Former Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse believes star forward Travis Cloke is a 50-50 chance to quit the AFL club at the end of this season.
But Malthouse says Magpies supporters should get off the back of the in-demand 25-year-old.
He says players don’t owe their clubs loyalty beyond the life of their current contracts.
Malthouse, who coached the Magpies for the past 12 years including their 2010 premiership, said he was convinced earlier this season that the forward would stay.
But with rich long-term offers tabled from clubs such as Fremantle, Collingwood’s recent decision to defer contract talks and the parties still at odds, his view had changed.
“There’s a bit more to this than what I first thought,” Malthouse said on Wednesday.
“Even reading today’s press where (the Cloke camp says) ‘We’re after five (years) and they’re after four’.
“That fifth year is a point where I just note that when other players are being signed up, indirectly Travis is getting a whack.
“I don’t know whether people within that Cloke family would like that.
“My bet is don’t bet, because it’s a 50-50, does he go or doesn’t he? I really can’t pick it.”
While Cloke’s form has tailed off this season, Malthouse said the contract uncertainty was not to blame.
But he said supporters criticising the star forward for not re-signing would be affecting him, along with opposition tactics.
“Travis Cloke’s being double-teamed,” Malthouse said.
“He’s still the highest contested marking player in the competition, he’s only about 10 goals off last year.
“He’s lost a bit of confidence because he’s attending to two players.
“I think what would more affect him is the crowd.
“Clearly they’ve turned against him.
“I think that’s sad because when you wear that jumper and you go out there and do your utmost best.
“… Travis is a victim at the moment of people who don’t understand what it’s like to get out there and perform every week.”
Speaking at a lunch for Cricket Victoria’s Lindsay Hassett Club on loyalty in sport, Malthouse said players’ loyalty should last only as long as their contracts.
He said clubs were quick to cut unwanted players, but preached loyalty when it suited them.
“They trade a player off and then get a kid in and spruik about loyalty to that kid as he walks in the front door and say ‘This is the jumper you’re going to wear and we want total loyalty.’
“(He’ll say) ‘Sorry how did I get here?’
“‘We traded so and so to that football club. We don’t count that.'”