Sad end to ‘messy’ Gus overthrow
PHIL Gould is unlikely to see out the full season at Penrith, according to some rugby league insiders.
The high-profile general manager of football at the foot of the mountains has reportedly been marginalised inside the club he built with his own hands after a power struggle with Panthers chairman Dave O'Neill.
It was confirmed this week by both Gould and O'Neill that Gould was overruled as the club looked to replace sacked coach Anthony Griffin last year.
Gould held contract talks with Rabbitohs mentor Wayne Bennett, but had to backflip and tell the master coach the club was going in a different direction after chairman O'Neill revealed he'd also had a conversation with former Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary.
With superstar halfback Nathan Clearly holding all the cards in contract negotiations with the club, O'Neill overruled Gould and the club famously signed both Ivan and Nathan to long-term deals, reportedly worth a combined $10 million.
In a double blow for Gould - widely considered one of the sharpest minds in the game - he was also forced to swallow a bitter promise not to stick his beak into the day-to-day running of the football club when Ivan made his return at the start of pre-season training last year.
According to reports, Cleary's contract included a strict proviso that Gould would not interfere with his football department - something Cleary demanded after famously being sacked by Gould three years ago.
The situation shows Gould has now lost his influence at the club both in the football department and the front office.
With Penrith struggling to kick into gear in 2019, reports emerged earlier this week that Cleary and Gould are still yet to fix their relationship, which broke when Ivan was shown the door and replaced by Anthony Griffin.
Fox League NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent said earlier this week there was "real potential for dramas at Penrith now" because of the Cleary-Gould power struggle.
"The general manager of football is basically disconnected from the club in what is now an unhappy marriage," he said.
"Phil Gould has no interaction with the football club, players or the coach anymore."
The concerning forecasts kept coming for Penrith on Wednesday with Rothfield telling Macquarie Sports Radio Gould is essentially earning $1 million per season to do nothing, now that Cleary and O'Neill have ousted him.
He said he expects Gould to resign before the end of the 2019 campaign, despite the fact no other NRL club would be able to meet his rich salary demands covered by Penrith.
"Look, in the fair dinkum department, I think he'll get bored and I'd be surprised if he did see out the year," Daily Telegraph journalist Phil Rothfield said.
"I'll tell you where it gets messy, it's the cost of having an employee like Gus out there. You know, he's almost on seven figures? They say he's almost on a million dollars (per year). So why do you have a guy, who is on that much money as your general manager of football, if you've stripped him of his power?
"Ivan Cleary is on record saying Gus' job is done at Penrith. He's built the academy. He's built the junior pathways.
"So I don't know what he actually does there because Ivan did have in his deal… and Ivan had been sacked by him three years earlier, so he came back under a strict proviso that Gus would not interfere with the day to day running of the football side. So I don't know what he's doing for his million dollars. It's a lot of money in rugby league.
"It's messy. It really is."
It comes as The Daily Telegraph's Dean Ritchie said on Wednesday Ivan Cleary now sits above Gus in the political pecking order at Penrith.
"I'm starting to think there is a political battle out there and Gus has been left behind," Ritchie said.
"Dave O'Neill is now clearly running the show out there. He's picked the coach. He's ignored Gus' man and gone to Ivan. Ivan has been told that Gus cannot interfere with football. That's why he took the job (despite the fact) he's already been sacked by Gus. At this stage, Gus isn't interfering with the politics or the football.
"That's why there's a lot of rumblings out there that Gus is, for want of a better word, bored. He doesn't have the clout he once had. He's a hands on man. Gus loves the cut and thrust of rugby league.
"He loves being in there, pushing and prodding. He plays the game better than anyone. So if he doesn't have that there, will he stay? Or will he say time to move on? It's a real power battle out there."
He said it would likely take a disastrous start to the season for the Panthers and for a new board to be swept into power through a board of directors election for Gus to steal back the power he's lost.
"It can get quite messy out there," Ritchie said.
"If he's got one coach in mind and the chairman has his coach in mind and Dave O'Neill gets his man, who holds the power? Quite clearly in my eyes, Gus' power has been eroded out there."