Shifty shades of Blue
Brett Ratten flanked by Greg Swann (left) and Stephen Kernahan (right) yesterday. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Ruthless Carlton is changing again and forever in a hurry.
BRETT Ratten was sacked simply because Carlton protocol demanded it. Carlton is ''ruthless'', said Ratten himself, admiringly. ''It's one of its great strengths,'' he said. It is also impatient, agreed president Stephen Kernahan. ''Has been for 148 years,'' he added, almost proudly.
Tacitly, each apologised to the other, Kernahan for sacking Ratten, Ratten for putting Kernahan in a position that left him with no choice. Kernahan said Ratten's record was ''very solid'', Ratten that it was ''reasonable, not excellent''. Each pointed to four years of continuous improvement from 2008, and acknowledged that there was mitigation for this year's slump in the form of a debilitating run of injuries.
At another club, Ratten might have been given the benefit of the doubt, and another year; he was contracted anyway. But this was not another club. Not even the double over Collingwood, once said to be the gold standard for Carlton coaches, was enough to save Ratten.
Carlton never has a year to spare. Chris Judd is nearly 29, and to Kernahan personifies Carlton's urgency. ''We have to strike,'' he said.
Carlton disposes of unsuccessful - that is to say, non-premiership - coaches summarily and magisterially. Kernahan has been at Carlton for 26 of his 48 years, Ratten for 24-and-a-half (his emphasis) of his 41. They knew what was expected; they did the expected thing.
But this was even more poignant than usual for the Blues. None of the three previous sacked coaches had pulled on the guernsey, nor the three presidents who sacked them. None were Carlton lifers to the extent that Ratten is, or was. This vial was especially vile.
Yet this was not an unceremonious sacking; in fact, it was almost grimly ceremonious. Kernahan, Ratten and chief executive Greg Swann sat side-by-side, and at key moments nodded at each other, collegiately. All the sponsors' logos were displayed, and why not; from accounts, they had a voice in this decision. At Carlton, even the sponsors are unsentimental.
But Ratten conducted himself with such dignity that even hard-bitten media were moved to applaud when he was done.
Kernahan, too, seemed determined to break with cold-hearted tradition. ''I feel I have blood on my hands, I really do,'' he said, his heart seemingly an octave lower even than his voice.
One question threw him. Would Carlton have sacked Ratten if Mick Malthouse was not so plainly available, he was asked. The long pause spoke louder and clearer than the eventual answer: ''It's a close call.''
Here was an echo of the rasping rhetoric of John Elliott: ''We don't rebuild at Carlton.'' Bottom when Ratten took over, the Blues had no choice but to rebuild. Ratten started the job, but indifferent results against top-four teams sowed doubt at Carlton that he could finish it. The Blues could wait no longer; they wanted a finisher.
Ratten knew at the final siren on the Gold Coast last Saturday night that he was on football's death row.
By the time he met Kernahan on Wednesday, his only hope was for a governor's pardon. It was not forthcoming. Ratten did not even ask if his contract would be paid out; Swann volunteered to him that he would.
In football, there is such a thing as being too good a bloke. Asked what he could have done differently, Ratten said that he might have been too passionate about Carlton.
Implicit in his answer was the notion that perhaps he should have been more ruthless on his own account.
Football clubs are replete with honourable intentions, but ultimately are driven by only one non-negotiable imperative, and as he formalised the sacking of his friend and premiership teammate, a chastened Kernahan spelt it out. ''It's a win-loss business,'' he said. ''Nothing else.''