Jets vs The Culinas: A tale of trust, loyalty, family and betrayal

by Francis Leach on Oct 06, 2011

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Sometimes, Australian football outdoes itself.

On the very day the game was putting on its party dress and strutting its stuff to celebrate the launch of the upcoming season it finds itself in the headlines for a top line player and coach being sacked without a ball being kicked in anger.

What was shaping up as a day of excitement and anticipation for a season of football that still promises so much quickly became something of a circus.

Branko Culina’s contract was terminated and the club is reportedly in the process of applying to FFA to have the Standard Player Contact (SPC) between it, FFA and Jason Culina set aside.

From the outside, it appears that two of the most respected names in the game were told to leave, and not to let the door hit their arses on the way out.

It wasn’t so much a day when the game shot itself in the foot, but trod on a landmine and blew both its legs off.

And the rest of us were left to ask, what the hell is going on?

Jets’ Chief Executive Officer, Robbie Middleby said: “The decision to terminate the contracts was made after a long deliberation by the Newcastle Jet’s Advisory Board.

“The club believes that it is highly unlikely that Jason will return to the A-League in the near future, following medical advice.”

This tells us nothing as to why such drastic action was warranted.

Players get injured. It’s hardly breaking news at a professional football club. So why the bloodletting?

Well that depends on who you trust – and it seems trust, loyalty, family and betrayal were at the heart of this saga.

The impression in Newcastle is the seriousness of Jason Culina’s knee injury wasn’t presented to the board of the club while it was considering signing the veteran Socceroo.

The implication is that Jason Culina may have breached a warranty in the SPC to make full disclosure of any physical conditions or injuries that may or might impair his ability to perform, and that his father, Branko, was aware of this ‘non-disclosure’.

No doubt, this will be fiercely contested by both player and coach.

Yesterday the Jets attempt to have the FFA set aside the SPC appear to have been rejected. . In a statement, FFA made it clear that it wants dispute resolution and that there was no authority to set aside the SPC under the regulations.

“Grievances arising in relation to a SPC are subject to arbitration by the independent National Dispute Resolution Chamber (NDRC),” was the line from head office.

Meanwhile, questions are being asked on the club’s medical due diligence in ascertaining the player’s health before committing to sign on the dotted line.

Given the father/son relationship between player and coach, surely independent medical advice should have been sought to protect the club – as well as the integrity of both coach and player.

Surely it’s within the remit of the Executive Chairman to protect such a massive investment of the club’s money? And if the due diligence was undertaken, did it massively fail?

Ken Edwards, Executive Chairman of the Newcastle Jets, was the man the FFA hired at great expense, to broker the deal to get Nathan Tinkler to take on the club.

The new look Jets are very much his baby.

Given the hard yards done to seal the deal and keep the club afloat, what role to did he play in allowing the Culina deal to proceed?

And will Nathan Tinkler, a man with a history of cutting ties and moving on when and where it suits him, stay the course with his A-League franchise?

Perhaps the fear that he might pack his swag and walk partly explains why the Newcastle Jets acted so precipitously in axing the Culinas?

Meanwhile, the players must get their heads around trying to win their first match this weekend against Melbourne Heart.

All reports from the training track in the post-Culina era are that the players are now more than ever up for the challenge this weekend. It is just one of many the Jets will face in the next little while.