Can Michael Voss Unlock Carlton's Potential?

Things are going to change at Carlton.

Only time will tell whether it was the right decision to announce Michael Voss as the club’s new coach but after a year (or 15) of turbulence at Princes Park, the tactics are most certainly about to change.

If you’re taking over any club in the AFL there are few more fascinating options, and which contain as much untapped potential, as the Blues.

After spending a heap of money on Zac Williams and Adam Saad, and having signed Jack Martin the year prior, a 13th placed finish with a percentage of 88.5 was hardly an acceptable end result in 2021.

Indeed, there was an argument to help David Teague more by surrounding him with strong defensive coaches but a notoriously impatient board decided that wasn’t the way forward.

Subsequently, the announcement of Voss and spending over $1.2 million a year combined on Adam Cerra and George Hewett has set this team up to be a top eight contender.

Of course, it’s easy to simply say that things are about to change. Instead, let's explore the specifics.

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Feeling Blue

The only truly definitive traits Carlton has had over the past couple of years have been defined by a diabolically bad one-on-one defensive tactic and that they’re the poster boys for what happens when you rely on individual stars, rather than creating a strong team.

In 2021, the Blues averaged 16 less disposals, 8 less tackles, 4 less clearances, 4 less inside 50s, 215 less metres gained and 2 less tackles inside 50 per game than their opponents.

Carlton was ranked dead last in the AFL for disposals, second-last for contested possessions, third-last for tackles, clearances and disposal efficiency, 12th for intercepts and were one of the most inaccurate teams in front of goal

In fact, the only statistical strengths came in the form of ranking 2nd for running bounces, 6th for contested marks and having the Coleman Medalist, two elite one-on-one defenders and a 21-year-old who finished fourth in the Brownlow Medal.

Truth be told, things have been dire for the Blues for some time and for as much criticism as they receive, there hasn’t been enough focus on just how bad they line up in some statistical areas.

Take out any of Sam Walsh, Harry McKay, Jacob Weitering or Liam Jones, and Carlton were a bottom four team.

Now, it’s up to Michael Voss to help Carlton save face and overcome the tag of a club that hands out money for no improvement.

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Michael Voss and Blue Sky

The 46-year-old had a strange time coaching the club he made a name for himself at as a player, finishing with 109 games in charge for 43 wins in Brisbane along with 65 losses and a draw.

Under Voss, the Lions were a relatively low-possession team who were able to get the ball inside 50 at an efficient rate early in his tenure.

The triple-premiership player wasn’t blessed with quick players who could take the game on, so Brisbane focused on simply getting the ball forward.

In a classic throwback to yesteryear, the be-all-and-end-all was to get the ball into the two key forwards in 2009, where Jonathan Brown and Daniel Bradshaw combined for 143 goals.

Over the next four seasons, as the Lions fell further down the ladder, it was a point of emphasis for Voss to find greater assistance in attack upon Bradshaw’s departure, trialing Brendan Fevola, Mitch Clark and Daniel Merrett in attack with a rotation of mediocre small forwards and good midfielders hitting the scoreboard.

Voss showed an ability to pivot based on the personnel available to him through the middle – the Lions transformed from a largely uncontested team to trying to maximise its contested possession advantage when Tom Rockliff and Jack Redden became regulars to help Simon Black.

What was extremely limiting and ultimately contributed to his departure from Brisbane was the lack of flexibility within the team.

With a revolving door for young players, Voss was handcuffed in his ability to change things up, although part of it was self-inflicted with his lack of experience and exploration.

One thing that remained consistent across Voss’ time at the Lions though, was offensive efficiency, scoring at a rate that was at least at the league average once inside 50, if not higher.

During his eight-year stay at Port Adelaide, he was influential in helping unlock midfield potential in key players, turning the club into an incredibly effective side in the middle.

Over this period, the Power were the best clearance and tackling team in the competition bar none. Eight seasons of dominance in this area, even with similar pace and versatility restrictions, is a big tick for Voss.

While Port Adelaide were never close to the ultimate success, moderate success in the home-and-away campaign and a role as a key part of the coaching staff has boosted his resume immensely.

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So, how are things about to change at Carlton?

Look at Brisbane and Port Adelaide under Voss and you know that he is an excellent tactician around stoppages and maximising the midfield mix.

The depth is better here than he has had previously. Patrick Cripps and George Hewett, at full fitness, are excellent players to have in the clinches to help protect the superstar talent in Sam Walsh, and the star recruit looking to enter the upper echelon, Adam Cerra.

Voss loves a ruckman with elite follow-up ability, which is why we can expect to see Marc Pittonet retain his spot as the main man in the middle, with De Koning playing forward. 

We’ll still see young players rotate through off the forward and back flanks, similarly to how Robbie Gray became an All-Australian, with strong development to help maligned top picks improve.

Zac Williams is the big name in all of this, having averaged just 18.9 disposals a game and settling across half-back in the end.

Much to the chagrin of his critics, this will be the best spot again for 27-year-old and he is perhaps the player that will give the best indication of Voss’ coaching chops at Carlton.

As has been stated, the one thing that has eluded the Brownlow Medalist has been versatility within specific positions and a lack of pace.

We can expect to see a more team-focused defensive setup at Carlton that won’t expose Weitering and Jones to as many one-on-ones, with the likes of Lewis Young and Caleb Marchbank as new recruits to friendly roles.

Voss loves to be efficient when the ball gets inside 50 and the best way to do it is to carve teams up on the counter-attack, given the forward line easier shots for goal.

His teams have notoriously been ranked towards the bottom of the league in running bounces, but with Saad and Williams involved, Carlton now has a layered defence that can use good kicking from deep, and attacking run through the centre.

We know Voss was infatuated with the old-school key forward duo setup and with Charlie Curnow and Tom De Koning available to join Harry McKay, we can expect to see the 2022 version of the Blues ranked highly for marks inside 50.

Crucially though, Voss’ expectation of the mid/forward rotations likely aligns more heavily with what was seen it at Port Adelaide, whether it be Gray, Chad Wingard, Sam Gray or even Steven Motlop.

What the Blues lack in traditional, quality small forwards they make up for with good mid-sized types that can impact in multiple ways.

That, ultimately, is what will change most about Carlton and will define Voss’ success and indeed legacy, as the coach of this club.

Opposition fans love to dismiss the Blues, while the fans have been long-suffering themselves, but this Carlton squad is seen as a finals contender internally and they have enough talent and flexibility to fulfil these dreams.

For the first time in over a decade’s worth of coaching, Voss has full control of a team with depth in every area that can help him showcase his skills and versatility as a coach.

There are no excuses now, nor would the Blues want their new coach to find one.

Michael Voss is going to make changes at Carlton based on his experiences and the talent at his disposal.

At this stage fans can only hope that they’re for the better.

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Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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