Give David Teague a break: Carlton was never, ever going to play finals this year

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AFL CLUBS GENERALLY move into "crisis mode" when their team's performances are miles short of where they should be, or are so bad they begin taking a heavy toll on potential revenue.

Carlton's current situation isn't either of those things. The Blues are debt-free for the first time since 1996 and have set a club membership record for a fourth year running. And the reality of performance versus expectation? Well, that might be the problem.

Carlton's 4-8 win-loss ledger certainly isn't pretty. But exactly how well should the Blues be travelling in 2021?

Clearly, given the announcement this week of an independent review into the football department and the immediate departure of assistant coach John Barker, there's enough disquiet internally and rumblings from Carlton's ever-present "influential supporters" to suggest the Blues themselves believe they are drastically under-delivering on the field.

But it's certainly not a belief some of us share. I suspect a bigger issue may have been some rose-coloured glasses too many people had donned when it came to the Blues' prospects this year.

I don't think Carlton was necessarily overly-ambitious in setting its sights on playing finals in 2021, but that also recognises that there's a lot of teams in the same boat, several of whom I thought had better chances of being part of September. In the end, when it came to a pre-season predicted ladder, I couldn't place them any higher than 14th, exactly where they now sit.

This isn't by way of "told you so", but I did find it surprising how many pundits were tipping big things for the Blues this season.

What was the bullishness based upon? Carlton had finished last year 11th with seven wins, 10 points (or two-and-a-half wins) outside the top eight. Only two of those seven victories came against teams in the top eight.

They finished mid-table or worse in virtually every key statistical category, and outright last in the differentials for disposal efficiency, still a major issue with costly turnovers and skill continuing to haunt them.

The Blues didn't have a representative in the top 20 of the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year award.

And 2021 recruits? Well, Adam Saad and Zac Williams were handy pick-ups, and maybe Lachie Fogarty can forge a decent career in navy blue, but was that going to be the difference between Carlton as an also-ran and a serious finalist? How, exactly?

Saad is a good player who offers plenty of run and rebound from half-back, but was that what the Blues needed most? Williams, meanwhile, is another running half-back whom Carlton had designs upon playing a central midfield role. That was a calculated gamble which to this stage hasn't worked. And is it one the Blues could afford to take?

Who are the genuine class acts on the Carlton list? To my mind, there's four - Sam Walsh, Patrick Cripps, Harry McKay and perhaps Jacob Weitering. That should be five, but after virtually a two-year absence from the game, Charlie Curnow is now very much a "maybe".

It's a wafer-thin midfield beyond Walsh and Cripps, with Walsh the only Blue currently among the top 25 disposal winners in the competition, and only three of Carlton's top half-dozen ball winners even bona fide mids. The lack of progress made by intended future midfield mainstays and top 10 draft picks Paddy Dow and Lochie O'Brien is rightly testing patience.

In attack, even McKay's outstanding form hasn't been enough to lift Carlton any higher for points scored than a ranking of eighth (last year ninth), and Weitering still doesn't get enough help down back, the Blues currently 14th for fewest points conceded (last year 13th).

None of that adds up to the profile of a team which should indisputably be performing a lot better than it is. Indeed, there's an argument coach David Teague has done pretty well with what he has at his disposal, because the one thing the Blues are doing well is at least staying in games.

None of Carlton's eight defeats in 2021 have been by any more than 28 points. In fact, in 18 losses last year and this, the Blues' biggest losing margin has been just 31 points. That's competitive. The downside is it might also suggest Carlton simply doesn't have the cattle to do much better.

So why is the pressure mounting on Teague? Sure, there's quibbles about the faith placed in senior hands, the likes of Marc Murphy and Sam Docherty patently struggling and some youngsters overlooked. Should Liam Stocker be given some midfield time? Maybe he will now. There's some gripes about the odd match-up or failure to make positional switches.

But are any of those things, handled differently, likely to have seen Carlton now sitting inside the eight? Doubtful, in my view.

Teague has coached just 40 games with a middle-of-the-road team. Maybe he's not Norm Smith, but I don't buy that a more qualified, senior or even indisputably better coach would be getting that much more out of his charges.

The bottom line for me is the Blues simply still don't have enough talent. They can go out and get it over a succession of draft and trade periods, play it, and progressively divest themselves of the still-uncomfortably large band of players who fall into the "honest toiler" category, not good enough to be part of a team with aspirations to the top of the ladder.

That will take time. And it's a process which can't be expedited simply because a club and its fan base are frustrated by how much time has already been taken. That's what Carlton's latest review of its operations needs to focus on as much as where change might be made.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY