THE Newcastle Jets are furious at what they see as an unsolicited attempt from Sydney FC to prise coach Gary van Egmond from their grasp, accusing the Sky Blues of showing a lack of ethics.
Sydney had been talking with van Egmond in recent weeks about his interest in their vacant head coaching role but the one-time Socceroos defender has remained loyal to the Hunter club.
Van Egmond kept the Jets' management informed of Sydney's interest throughout the process but Newcastle's management is angry Sydney never formally asked to speak to the 47-year-old, who is under contract until the end of the 2013-14 season.
A contract offer arrived from Sydney on Monday, and it is understood the deal was up to $100,000 a season more than what van Egmond is earning at Newcastle.
However, the deal was immediately shut down by van Egmond, who told Hunter Sports Group - the organisation that owns the Jets - that he was committed to seeing out his existing deal.
The Jets' chief executive, Robbie Middleby, told Fairfax Media that he believed Sydney's conduct was out of line.
''Sydney have been totally unethical in making this approach to Gary, and I find it disrespectful to us as a club and to our players, our members and supporters that they would do this,'' he said. ''To go as far as they did and not even bother to contact the club, it's pretty disappointing. Ethically, it's not the way it should be handled, especially when Sydney say they want to do the right thing. This is not how you go about it.''
While acknowledging the A-League had become an ''increasingly cut-throat'' competition, Middleby said clubs still needed to work together off the field.
''The pressure is on in the A-League every week but sometimes the clubs have to work together to build a better sport, and we have to trust each other without thinking we'll be undermined,'' Middleby said. ''It's flattering that they want our coach but the way they went about it, it's not good.''
Middleby said van Egmond ''kept us in the loop the whole time'' about what was happening, and never indicated that he would be headed for the exit.
''On the opposite, he's excited about being at Newcastle and excited about what we have planned,'' he said. ''We've had an up and down start to the season but we've got some fantastic young players coming through. I'm telling you now, we're in good stead with some of these kids, and they're only going to get better. Why wouldn't Gary want to be part of that? He's already had such a big hand in their development.
''We've got the Emerging Jets [development] program that's started this year, which we've spent a lot of time and effort on here in Newcastle, and he's been a major part of that.''
One attraction for van Egmond to leave the Jets might have been the uncertainty over Nathan Tinkler's finances but the club is confident that's not an issue.
''We know there's been plenty of speculation about Nathan but I know he's committed to this club, and the future is bright here, don't worry about that,'' Middleby said. ''The culture we want to develop here is in its early stages but it's right on track.''
The Sydney chief executive, Tony Pignata, released a brief statement on Monday night confirming the club's approach. "As part of the natural recruitment process following Ian Crook's resignation two weeks ago, Sydney FC has had initial discussion with a number of coaches both locally and internationally, including Gary van Egmond,'' he said. "After showing initial interest, Gary has declared he wants to remain in Newcastle. Sydney FC is continuing with ongoing discussions with a small number of preferred candidates and working towards making an appointment in the near future."