A bitter legal dispute is looming between Newcastle Jets and their father-and-son coach and marquee star – Branko and Jason Culina – after the pair were dramatically sacked on Tuesday just days before the first game of the new season.
The sackings came after news last month that Jason Culina will not play this season due to a knee injury he suffered in January at the Asian Cup, months before he joined the Jets.
Having taken legal advice, Newcastle immediately sacked Branko Culina and asked Football Federation Australia for authority to set aside Jason’s three-year, $2.7 million contract. It’s believed the Jets intend to rely on Culina’s injury to tear up the contracts and invoke clause 7.6 of the standard player contract, which insists players must disclose all injuries before signing with a club.
But various sources claim Culina Sr took no direct role in the negotiations to sign his son and the seriousness of Jason’s injury was an open secret in the game.
Speculation is growing that former Jets coach Gary van Egmond will be approached about a dramatic return to the club, two years after he walked out on former owner Con Constantine, as a result of Culina’s brutally swift dumping.
The A-League’s bid to celebrate their seventh season was hijacked in stunning fashion when Culina was called by Jets owner Nathan Tinkler in the midst of the league’s season launch at the Sydney Football Stadium and asked to attend a meeting inSydney.
Culina left, telling officials he would return soon after, and was incredulous to learn he was being sacked. The decision was understood to be Tinkler’s own, catching some Jets officials by surprise.
Both Culinas will fight the club’s action tooth and nail, with Jason receiving the full backing of the players’ union.
“It’s a distressing development – the A-League needs Jason Culina,” PFA CEO Brendan Schwab said.
“He’s working to recover from a serious injury precisely because he intends to come back in a matter of months.
“When a person has given so much to the game, the industry should stand behind him in times like these.”
It remains unclear whether the FFA could assent to Jason’s contract being torn up, with officials suggesting the governing body had no role in player deals beyond approving marquee signings. For Branko Culina it completes an unwelcome double after he was sacked by Sydney FC in 2007.
Two years later he was appointed technical director of the Jets, and took over as coach months later when van Egmond quit to become assistant coach ofAustralia’s youth teams and the AIS.
Juggling meagre resources and an injury-ravaged squad he made the Jets into an attractive side, almost making the finals last season.
He was given a four-year contract earlier this year as one of the first moves by Tinkler’s incoming regime, and had spoken at the A-League launch on Tuesday of the change in circumstances.
“It’s been terrific, we’ve got a new owner and new ideas and new enthusiasm around the club,” he said.
Buford Balony says: Jason Culina is overrated and didn’t deserve that kind of money in the A-league anyway.