Stay or go: Jack Watts (right) with coach Neil Craig at training.

Stay or go: Jack Watts (right) with coach Neil Craig at training. Photo: Wayne Taylor

It's chicken versus egg. In soccer, it is common for a player from a lowly club to announce that he is seeking to move to a club that can help him realise his vocation to win trophies. In the AFL, it is more usual for a player from a down-the-list club to declare, explicitly or implicitly, that he will do all he can to help that club rise to trophy-winning territory.

It is as much about culture as honour. A soccer player must wait for the right club, an AFL player for the right time. Soccer's market is unregulated, which means the biggest clubs always will dominate, and the ambitious player's first goal must be to sell himself to a big club. For an AFL player, moving clubs is not so straightforward, and a player who seeks to change for the sake of personal ambition is liable to be seen as selfish. The ascent of Gen Y has not altered this.

Jack Watts has said he would not sign on again for Melbourne until he knew who was coaching the club next year and had seen signs that it was serious about improving.

This stands in contrast to, say, Matthew Pavlich, who stood by Fremantle through endless thin to reach thick, and Surf Coast pair Travis Boak and Patrick Dangerfield, who have chosen to see through what looked like thankless jobs at the distant Adelaide clubs. It stands in contrast to Luke Hodge, who like Watts, was indentured to a club that did not play finals in his first five seasons, and who might easily have made a "it's not me, it's you" case, but did not.

Melbourne has fallen far further than Hawthorn did, and its return journey looks proportionately longer and more gruelling. While key leadership positions at the club are occupied by temps, it is also unstable, but down-at-heel clubs usually look to be in turmoil; the latter-day Western Bulldogs are the admirable exception.

So whose duty is owed to whom? Melbourne got Watts because it was on the bottom. To all intents and purposes, the Demons are still there. Watts by himself could not make the difference, of course. It did not help that another No. 1 draft pick disappeared into the western Sydney ether.

But Melbourne did back Watts, taking him as a younger and less-formed footballer and a longer-term project than Nic Naitanui, making it possible for both to stay home. Generally, a footballer professes, at least outwardly, gratitude to the club that chose him instead of the next name on the draft list. Watts gives the impression that he is ambivalent.

On field, he has been, well, enigmatic. He has shown tantalising glimpses of the skill and athleticism that attracted all recruiters. But he has never settled into a position or a role, and his status in the eyes of coaches appeared to change almost week-to-week: sometimes the hope of the side, sometimes the scapegoat, sometimes not there at all. Even the fans appear to constitute a jury that is still out. To this day, they have a clearer picture of the footballer Watts might be than the footballer he is.

It is true that he is a victim of his No. 1 ranking, a status he did not confer on himself.

At No. 60, he would be the same player, at the same career crossroads, but unremarked upon. It is true that he would probably be a better player in a better side, because most players would be. It is also true that no one player could have had much impact on the Demons' fortunes these last five years. Look at Gary Ablett. He is the best player in the competition, but Geelong won a premiership without him and Gold Coast has not yet made the finals with him (though it surely will).

But footballers must believe that they can make a difference, or nothing ever would change. Some do. It comes down to personality.

On a personal level, there seems to be no issue between the Demons and Watts. They like him, he likes them. But that is not enough. "Be the change you wish to see in the world," said Mahatma Gandhi, but not everyone can. Perhaps Watts is the solid citizen, fellow traveller sort. The fact that he says he is waiting to see what Melbourne does suggests so. But it might also mean that he can never assimilate the "mongrel" element that new Demons president Glen Bartlett said on Sunday the club desperately needed, on and off the field.

In turn, it might mean that it is better for Watts, Melbourne and a club that is stable and has a clear direction to do a deal. But no one would blame Melbourne for driving a hard – even mongrel – bargain.