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The trouble with Demons

Mark Neeld's disastrous coaching career looks certain to stagger through at least another round of football, despite the growing chorus seeking his removal.

The club's new chief executive, Peter Jackson, remained uncontactable on Monday after Sunday's scathing public analysis of the mess he has taken on, but is understood to have met the beleaguered Neeld for a frank chat.

Although Neeld's future rests with president Don McLardy and his board, any move remains highly unlikely unless Jackson recommends it, and knee-jerk decisions are not his style.

With due respect to Melbourne's well-meaning directors, they have not exactly proved themselves capable of good football decision-making and they should not be left to control any decision on the coach.

Jackson made it abundantly clear on Sunday that big changes were required at Melbourne, and quickly. He would not guarantee the coach's position or any other, but called for all those under pressure to work with the benefit of some ''clear air''.

That breathing space will be afforded to Neeld at least in the short term, with Jackson clearly appalled at the dysfunctional football set-up left behind by Cameron Schwab and which has clearly played a major part in the team's dreadful performances in recent years, and more notably since Neeld was appointed coach.


The most pressing void appears to be at the helm of football, and performers such as Geoff Walsh (Collingwood) and Neil Balme (Geelong) do not grow on trees.

Jackson spoke of four people reporting to Schwab, and although he didn't name them those four are Neil Craig (director of sport performance), Tim Harrington (list management), Josh Mahoney (football manager) and Neeld, who also reports to Craig.

Jackson also made it clear this was a mess but has clearly not had time to assess whether any official capable of taking hold of the football operation exists at the club.

There is irony in the fact that Essendon, the club Jackson ran for 14 years until 2009, is also looking to restructure a football department which was so dysfunctional from the end of 2011 that it allowed its players to be subjected to a cavalier, dangerous and potentially unlawful sports science program.

You have to wonder at the fact that the Essendon board still has not moved to make changes, despite the fact it has known the findings of the Switkowski report for more than a fortnight. Perhaps legal negotiations are taking place to afford those changes.

Melbourne, like Essendon, threw money into its football structure and lured performers with big names on big contracts to fix the club. Like Essendon, it forgot to implement any form of acceptable leadership structure.

Unlike Essendon, Melbourne can no longer hurl money at the problem. Jackson has confirmed the club will lose more than $1 million this year.

Although some at the Demons might have tried to conceal certain problems from the AFL, the club remains utterly dependent on head office.

Should Neeld depart - and this looks increasingly likely - before the end of 2013, Todd Viney has been mooted as his successor, but Viney's relationship with one of the few players to have demonstrated strong leadership this season, his son Jack, poses a big problem.

It is also true that Viney disagreed strongly with the coach over recruiting and other decisions before the season began. His long-term contract and passion for the club would indicate he will stay, and perhaps given a clear mandate to completely overhaul the woeful development or recruiting roles.

But one certainty at Melbourne is that Jackson is not only an interim CEO but a crisis manager. The other certainty is that six months cannot fix or even begin to rebuild this cultural basketcase.


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