Newcastle Jets sack coach Branko Culina

AXED: Branko Culina
AXED: Branko Culina

SACKED coach Branko Culina and his son Jason are headed for a legal showdown with Nathan Tinkler’s Hunter Sports Group after the Newcastle Jets were plunged into crisis yesterday on the eve of the A-League soccer season.

Just days before their first game against Melbourne Heart at Ausgrid Stadium on Saturday, Jets youth team mentor Craig Deans was appointed caretaker coach after Branko’s million-dollar contract was torn up in the first year of the four-year extension he signed last October.

For more photos of Branko Culina, from the Newcastle Herald archives, click on the image above.

In a stunning development that overshadowed the launch of the A-League season in Sydney, the Jets issued a statement to members and the media shortly before 2pm to announce Branko’s contract had been terminated ‘‘effective immediately’’, and they had applied to Football Federation Australia to have marquee signing Jason’s reported $2.65million three-year contract ‘‘set aside’’, or effectively annulled.

Jason has been sidelined indefinitely after two major operations on his left knee in the past eight months. He has not played since breaking down while playing for the Socceroos at the Asian Cup in January.

Branko would not comment when contacted by the Newcastle Herald but he has insisted throughout Jason’s injury ordeal that he was not responsible for recruiting his son to the club.

For more photos of Jason Culina, from the Newcastle Herald archives, click on the image above.

Sources close to Branko told the Herald that the controversial coach, who was sacked by Sydney FC nine games into the 2007-08 A-League due to that team’s poor start to the season, has sought legal advice while considering his next move.

Branko, who had guided the Jets to an 11-game unbeaten pre-season campaign, had no inkling he was about to be fired when he represented the club at the 2011-12 A-League launch at Sydney Football Stadium yesterday morning.

Immediately afterwards, Branko met with Tinkler in the billionaire mining, racing and sporting magnate’s Sydney CBD offices, where he was told his contract had been terminated.

The HSG provided no detail explaining why Branko had been sacked but the Herald was told Tinkler was ‘‘livid’’ when discussing the Culina issue with an associate at Randwick races last Saturday, saying ‘‘heads will roll’’.

In the statement issued by the HSG yesterday, Tinkler said: ‘‘Jason’s injury could mean the Jets are without their marquee player for up to three seasons – not a good result for the club, supporters, sponsors and players.’’

Through a spokesman, Tinkler and HSG chief executive Troy Palmer declined requests to be interviewed further by the Herald.

In club management’s only official comment, Jets chief executive Robbie Middleby said in the statement: ‘‘The decision to terminate the contracts (sic) was made after a long deliberation by the Newcastle Jets’ advisory board.

‘‘The club believes that it is highly unlikely that Jason will return to the A-League in the near future, following medical advice.’’

Jason could not be contacted for comment but spoke yesterday to Professional Footballers Australia chief executive Brendan Schwab, and has enlisted the support of the PFA.

‘‘It’s an extraordinary step that the club has announced that it’s taking,’’ Schwab said.

Ivan Petkovic, Branko’s assistant and right-hand man, has also parted company with the Jets.

Newly-promoted Jets captain Jobe Wheelhouse denied Culina’s departure would rock the playing group, saying they were still focused on the job at hand against the Heart.

‘‘It’s just one of those things, people come and go at football clubs and we’ve got a game in four days and that’s our priority at the moment,’’ he said.