Angels and Demons- The coaching game

Who would be a coach ey? First to receive criticism after a bad loss and the last to get a pat on the back for a victory, coaches are often under-appreciated and overly analysed to the point where they are in a lose-lose situation.

Yesterday the Melbourne Football Club relieved senior coach Mark Neeld of his position after a horror 18 months on the job. In his time Neeld only won 5 of 33 matches as top dog for the Demons. Looking at those stats you could hardly blame the Dees for giving him the flick, but there is plenty of behind the scenes info that needs to be taken into consideration.

It doesn’t take a sports scientist or a genius to realise that there is a serious culture within the MFC both on and off the field. Miserable on field results, ever decreasing crowds, an unhealthy balance sheet, senior players/personnel leaving and the passing of a club legend and saviour – all things that could contribute to the clubs performance over the past few years and issues that need addressing, but to blame it all on a rookie coach is too much.

Neeld came with little fanfare, but a huge backing from colleagues around the league. Word has it he nearly pinched the Adelaide job until Sando really stood up for the position. At the time he looked like he ticked all the boxes:

• Successful past
• New ideas/game plan
• Solid team around him (Neil Craig)
• Passion and enthusiasm for the job

But slowly and surely the downward spiral of the Demons continued on his watch. Watching his team play was hard on the eye, no passion, no guts, no clear game plan, some shocking displays of skill and record losing margins.

Hindsight is 20/20, and we can all sit back, have a shot at a coach who tried his best and never fully had the backing of his players and say they should have hired a more experienced coach, but realistically, who was available and willing? Paul Roos was chased pretty hard by all reports but declined, then who?….. Exactly, no one.

Neeld’s list management was probably a downfall, turning over so many players it was clear he had a mission and looking back its easy to say that he might have been better served take a slower, more calculated approach but again, that’s hindsight. He had a plan and has the balls to stick to it and you have to commend someone for that.

The real harsh words should be kept for the players on the list, who week after week collected their pay but offered little resistance each Saturday. If you are paid to play football, you PLAY FOOTBALL. It shouldn’t matter if your opinion differs from the coach, or what the score is, you earn you keep. Too many of Melbourne’s 22 listed players each game didn’t bring the effort and attitude required to be elite players and an elite team.

Now you can say that it’s up to the coach to motivate them, but I am in the other corner, if you can’t motivate yourself after earning $200k+ a year and having the chance to play football for a living, than you’re in the wrong industry.

Imagine the task of captaining this squad? You would think that an experienced, strong-minded leader from within the group, right? Wrong, they pick two 21 year olds with not even 50 games experience in the big league. Now, both Jack Trengrove and Jack Grimes are terrific players and future leaders. But the key word is future these are players with talent to burn, great attitudes and skills but to force them into such a negative limelight this early, was in my opinion a mistake. Look at the Crows, when Simon Goodwin retired and the captaincy opened up, there were many calls for young gun Patrick Dangerfield to take the reins, but they took the safer option, allowing Dangerfield to progress naturally. His skills and leadership have blossomed without the added responsibly and daunting task of captaining the side.

Speaking as a sportsman at a fairly high level (humble brag at its best) who has been in a similar situation (don’t worry though, the mighty Mavs will be back!), playing in a losing side is tough, very tough, and it takes strong characters, leaders and a huge amount of work to get back on top. Melbourne must put the right people in all positions, both on the field and off the field.

The mark of a man is his demeanour when he is on the floor. Neeld was on the floor, bleeding for most of his unsuccessful tenure, but manned up to the media with a smile on his face each and every day, rain hail or shine after 100pt losses or thrilling wins over GWS. Mark Neeld wasn’t the problem with the Melbourne Football Club and anyone saying so it overly naïve and most likely an idiot.