Since Round 3, Carlton’s world has been turned on its head. There is doubt many within its four walls are able to be blunt and capable enough to act upon lingering issues that have finally come to a dramatic head with Ratten’s sacking.
This once great club is now suddenly at a loss, just when it looked to be out of the darkest period of its history. A plethora of reasons exist, and the solutions may not be simple. Unless Carlton wants to return to success, there’s plenty that needs to be acknowledge from within the institution.
Many point to Brent Ratten’s coaching ability as ‘lacking’ and he has been portrayed by many media commentators as nothing but an animated cheerleader on the sidelines.
Just what is Carlton’s game plan to begin with?
Many question it’s merits and it’s effectiveness to begin with, let’s have a run down at what it looks like when Carlton have their best possible 22 on the park and just why it’s fallen down in the first place.
Ratten admitted last season that Carlton’s game style (much like his coaching) had grown continuously minimalistic. It’s an attacking, running brand which won the ball in close and broke wide to wherever there was the most space.
Carlton relies on stoppages around the ground and getting fast breaks from them. These fast breaks are executed with the skill and speed of their outside runners, with the half-forwards leading up the ground and the forward pocket players leading wide. Kicks inside 50 under Ratten evolved from ‘just finding Fevola’ to in 2011 hitting these forward pocket and half-forwards in the space they created by running up and wide.
The Blues finished fifth and nearly toppled West Coast, with a litany of players such as Bryce Gibbs, Marc Murphy, Matthew Kreuzer, Chris Yarran, Jeff Garlett, Mitch Robinson and Andrew Walker yet to see out their full potential, with promising youngsters in David Ellard, Kane Lucas, Marcus Davies, Sam Rowe, Luke Mitchell, Levi Casboult and Andrew McInnes.
In Rounds 1 to 3 of this season, the space that was created for the small forwards last year was used to great success with Jarrad Waite, Shaun Hampson and Kreuzer rotating up forward and stretching the height of opposition defenders. With all three players, and then Robert Warnock falling to injury, Carlton saw it’s scoring structure fall down for most of the season.
But why didn’t Eddie Betts, Garlett and Walker then become the prime targets and kick bags of goals as they did in 2011?
Andrew Carrazzo is Carlton’s most important player. His injury 10 minutes into the game against the Bombers in Round 4 essentially ended all hope of Carlton living up to its potential this season.
An experienced and hardened body at the contest, Carrazzo is critical to the Blues’ midfield structure. He can win high numbers of contested ball, is regarded as the side’s number one tagger and acts as Chris Judd and Marc Murphy’s ‘shield’ to block opposing taggers at stoppages around the ground.
In his absence, not only did they lose a prime tagger, but Judd and Murphy became more prone to defensive body pressure around a contest and it became harder to win an effective clearance. Murphy’s injury only added to their clearance woes, and Judd had to wait until Brock McLean came back into the side to get help in this area of the ground.
In a domino effect, Bryce Gibbs, Kade Simpson, Chris Yarran, David Ellard, Andrew Walker, Ed Curnow and Heath Scotland were starved of supply. Their run and skills were neutralized completely with a lack of ball getting wide in which they were able to break lines and defensive zones with pinpoint precession. Even the outside runners weren’t without their own injuries and structural issues. Bryce Gibbs became down on form and confidence, and got increasing lost in traffic until he became a run-with defender and dropping back as a defensive flanker.
Chris Yarran battled turf toe, missed most of the first half of the season and acted as the sub for a handful of games. As Carlton’s spark off half-back, this explosive x-factor saw the ball not getting out of defensive 50, and those left to cover him didn’t have the skills he possessed to clear the ball with such a speed that would catch the opposition off guard.
Heath Scotland was thrown into the midfield at times to assist Judd, or wasn’t allowed to wander out of defence due to lockdown jobs that would usually require the services of the frequently-injured Nick Duigan and Jeremy Laidler.
The lack of run, ball movement and rebounding flair saw the forward line find little supply. Forward entries became less frequent and the ball was moved slower. This slower ball movement saw no space for Carlton’s small forwards to have the room they had in 2011, with numbers being moved back and a lack of quality ball users to hit said targets.
In short, injuries cost them dearly. Carlton spent the whole season robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it crippled their entire set up.
Plan B was effective at times. Garlett did have impact in the middle during some games, Walker was pushed up the ground to use his creative and football smarts to hit targets, Gibbs was solid in defence and Warnock was serviceable in the ruck. The slow tempo did limit opposition scoring, but it did more harm to Carlton’s ability to apply scoreboard pressure.
Such a plan would require a settled 22 or nominated players in roles. Considering Carlton’s starting 22 was a continuous revolving door of injuries, it had no chance of knowing if next week they even had a tall forward or had a key defender from its best possible list in the team that week.
It must be noted that Ratten often was slow to react at times to in-game situations, especially when his midfield stocks were wearing thin.
When getting smashed in the middle against Adelaide in Round 8, it took not only after Marc Murphy’s injury at the beginning of the second quarter, but until after half time to send Mitch Robinson (a hardened midfielder), into the middle of the ground.
Against Port Adelaide, he also did not attempt to curb the influence of Hamish Hartlett and Matt Thomas until the game was well and truly over, and had no answers or strategy when Nic Natunai dominated the Round 13 encounter with West Coast.
Many also question his conservatism at the selection table, pondering why underperforming players in Gibbs and Garlett were continued to play despite their on-field output. Considering their perceived lack of exposed depth at the time, Ratten was essentially left with no choice.
However, this does not leave said players off the hook. Regardless of whoever the new coach is, they will not tolerate their indifferent match day attitudes.
One thing that cannot be denied amid the mess is that Brett Ratten’s steely resolve has been pushed to breaking point.
Others would fold, crack or quit. Ratten hasn’t done any of the above and should be commended for not doing so.
Alan Richardson, Carlton’s assistant coach, referred to him as “selfless” and had always put the team and the job “in front of his own agenda”.
This doesn’t mean his time behind closed doors has been blissful.
A lot has been made of Ratten’s relationship with his fellow assistant coaches, including his well-documented falling outs, especially with former football department manager David Icke, who quit late last year after a long-lasting feud with Ratten, and was replaced with former teammate Andy McKay.
Ratten also ran afoul with former high performance manager Justin Cordy, as he and other members of his coaching staff raised issues over the pre-season management of Jarrad Waite and Nick Duigan’s injuries.
Ratten had issues with some inside the football department, and those issues may have led the Carlton board to believe that he was difficult to work with.
Speaking on the Bound for Glory radio show earlier in the year, former Carlton rookie and current Norwood player Jaryd Cachia felt Ratten “wasn’t a very good communicator and sometimes struggled to get his message across”.
It’s clear how much Carlton meant to Ratten, an individual whose passion may have been misconstrued by a board who acted in a matter that responded to media pressure before reason.
It seems even Stephen Kernahan and Greg Swann can’t even secure their own futures beyond next year in such an entangled setting.
If you take a look at Carlton’s board, many argue therein lies the problem. Apart from Swann, there is no outside blood. Without non-Blue blood, decision making will never be objective. For more than a generation, Carlton’s board have made decisions in a highly emotive and reactive manner.
Kernahan said Carlton’s “ruthlessness” is why it’s been so successful.
It seems as if the board were never content with Ratten’s presence, and that Mick Malthouse or another senior head was always waiting in the wings. This club legend being trampled and disrespected by those above him indicates that the aggressive club culture will only hold it back in the long term.
Carlton must heed the call of change or the period of pain is set to continue.