You have to think that Gary van Egmond had endured enough turmoil in his 32-month stint at the helm of the Newcastle Jets.
To some, it was no huge surprise when Van Egmond, an affable 44-year-old and former A-League coach of the year, this week handed in his resignation to outspoken Jets owner Con Constantine.
Any brownie points his side had earned from reaching the knockout phase of the AFC Champions League had evaporated in Pohang as the Steelers Poker Online Indonesia ran out 6-0 victors last week, eliminating them from the competition.
Such a heavy defeat would often be enough to prompt many trigger-happy chairmen to act or noncommittal managers to walk away – notwithstanding Van Egmond had recently penned a contract extension tying him to the Jets until 2013.
But revelations since that Korean nightmare have revealed Van Egmond’s hasty resignation wasn’t prompted solely by his under-prepared team’s ACL humiliation.
He already had his eye on exiting the club he helped transform from cellar dwellers to champions and had formally applied for a coaching position within Football Federation Australia, the game’s governing body.
As the application process proceeded, it became clear Van Egmond was the outstanding candidate for the role of working with some of the country’s finest rising stars, as Australian under-17 assistant coach and with a remit to guide the youngsters at the Australian Institute of Sport.
But whatever the ramifications of bringing Van Egmond into the FFA stable with an eye on his long-term coaching development within the national body, from the outside it appears unusual to move from a head coach’s position in the A-League to the lower ranks of the national side.
Van Egmond has been earmarked for a larger job since making an immediate splash when he took over at Newcastle in October 2006. The man known to all as ‘Dutchy’ led the Jets from the basement to the championship within 18 months and was labelled the brightest young manager in the Australian game.
But Newcastle’s title defence was a disaster. They finished bottom, yet sympathy was shown for Van Egmond’s position as his championship side was ripped apart by a combination of dubious incoming and outgoing transfers.
The coach would have tired of the revolving door at the Jets, particularly when it was clear a number of those coming and going did so against his wishes.
Newcastle have endured the biggest turnover of players of all eight foundation clubs with Van Egmond this season facing the prospect of managing without full internationals Jade North, James Holland, Joel Griffiths, Adam Griffiths, goalkeeper Ante Covic and Mark Milligan.
The Jets hierarchy brought in only journeymen and youngsters as replacements.
Still, Constantine had little sympathy for Van Egmond on his controversial departure, saying he blamed the defector more than the FFA, who he claimed poached his employee behind the club’s back.
“He forgets that if it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t be where he is now. He was selling Pepsi to me eight years ago. He pleaded then to help him get involved in coaching in the game,” Constantine told The Australian.
He added: “If the FFA want to fine me (for his public condemnation of their actions), well, it would be like fining Jesus Christ because of the treachery of Judas.”
Branko Culina, Van Egmond’s replacement, is seen by the Jets movers and shakers as Newcastle’s saviour.
Culina, a former Sydney FC coach, became the Jets’ technical director earlier this year, a kind of guiding hand for Van Egmond.
He had said that his axing by Sydney in 2007 had left a bad taste, but the TV pundit couldn’t resist another crack at frontline coaching after Constantine asked him to fill the breach, certainly for the medium term.
Culina signed a two-year deal, immediately jetting off to Europe to scout a pair of imports to change the Jets’ fortunes this forthcoming season.
“I think that Branko is the best man for the job,” trumpeted CEO John Tsatsimas. “He has been here since February and he has seen the club, he knows the players first-hand. He is an experienced coach, he is a very technical coach as is (assistant) Mark Jones and we believe that they will work well together. We also believe that it will provide the foundation for rectifying us results-wise and it will lead us into the finals.”