Speculation is rife each season around superstars of the competition falling out of contract each year. Yet the professionalism, consistency and honesty players handle the constant questions with differs each time.
A player’s most common response to being questioned about their future is ‘contract talks will be put off until the rest of the season’, or ‘I see myself playing at the club next year’.
But today, we saw the consequence of a player showing honesty towards his team, and going against the trend of holding off until the end of the season.
Now-former Carlton forward Lachie Henderson revealed to his teammates this morning he no longer wanted to play in the navy blue. Speculation has been surrounding Henderson since mid-season that he will be joining Geelong down the highway.
After telling his teammates, Carlton interim coach John Barker revealed Henderson would not be playing for the remainder of the season. Even if this announcement wasn’t made today, Barker was adamant Henderson would’ve been dropped due to his lack of form. He also says wrapping Henderson up will ensure he doesn’t gain an injury nor lose trade currency.
The timing seems all too ironic.
The AFL community, media and clubs call for honesty from their players when it comes to contract speculation. They want to plan for the future, and believe it is in the best interest of the players to reveal their plans to avoid constant scrutiny and distractions.
But when a player’s choice goes against the club’s interest, a player is condemned in the way Henderson was.
Football commentator Terry Wallace told SEN clubs put unfair expectation on players when they expect them to talk and then drop them for it.
“For us, we desperately need to know what the player is doing, but as soon as he gives us an answer that we don’t like, you’re gone,” Wallace told SEN radio today.
In the NRL, a player’s decision to leave is made public mid-season, and without condemnation they continue on, committed to their current club until the end.
Henderson has come out and told the AFL Player’s Association website he is “disappointed” he won’t be playing out the season with his teammates, and wishes he could wear the navy blue one more time.
He also called for more honesty with how players deal with negotiations.
“Everyone’s different, everyone’s going to have a different opinion on things, everyone sees things differently and it’d be nice to see a little bit more honesty going around in the AFL world,” he told the AFLPA website.
Henderson has managed only 16 goals in 16 games this year under the constant scrutiny, after kicking 28 goals in 17 games last season.
It is a stark contrast to the way Adelaide midfielder Patrick Dangerfield has handled the speculation around his future, with it strongly believed he will also end up at Geelong for the 2016 season.
Dangerfield has deterred as much attention as possible from discussion around his contract, despite making several appearances on footy shows and press conferences.
Dangerfield has never been adamant either way that he is either staying or going, only admitting money would not be a factor.
This midfielder’s form has flourished in the latter part of the season compared to that of Henderson. Since round 15, Dangerfield has averaged 30 disposals and was best-on-ground last week against Essendon.
Maybe motivated to do Adelaide proud following the tragic circumstances of late coach Phil Walsh, Dangerfield can look back on this year with Adelaide and say he gave it his all.
Along with Henderson and Dangerfield, we have seen Geelong’s Steven Motlop, Carlton’s Chris Yarran, Gold Coast’s Charlie Dixon and Essendon’s Jake Carlisle all under contract scrutiny this season.
You could argue Dangerfield has had to contend with it more, yet has handled it the best on and off the field.
It is the way these players handle the scrutiny which will depend on the way they finish their career at a club. They could thrive or crumble, leave with respect or regret.
Contract talks will never go away, with someone new popping up each year. But looking at the Henderson situation, it is almost in the best interest of the player to stay quiet until their job is done.