Furious Bombers players reportedly unleashed on new Essendon president David Barham on Friday due to the poor treatment of Ben Rutten, who could coach his last game for the club against Richmond on Saturday night.
Barham and the Bombers’ 11th-hour bid for Alastair Clarkson backfired on Friday, with the coaching mastermind choosing to join North Melbourne on a five-year deal.
Clarkson revealed he met the Bombers out of respect and had no intentions of having “ongoing discussions with the Bombers” due to the last-minute nature of the pitch.
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While Rutten is contracted until the end of next season, his job is hanging by a thin thread, with Barham indicating his board would meet on Sunday to discuss “Plan B” around the coaching situation.
Barham, who replaced Paul Brasher as president on Monday amid a push for an external review and chase of Clarkson, hinted Essendon players had been left frustrated by events of the past week, telling reporters on Friday: “The players are disappointed they weren’t more consulted – and I have to live with that.”
But reports on Friday night indicated there was ample tension when Barham attempted to explain his recent actions.
“When Essendon’s players met with David Barham, it was extremely heated. They were savage in their criticism of him and the club’s conduct,” Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph told Fox Footy.
“More to the point, they were very strong, they were impassioned in their support for Ben Rutten. They believe that he should stay on and that he has significant care for the players.”
AFL 360 co-host and Herald Sun chief football writer Mark Robinson said Barham “took a pounding” during three separate meetings.
“It was a free for all on the cultural part of this football club,” Robinson told 3AW Football.
“Staff members feel and a few of executives feel they were abandoned and locked out by the board, by David Barham. ‘I’m doing this, I’m going to go and make the hero move. I’m going to plot and sack and go and get Clarkson.’”
Channel 7 reporter Tom Browne reported players “shredded” Barham over the treatment of Rutten, while veteran football journalist Damian Barrett told AFL Media: “There’s issues there now with the players of a significant nature. David Barham attempted to spin this today to the club initially and then the players separately and there was a lot of challenging of David Barham in that player meeting – to the point where they’ve left the club as disgruntled as they’ve ever been with their own club.”
Barham had some support from Essendon legend Matthew Lloyd, who said he’d been left frustrated by some of the club hierarchy’s decision-making over recent years.
“I think what David Barham’s doing is courageous,” Lloyd told 3AW Football. “David isn’t in this for himself, David’s seen enough – like I have and like a lot of people who care about the club – so I’m supporting David in what he’s looking to do.”
But fellow Bombers great Tim Watson was left fuming on Friday night.
“The club is shambolic and frankly Essendon fans should be appalled at how this has played out,” Watson told 7 News Melbourne.
“But David Barham took control of the club to deliver an external review and they get that chance now to make transformational changes, which will include a new coach,” he said.
“I can’t see club CEO Xavier Campbell continuing on in his role either given he supported the retention of Rutten and strongly supported the outgoing president.
“So by the time a ball is bounced in 2023, this will be a very different looking Essendon Football Club.”
Rutten’s manager Adam Ramanauskas on Friday morning slammed Essendon’s treatment of the coach, saying the lack of communication from the club’s board was “fundamentally not right”.
It came after club legend and board member Kevin Sheedy, who drew headlines on Tuesday with his strange response to a question about Alastair Clarkson’s links to the club, telling FIVEaa radio: “I think Clarkson could be perfect moving into North Melbourne, I wouldn’t be surprised, take ‘em down to Tasmania.”
Melbourne champion Garry Lyon told Fox Footy said it was no wonder Clarkson rejected the Bombers.
“That’s the most inside view (from Ramanauskas) of what’s happened … that’s the bloke who’s managing the coach who said he had to ring people for a day and a half to find out what’s going on,” Lyon told Fox Footy.
“On the one hand you’ve got North Melbourne who’ve thrown everything and Sonja Hood’s led the charge, but anyone directly or indirectly who had a relationship with Alastair Clarkson that’s connected to the Kangaroos – the Brayshaw’s and the Ponting’s and the Carey’s writing articles, which they should, they went on a full-on offensive – they had to woo him. It was four weeks in the making.
“Then Essendon go ‘we’ll get in the game and we’ll come late’. They had one shot, Essendon, at Clarkson and out of respect he goes and listens – and it’s just David Barham who walks in and has a chat with him. And even then if he’s thinking about it – which clearly he wasn’t – then Kevin Sheedy, who is a director of the football club, goes on radio on Wednesday.
“The last thing Clarkson wants to have is a Jeff Kennett situation again. So then you’ve got the David Barham situation and you’ve got Kevin Sheedy going rogue on radio – what do you reckon he’s thinking? (Kennett) dressed in a red and black scarf. So he’s going ‘no that’s not for me’ – and all the while North Melbourne haven’t put a foot wrong and just wooed and wooed.”
Triple premiership Lion Jonathan Brown was left flabbergasted by the timing of the Bombers’ move for Clarkson.
“Clearly there were board members at Essendon, or people involved at Essendon, that wanted Alastair Clarkson weeks ago, if not months ago. Why did they wait until now to jump?” Brown asked on Fox Footy.
“They got spooked by North Melbourne’s offer and thought ‘gee he’s about to commit’ when there was rumours going around that he’d almost verbally committed to North Melbourne and then decided to jump into the race. Why then didn’t they have the gumption to go to Ben Rutten weeks ago and say: ‘You know what? We have to do our due diligence on Alastair Clarkson, who’s the greatest coach of the modern era. We are going to ask the question. We want to keep you in the loop and move forward that way. At least we’re all on the same page. Now we can understand if you’re going to be offended by that, but this is what we need to do as an organisation.’ Why didn’t that happen?”