AFL Players’ Association CEO Paul Marsh says the industry needs to show greater maturity when it comes to player movement in the wake of the criticism leveled at young defender Jake Lever.
Marsh described the reaction to Lever’s announcement last week that he will seek a trade home to Victoria this off-season as “hysterical”, stressing the 21-year-old has every right to move clubs having served his contract.
“The industry still has a way to go around maturing about player movement,” Marsh told AFL Trade Radio on Tuesday.
“Without focusing on Jake, when a player signs a contract, sees out that contract and wants to move, I don’t see how that’s unreasonable. It’s exactly the same conditions as a coach, CEO or anyone else in the industry.
“In the case of Jake, he’s seen out that contract and has played very well and hard for Adelaide and now he wants to move onto another club. We just need to be mature enough as an industry to say ‘we accept that that’s okay’. Adelaide will, in the end, get some fair compensation through the trade period for him and we all move on.”
While Lever is one of a select few players seeking to move clubs after serving their contracts, Marsh said there were also contracted players being shopped around by their clubs.
“Players will move and we’re seeing at the moment a number of players who are under contract that clubs are looking to move on so it goes both ways,” he said.
“At the end of the day, the vast majority of players end up playing for clubs they want to play for.”
Marsh denied that the integrity of a contract was under threat by the more fluid player movement market created by the introduction of free agency at the beginning of 2012.
“There’s been a few players that have broken contracts but clubs have also broken contracts. But the starting point is that a contract can’t just be broken, it has to be a mutual agreement between the player and the club,” Marsh added.
“We believe in the sanctity of the contract but if a club and a player come to a mutual agreement and agree to a move or a trade then we’re okay with that.”
While some believe the romance of being a ‘one-club player’ has been tarnished because of free agency, Marsh said the system has become a fairer one for the players and ultimately clubs still held the balance of power. Tom Rockliff is likely to be the 60th player to use free agency to move clubs, with approximately half of those classified as “delisted” free agents.
“That’s how we’d love to see the industry work is players be one-club players but it’s not that simple. There’s a number of different factors of why players want to move clubs,” he said.
“The majority of players do stay though. We do get a bit hysterical about the odd player who may want to move back home or to another club for whatever reason. But if clubs look after their players well then, by and large, they stay with the club they’re at.
“The balance is shifting and I think it’s a better balance for the players than it has ever been and we’ll continue to make that shift a bit more in favour of the players.”