The two-club race for Alastair Clarkson is close to reaching its climax amid reports Essendon coach Ben Rutten’s departure looms.
Clarkson’s manager, James Henderson, told Channel 9 on Wednesday the super coach is “now moving quickly to a decision,” — which is expected to be known by the weekend.
Clarkson was originally considered near certain to join Arden Street on a five-year deal before turmoil at the Bombers put Essendon on his radar in an 11th hour bid.
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Speaking on Fox Footy’s AFL 360, co-host Mark Robinson revealed the Kangaroos held a board meeting on Wednesday where Plan B was put on hold as the club goes all-in on Clarkson.
“By the weekend, everyone will know if Alastair Clarkson will be coaching North Melbourne or if Alastair Clarkson will be coaching Essendon,” he said.
“(Clarkson’s decision) defines both of them for the next five, 10, 15 years.
“He spent four weeks with North Melbourne. He’s known for allegedly four days on Essendon. He hasn’t done the due diligence. There’s going to be a lot of fallout.”
It comes after a report emerged this week that Clarkson has a “strong interest” in the Bombers after being linked to the Tullamarine-based club earlier this year despite being in advanced discussions with the Kangaroos as the Giants pulled out of the race for his services.
“Eight weeks ago, we thought (Clarkson) was red-hot on Essendon,” fellow AFL 360 co-host Gerard Whateley said.
“I think North Melbourne would be jilted (if he chose Essendon) as they’ve been so wholehearted. It‘s entirely his choice.”
Robinson believes Clarkson ultimately “owes” the Kangaroos, pointing to his playing days when the club took him back despite knocking out Carlton’s Ian Aitken during the infamous ‘Battle of the Britain’ in 1987.
“I think he owes the Kangaroos. You get one life to live, and during that one life you rely on other people and organisation,” Robinson said.
“At different times of his life he has relied on North Melbourne to help him. The incident in London, that was a terrible time … Essendon ignored him and North Melbourne said, ‘nah, you come and play for us, we’ll give you an opportunity’.
“That’s his life … you can’t forget that, you just cant, and I’m sure he’s not.”
However Whateley disagreed, saying the four-time premiership boss’ decision shouldn’t be motivated by extraneous factors.
“He doesn’t owe the Kangaroos, it’s a romantic idea and would be lovely if it came to fruition … if he makes the choice as a favour to an old club, that’s the wrong motivation,” he said.
Whateley added that he doesn’t believe there’ll be a difference in the money, while Robinson said “I think there might be,” suggesting the Bombers’ offer would be more lucrative.
Veteran journalist Caroline Wilson called Essendon’s treatment of Rutten “one of football’s most shameless stories” and revealed the Bombers coach was visited by new president David Barham at his Mount Macdeon property on Wednesday to candidly discuss the club’s pursuit of Clarkson and his uncertain future.
“He (Rutten) wasn’t sacked, but there was a full and frank conversation in which David Barham made it clear Essendon is looking at Alastair Clarkson, and beyond that, they can’t say exactly what will happen,” she said on Channel 9’s Footy Classified.
Wilson also reports that Rutten will be relieved of his coaching duties on Thursday — a report backed up by former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, who has a “firm belief” that assistant Daniel Giansiruca was on Monday earmarked to take over the position for Saturday night’s clash with Richmond.
“My understanding is I think the cut will come tomorrow (Thursday), it’s extraordinary that it hasn’t happened already. There’s a suggestion that some players want to be coached on the weekend by Daniel Giansiracusa, I can’t say whether or not that will happen,” Wilson said.
“I must say Ben Rutten has shown extraordinary grace and strength under huge pressure this week, and it is weird to think you would hang out a bloke to dry like that.”
Essendon legend Matthew Lloyd endorsed the club’s move to assess all positions of those in power, saying he “only wants what’s best” for the Bombers.
“I think last week when the ball meeting was called upon, once the board was split, it wasn’t necessarily about Ben at that point in time, it’s about the culture of the football club,” he said.
“The culture isn’t good, there’s a lot of unhappy people. You can see it in the performance, it’s not travelling well. I’ve spoken all the way along, I only want what’s best for the club, and that has to be looked at from everyone at the top.
“The president’s (Paul Brasher) been looked at and now be stood down, then you’ve got to look next at the CEO (Xavier Campbell) … then the next will be Ben Rutten and then the head of football in Josh Mahoney.
“They all link together, you’ve got to get good people in those four key areas, and the rest will filter down from there. That’s where you’ve got to start from.”