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Culture problems can’t be hidden

Culture problems can’t be hidden
Mar
21
8 0

Written by AFL Online on 21st Mar 2007

The indefinite suspension of former West Coast captain Ben Cousins yesterday is the latest episode in the life of a brilliant but troubled individual that could spell the end of an illustrious career and potentially derail the Eagles hopes of creating a dynasty to rival Brisbane.

Cousins, who was suspended from the club after he failed to attend training has been the golden boy of Western Australian football for the best part of a decade and has in the past made no secret of his love of the party lifestyle, which has landed him in hot water on more than one occasion.

The 2005 Brownlow medallist’s rap sheet stretches back a good five years when West Coast officials expressed concern at Cousins’s association with known underworld figures.

Former Eagles coach Ken Judge alerted a West Coast official five years ago to police concerns about the behaviour of Cousins and former Eagles ruckman Michael Gardiner, yet no action was taken.

Both Cousins and Gardiner were widely criticised by Western Australian police and the Perth media for their lack of co-operation in May of 2005 when they refused to answer questions over a vicious gang brawl at the Metro City nightclub

Since then, Cousins continued to mix on-field brilliance with a flawed off-field life which cost ultimately him the captaincy in February 2006 when he abandoned his car and girlfriend on a Perth highway to avoid being breath-tested.

At the time, West Coast chairman Dalton Gooding declared Cousins was on his “last chance” with the club over his off-field behaviour.

Gooding’s comments proved to be nothing more than an idol threat, when Cousins once again found himself in the headlines for the wrong reasons in December last year after being arrested in Melbourne for drunken behaviour, no action was taken.

The West Coast board has known about Cousins off-field problems for a good five years now, according to his Melbourne-based manager Ricky Nixon, and even if Nixon’s claims aren’t true, it’s not like the warning signs weren’t there for all to see.

The Eagles board has tolerated the off-field excesses of its players for the sake of success, with Gardiner the only notable scapegoat.

Gardiner was considered dispensable by West Coast, Cousins wasn’t.

West Coast has paid the price for putting a premiership ahead of the culture of the club, with Cousins not the only Eagles star to be caught up in off-field indiscretions.

This pre-season alone, fellow midfielder Daniel Kerr has faced court on two separate occasions on assault charges and Chad Fletcher was at the centre of an alleged drug overdose following an end-of-season trip in Las Vegas.

The failure by Fletcher or his manager Colin Young to release the medical report that is meant to clear his name leaves a dark cloud over the incident.

Since taking over the reins of the club in 2002, Worsfold has led the Eagles to five finals campaigns and two straight grand finals for one premiership, bur at what cost.

For too long Eagles players have ridden roughshod and acted bigger than Ben Hur in a town that worships them like gods, with the West Coast board continuing to turn a blind eye as long as the club experienced success on the field.

The decision to suspend Cousins from the club yesterday has sent a clear message that poor off-field behaviour won’t be tolerated, but is it too late?

The playing group is believed to be divided down the middle over Cousins suspension and captain Chris Judd comes out of contract at the end of the season.

Whether or not the announcement of Judd’s decision to delay contract talks and the indefinite suspension of Cousins has been done to appease the 2004 Brownlow medallist, who is rumoured to be sick of the cultural problems at West Coast is purely coincidental is debatable.

But one thing is for sure, West Coast is in a unique position.

They have one of the youngest lists in the competition, have already played in two grand finals and the core group of their squad is under 25, with their best football ahead of them.

With such a young group and a premiership already under their belt, the Eagles had the potential to rival the Brisbane side of 2001-03.

But all that potential could be thrown out the window thanks to the failure of the board to address several off-field issues in favour of on-field success in the short-term.

The Eagles have been no stranger to controversy in the past couple of years and on both occasions adversity blinked and may well do so again in ’07.

But the West Coast board needs to be held accountable for their failure to address the obvious off-field issues which have plagued the club.

Had these issues been addressed and dealt with appropriately when they were first raised as being of concern, the club might not find itself in the awkward position it’s in now.

The bad culture of a football club may well be masked by on-field success in the short-term, but cracks will appear, West Coast learnt this the hard way.