Mandy Johnston: Yes, the FAI bagged us €5m from FIFA, but at a cost to our dignity
Published 15/06/2015 | 02:30
'Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself' - Othello.
Football has its own family; the most important people in that family are the fans and the players. Everyone else is an outsider. If you get that, you get football.
For true believers, those involved in the administration of the beautiful game are just an inconsequential but necessary evil. There is, however, the tiny matter of our reputation on the world stage. How we abide by the rules and how we represent ourselves abroad is something fans care about.
The administration of the game and the politics and finance surrounding the FAI has again dominated front and back pages. Ponder for a second the emotional state of the beleaguered Irish soccer fan in recent weeks, following the latest instalment of the Thierry Henry handball debacle.
Once running around Europe with gay abandon, enveloped in a tricolour with a train ticket to some far-flung destination, the Green Army are now a very different tribe, grounded and grazing in a field of despair.
Ever since that night in Stade de France, off the field of play, our international reputation in world soccer has been steadily building into a giant pyramid of embarrassment.
It reached its apex with a new focus of attention on a €5m pay-off from Sepp Blatter to the FAI following some expletive-laden encounter with John Delaney and two FAI apparatchiks.
If we are to believe Delaney's version of the Pyrrhic victory, it seems that invective and not corporate persuasion is the order of the day when it comes to negotiations with football's world governing body FIFA.
True believers across all sporting disciplines accept one basic principle and it is this: games are won and lost on the field of play. That is it. There is something distinctly noble in that singular morality that transcends social class and commercial considerations. Some cosmic law exists which dictates that sometimes those inexplicable and frustrating events go with you, and sometime they are against you.
November 18, 2009, was not to be our night. As we gathered outside the Stade de France après match, reality dawned and despair descended. Had anyone attempted to burst into a chorus of 'Olé Olé', I strongly suspect there may have been a murder in Paris that evening, such was the level of despondency. Yes we were robbed and badly wounded but you win some, you lose some. The national debate to excoriate the decision on Joe Duffy's show was inevitable and would have been another cathartic exercise for our souls, but that is where is should have ended.
Instead, the powers that be in the FAI chose to cry foul and our downward spiral into humiliation on the world stage commenced.
The moment that Mr Delaney began his doe-eyed plea to FIFA, our heads began a slow descent towards our hands.
No, John, please no. Mr Blatter's revelation that the FAI requested that Ireland be submitted as the 33rd team in the World Cup displayed not only a blatant disregard for the fundamental rules of an international competition, but also suggested a national misunderstanding for basic arithmetic. Fabulous! To apologise for revealing and scoffing at our request, we bagged €5m for the Aviva stadium, but lost another piece of our dying dignity.
Unfazed by the downward spiral of our reputation at home and abroad, Mr Delaney continued with aplomb to rage against the machine and project the deal as a great victory. Now, sadly, we are caught up in the slipstream of the FIFA corruption debacle and our ignominy seems virtually complete. But it's not over.
There have been many figures bandied about in recent weeks that leave many of us shaking our heads in disbelief at how the beautiful game has come to such a state. The $100m million corruption figures in FIFA, the €5m that the FAI secured from Blatter, the huge salaries the players now command, and big salaries in the FAI - the legacy of the FAI's stewardship of the game is enduring and has real consequences.
Failure to invest in adequate coaching or promotion to young children, schools and the League of Ireland has left us in a situation where we do not nurture players like we did in the past.
Prolific players like Liam Brady, Paul McGrath and Roy Keane are now but a distant memory.
There is one more truly shocking statistic that rarely manifests itself as part of the mainstream debate, and it is an indication and reflection of where our domestic game sits currently.
It relates to the lack of talented promising Irish players who are currently coming through the English Premiership with prospects for success and promotion - informed observers cite that figure as zero.
The future of Irish soccer is not very bright. They think it's all over - it is now?