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Neeld in line for big payout

Payout in the region of $500,000 is the price of Mark Neeld's 'disastrous coaching tenure' to already cash-strapped Melbourne FC, says chief football writer Caroline Wilson.

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History will record Mark Neeld's one-and-a-half season stint at the helm of Melbourne as one of the bigger disasters AFL coaching has seen. Five wins from 33 games for a winning percentage of 15 per cent says that loudly enough.

History should also record that few coaches have taken on the senior job at a club as dysfunctional and strife-torn as the Demons have been these past couple of years.

From day one, Neeld's coaching tenure was set against a backdrop of almost continual turmoil, be it an on-going saga about "tanking" which never went away, alleged friction among the club's indigenous players, the illness and eventual passing of chairman Jim Stynes, or getting caught up in the performance enhancing drugs saga.

Melbourne's Peter Spargo (left),  Peter Jackson (centre) and sacked coach Mark Neeld.

Melbourne's Peter Spargo (left), Peter Jackson (centre) and sacked coach Mark Neeld. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

All enough to have the AFL as good as launch a quasi-takeover of the running of the club via the instalment of a new chief executive in Peter Jackson, a major review of all operations, and now some financial and probably draft assistance, the latter ironic in itself given the tanking soap opera.

All that would have been enough to have tested the mettle of the Sheedys and Malthouses of the coaching world, let alone a novice senior coach whose own administration seemed so incapable of fixing its own mess it stated publicly the "new kid" had been given carte blanche to change an entire culture. It proved far too big an ask.

The final question asked of Neeld at Monday's press conference announcing his sacking was: "What went wrong?" The answer: "I don't know", will for many underline why the decision had to be made.

It doesn't mean Neeld didn't have a clue what he wanted to do. That, indeed, is popularly seen as one of his biggest mistakes, best summed up as going too hard, too early at a club and playing list lacking enough seniority of mental toughness to be whacked with a large stick.

But backed into a corner with obvious friction between he and the senior playing group, and having made a decision to jettison or distance some of Melbourne's most senior faces, the seeming backtracking done in then recruiting a clutch of older replacements might well, in terms of winning back those he'd lost, have been the final straw.

Neeld made it obvious from the day of his appointment he wasn't taking on the job to win friends. The view of those who'd appointed him and who'd endorsed him was Melbourne needed some serious toughening up. And on that score, he didn't hold back, right from his first public address to the faithful at the Demons' best and fairest count in September 2011.

"The first impression I got of the staff was warm and welcoming, which is nice," he said. "That's not what I want from you boys. I don't want warm and I don't want welcoming … that's not for you." Now departed Melbourne players such as then skipper Brad Green, Brent Moloney, Jarred Rivers, Stefan Martin and Ricky Petterd would certainly vouch for that.

There was an immediate and symbolic changing of the guard in an almost total revamp of the club's leadership group, four of the previous year's group of six getting the boot, including Green, Moloney, Rivers and Aaron Davey. Youngsters Jack Grimes and Jack Trengove were installed as co-captains, the latter in particular seeming only to have been weighed down by the extra burden.

But another big, and in hindsight disastrous moment, would come after Neeld's very first game in charge last year, when Melbourne turned in an insipid second half at the MCG against Brisbane. Neeld had torn strips off his players even at half-time that afternoon. And he followed through at the post-match press conference.

"Will the same 22 travel to Perth [next week]?" Neeld asked, rhetorically. "Not on your life. Am I going to go down a similar road and continue to put blind faith in players? No way, absolutely no way." Many close observers believe that was the moment the coach lost the players for good. Indeed, the video of that press conference has since been used in some AFL media training as an example of how not to go about it.

People management proved not to be a big strength. Neeld was still being criticised internally for his lack of psychological smarts in dealing with his side's inept performances this season, After yet another massive belting, at the post-game team meeting, he asked some of the side's younger members to critique in front of their teammates the performances of far more senior peers. They were embarrassed to have to do so, and the subjects of the impromptu almost reverse peer review notably upset.

At a more direct level, Melbourne's training program has been criticised by opposing club observers as having been too aerobically based, the focus too heavily upon simply churning out the kilometres of running with not enough emphasis on power and game simulation speed off the mark.

And opposition analysts have been similarly critical of the game-based training and strategies, much of which had been transferred from Neeld's time as an assistant coach at Collingwood, but which, they claim, quickly became outdated.

Even Mick Malthouse, upon whose glowing recommendation came much of the momentum for Neeld's appointment, has at Carlton done his share of tweaking to what many thought were cast-iron methods.

Neeld didn't on the ground. But the jettisoning of the experienced hands, only to punt on the seniority of opposition club picks-ups such as David Rodan, Shannon Byrnes, Cam Pedersen and Tom Gillies betrayed for many a wavering of faith by the coach in his own longer-term planning.

It became a plan which not only was questionable, but one to which the Melbourne players at times uninterested-looking efforts this season seemed to indicate they weren't convinced was worth buying in to.

Neeld's appointment proved to be a mistake. But the fact that he is now the third leader of the club following former chief executive Cameron Schwab and chairman Don McLardy to take the walk off the plank in a short time underlines again that however important is the coach, he was far from the only culprit in reducing Melbourne to the train wreck it has become.