The season of goodwill has never extended into football and the anti-Santa has struck with predictable timing, handing out the sack no manager wanted. Andre Villas-Boas, Steve Clarke and Gianfranco Zola have all suffered various forms of defenestration in the run up to Christmas, some easier to predict than others. However, on further shores from the Premier League, one of the more curious and unexpected sackings has come at Perth Glory, where coach Alistair Edwards has been given the boot less than a year into a three year contract.
For once, league position had very little to do with Edwards’s departure. In a season where over a third of coaches in the 10-team league have been under threat at one time or another, the former Socceroo was not one of them. Yes, Glory have been at best inconsistent, sitting one place outside the post-season playoffs, but the Western Australian club know as well as anyone that a short burst of form at the right time can leave a club in prime position for the playoffs.
No, what did for Edwards was infighting amidst accusations of nepotism in a plot that could have just as easily come from the government frontbenches as a Western Australian football club.
For those who delight in the opportunity to make Twilight references with regard to managerial sackings – and such opportunities are few and far between in football – in one corner you had Team Edward(s), a relatively young, progressive coach with a commitment to youth. In the other, Team Jacob Burns, the 35-year old Glory captain, familiar to many Leeds and Barnsley fans from his spell in England, and a player never short of an opinion or five. And instead of Bella, caught in the middle were Edwards’s two sons, Ryan and Cameron.
Both are useful players, although still growing as players and are at the stage where they could become solid performers or further examples of promising youngsters who didn’t quite made the grade. Ryan is still on the books of Reading, albeit loaned back home, while Cameron was released by the Royals and then passed on by Melbourne Heart before joining his dad as a squad member at Perth Glory.
Regardless of their status as dad’s boys, both fitted into Edwards’s philosophy of building the Glory by focusing on young Australian talent, supplemented by a few veterans. With a lengthy injury list, which at various times has included Burns, star striker Shane Smeltz, and marquee player William Gallas, the youth have often repaid their coach’s faith in them, even if results haven’t always gone Perth’s way.
The peak of this young side supposedly came against Wellington Phoenix when a youthful, injury-ravaged team took the game to the New Zealanders and came away with a 4-2 victory in a thrilling game. Edwards’s young revolution was hailed as coming of age in the press. A week later, and a tame 2-0 loss to Melbourne Victory, and the very same coach was out of a job.
The problem came with the return of Jacob Burns from injury. Having not quite been fit enough for the win against the Nix, it was still a surprise to see the 35-year-old only make the bench for the Victory. Trailing 1-0 and needing a spark on the pitch, Edwards opted to bring on son Cameron rather than Burns. If you want to pinpoint a moment when the sack race had a new favourite this was it.
Following the game, Burns – a player for whom calling a spade a spade is often a little too subtle – had choice words for his coach. In the aftermath of the Victory loss, Burns and a delegation of players confronted the coach and it was clear that one or other could no longer continue at the club. After taking his time, owner Tony Sage made his decision and came down firmly on the side of Team Jacob.
This is where the story gets messy and complicated and puts the long-term plan for the Glory in flux, especially with the senior players gaining the upper hand. This is not to say Alistair Edwards didn’t have his faults and should have known that once Cameron and Ryan arrived at the club, allegations of nepotism would never be far away. The way Edwards handled feeling towards his sons in the dressing room left a lot to be desired.
And yet, if Edwards is to be judged by his overall achievements as a coach, he undoubtedly deserved more time. Results were inconsistent, but Glory were slowly starting to put together the nucleus of a young, talented team and one that had the signs of staying together. Too often, bright young things emerge from Perth only to get a better offer from another A League club or abroad, but the current crop of youngsters have shown both promise and the impression they were prepared to buy into the vision and stay at the club. What’s more, the Glory fans appeared to be prepared to back a much-needed transition season after the final days of previous coach Ian Ferguson’s reign.
Now, 10 months after a new ethos was promised, Perth Glory are back where they started. Plenty of blame has already been apportioned but with neither side prepared to tell their version, it appears that the power in the club lies with a 35-year-old midfielder. Burns still has plenty to offer the A League but judging by the crowd’s reaction in the weekend’s goalless draw against Adelaide, the veteran has some way to go to get the Glory faithful onside.
Meanwhile interim coach Kenny Lowe has much to ponder after Perth’s disjointed performance in the stalemate that saw Adelaide control much of the ball, but Glory carving out the better chances. Perhaps top of the list of considerations will be the bright, solid and mature performance from a young prospect making a rare start alongside Jacob Burns in the middle of the park. That 21-year-old, who was one of Glory’s best performers on the day: one Cameron Edwards.