuck 5 tackles) thought of his Carlton debut? I’m wondering what our reigning best-and-fairest holder (Bryce Gibbs, zero tackles Friday night) would say to either of them?

I’m wondering what the coach thinks of his playing group just now? I’m wondering what the playing group really thinks of him? I’m wondering if that walk through the guard of honour on Friday night was the emptiest experience of Mick’s football life? I’m wondering if he feels connected to those who currently employ him? I’m wondering if the club feels genuinely connected to him? Or are they already thinking past him?

I’m wondering how a club talking rebuild can do so without a head recruiter? I wonder if a club with no real history of using the draft systematically or effectively even knows what a rebuild involves? I’m wondering if Stephen Silvagni will provide answers, or just be another famous name thrown at a problem in hope?

I understand that Geoffrey Edelsten paid for his seat in the coaches box on Friday night. I understand how coteries work. But I don’t understand how the club couldn’t see why his obvious presence might be an provocation to many. That when supporters are looking for change this just screams business as usual. I wonder if Mr Edelsten understands that? And I’m questioning how an organisation that gets that wrong can be trusted to get the much more complicated issues confronting it right.

I’m particularly wondering about the people who constitute our board. What motivates them to be there in the first place? What were they buying when they gave money to the club? Did that money represent any real personal sacrifice to them? Did the club understand what it was selling? Do the board stand united for the grind that a rebuild might involve? Or do some still secretly think all will be well if they can just coax a young gun or two away from GWS? Do they comprehend that outside the world their money controls not everything can be fixed by a deal done over lunch?

But I’m also wondering if all this isn’t bringing a tipping point closer. That all excuses will eventually be exhausted, all illusions stripped away. And that once that point is reached a real way forward might emerge.


About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. The Wrap says

    Cerebral as usual JB. You’ve nailed the cultural problem and named – generically – the culprits. And that problem’s infuriatingly blind continuance at Visy Park. It must be tough being Blue right now. But how do you change it?

    Murphy & Gibbs have been kept in cotton wool for too long. It’s about time they were put in mothballs. Or cashed in. Kreutzer has had enough time to come good; you might get a bob or two for him. And Simpson must have passed his use-by date. Judd has more money than you & I could spend in a dozen lifetimes; he can be moved on. What sort of space would that create in the list/salary cap?

    As for the Bluebaggers’ Coterie/Board – where do you start? Who in God’s name invited Geoffrey Edelstein into the coach’ box? He’s a toxic personality and adds nothing to the brand. It was not a good look. And this unedifying squabble with Mick over his contract renewal is equally toxic to the club’s image. A squabble Mick himself keeps fanning , it should be noted. Remember what he did to Collingwood when his nose was out of joint. I’d be telling him that the club was taking a different direction and that his time was up. What can he do? Spit the dummy and coach the team to the bottom of the ladder? And the problem there is …….?

    That of course is presuming the hierarchy is actually taking a different direction.

    One thing’s for sure, and you closed with that – one way or another, the end is neigh.

  2. John Butler says

    Wrapster, I differ with you on Mick in one respect. He hasn’t sold us a thing. We were pre-sold. We’re the ones who rolled out the red carpet and dropped our strides. Given that he left Collingwood with a sense of grievance, he was never going to refuse. That he was hired to do a job that never existed is our fault. And it’s no real surprise that it isn’t working.

    The temptation to throw out all the furniture is understandable, but not easily done in practice. People have contracts, for starters. And we’re now a beggar club.

    I can’t in all conscience join the band-wagon in pinning leadership problems on Murphy and Gibbs, when we’ve raised them in a leadership culture that thinks it’s a business plan to just put your hand out for some more of dear Geoffrey’s money. What leadership examples have they ever been given?

    But what they should have is some sense of responsibility to team mates, which makes Gibbs’s insipid effort on Friday night hard to accept. Murphy I feel sorry for, because he’s being forced to assume a role that doesn’t really suit him due to lack of other contenders.

    Yes, Judd has been well payed for his troubles. But so he should, because he’s had to carry the [email protected] team for years. He’s one of the few that can say he’s delivered as promised.

    Does the new regime really mean to change? If they think the current situation is sustainable then they will not be sustainable. My fear is we may well be having similar discussions about the next lot.

  3. Peter_B says

    Thoughtful to a fault as always JB. I loved your “this reveals nothing other than football’s devotion to its own clichés” line. Too true. I was watching Marngrook on Thursday night (is Gilly becoming too much of a self-parody?) and I couldn’t believe all the Carlton tips and “lifting for the big game” rhubarb. I kept thinking “are you talking about the same cattle that my modest Eagles flogged a fortnight ago”?
    The problem with Mick is that he has ceased to evolve with footy – he just sells you the Mick Malthouse game plan. The Clarkson school of modern coaches (Beveridge, Simpson et al) at least check out the cattle they’ve inherited; their skills and their physical development – and then plan a transition based on what they’ve got – not what they want.
    As you say, more fool Carlton for not understanding that by age 60 Mick had obviously ceased to evolve with the game.
    I was thinking of how good the Ratts coached Carlton were against the Eagles in a semi final at Subi in 2011. Cutting us up with run off half back and through the middle. Plodders like Thornton and Armfield certainly gave everything for the jumper under Ratts. The Eagles were very lucky to win that night, and we both have gone backwards since. But at least the Eagles threw out their coaching Neanderthal and there is some light at the end of our tunnel.
    Carlton are 5 years behind the modern footy curve even if someone has the courage and foresight to act now.

  4. My understanding is Mick was the only applicant who told the board what they wanted to hear in so far as already having a list that he could take places. In which case the misjudgement / delusion was a 2-way street.

    The risk in expecting SOS to oversee the building of a contending list is his prior experience is that of a kid in a candy shop armed with unlimited credit.

    The hard part will be shifting the board members who are the club’s ball and chain. How deep does their money have them entrenched? A members’ mutiny led by the pragmatic likes of the Elbow and yourself JB might be what’s required.

  5. John Butler says

    JD, Mick didn’t need to apply, we approached him. It’s accepted from the Carlton POV that he was the only one approached. It’s never been confirmed if we had informal discussions with Roos or not, at lest as I know of. Mick didn’t even a formal interview as such. And certainly no process of review before making that decision. If he told us what we wanted to hear then more fool him.

    The problem was The Blue Print, which I have referred to elsewhere:
    This act of collective delusion presumably provided the rationale to sack Ratten. If Mick wanted to know what to say to us it wouldn’t have taken him long, as the Blue Print is effectively content free.

    SOS’s role is actually list manager, not head recruiter. Though, depending on what day you choose, LoGuidice has made the position sound anything and everything. You’re right, he faces a very different situation than he did at GWS.

    The money question is the key to what happens next. How much is the club in hock to its board? And a big chunk of our revenue comes from Matherson’s pokie licenses. Were they bequeathed without strings attached?

  6. John Butler says

    PB, Mick’s evolution or not, there’s little evidence that the players have gained much from him. Frankly, that surprises me. You can argue about game plans all you like, but some essentials of coaching don’t change with time. I doubt he’s forgotten everything.

    I think the problem was the initial job description, which was a nonsense. If he subscribed to that nonsense he was hamstrung from the start.

    I think Ratts had some fairly clear deficiencies as head coach. We never beat the top 4 sides in any given year under him, though, as you say, we occasionally got close. But whether that could have been fixed by different assistants? We’ll never know.

    If the Blues do decide to move Mick on, I wonder if we’ll bother to interview for the replacement this time?

  7. Peter Fuller says

    Perceptive observations JB, and insightful comments as well.
    JD, the rank and file went through that process in 2002, without changing the prevailing modus operandi at Princes Park, that the magic bullet/quick fix was the way forward.
    So many cack-handed decisions have flowed from that dated approach. If only the decision-makers at Carlton had the wisdom of Rabbie Burns:
    O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as others see us!
    It wad frae mony a blunder free us
    And foolish notion.

  8. John Butler says

    Thanks Peter,

    Learning from our mistakes has not been a feature at Carlton since Jack drunk the Koolaid of his own ego.

  9. Andrew Starkie says

    I’m wondering why a coach is attending the President’s Dinner 45mins before the bounce and why the walk on the ground with family and hoohaa before the game couldn’t have waited until after the game. What would Alan Jean have said about all the fuss if it were him in MM’s place?

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