JETS advisory board chairman Ray Baartz said yesterday that fans should blame him, not coach Branko Culina, if injury cruelled marquee signing Jason Culina’s hopes of playing for Newcastle.
Jason joined the Jets in February on a three-year deal rumoured to be worth $2.65million, despite having recently had surgery on a long-term knee injury.
Seven months after surgery, Jason, 31, is still struggling to prove his fitness.
The club remains hopeful a course of blood injections will ensure he misses only four to six weeks of the A-League season, which kicks off in three weeks.
But there are fears Culina may have to retire, leaving some fans querying whether the Jets’ due diligence was sufficient.
Baartz said in February, when Jason was unveiled as a Jets player, that he had to convince Branko to sign his own son.
‘‘I said to Branko, ‘You know the player we need here; the player we are missing is Jason,’’’ Baartz said.
Yesterday he reiterated those sentiments and said Branko should not be made a scapegoat.
‘‘There have been some accusations around that Branko signed him and we bought a lemon and that sort of stuff about the father-son situation,’’ Baartz said.
‘‘It wasn’t Branko’s idea. The whole instigation of signing Jason came from the football advisory board and me in particular.
‘‘I made the recommendation that he was the player we needed.
‘‘We had problems scoring goals last year and we felt that we lacked a creative, attacking midfield player.
‘‘In my opinion in particular, Jason is the best player in the league and will give us that X-factor.
‘‘At the time, we knew he had a knee injury and we did our research on that ... at that stage there was no concern it would be a long-term injury.’’
Just weeks before the Jets signed Jason, his former coach at Gold Coast United, Miron Bleiberg, expressed concern when the midfield playmaker broke down while on Socceroos duty.
“It’s not a matter of a serious injury; it’s more wear and tear,” Bleiberg said at the time.
“It’s something that he’ll probably suffer with until the end of his career.
“There’s many players in the same category. It’s nothing new in football, these young players with the body of 30-year-olds and the knees of 50-year-olds.”
Baartz said Jets consultant Paul Travis, who no longer works for the club, had liaised with medical experts and assured them Jason would make a full recovery.
He said the Jets saw no reason not to sign Jason.
‘‘We signed a 30-year-old player who was the best player in the league, a current Socceroo and the medical advice we got was he’d had a minor cartilage operation with no concerns,’’ Baartz said.
‘‘We did our homework and we did our research.
‘‘We still don’t have any concern with him. Hopefully he’ll overcome it in the not too distant future.’’
Baartz, a former Socceroos vice-captain and a Novocastrian legend, said Newcastle would field a competitive line-up this season, regardless of how many games Jason missed.
He said ‘‘not at this stage’’ when asked whether the Jets were looking for a replacement.
‘‘We’re going down the track of these blood-plasma injections and hopefully that works but if it doesn’t, we’ve still got complete confidence in the players we’ve got,’’ Baartz said.
‘‘Just keep in mind they’ve played nine trial games and have won eight of them, so the whole squad is looking very competent at this stage.’’
The Jets face a more testing hit-out on Saturday when they tackle Sydney FC at Cessnock.
Veteran midfielder Kasey Wehrman, the likely captaincy candidate in Jason’s absence, is expected to make his return from ankle surgery.