Tuesday 27 September 2016

Dion Fanning: 'John Delaney was either the smartest guy in the room, or the king of the eejits. Or both'

Dion Fanning

Published 07/06/2015 | 11:12

That Was The Week cartoon
That Was The Week cartoon

Some would have been surprised last week when reading the profiles of the man whose dogged pursuit had led to Sepp Blatter's downfall, to discover that the subject of these articles was Andrew Jennings and not John Delaney.

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This was not a time for grandstanding, many could share the credit in bringing this generational change to FIFA. John Delaney couldn't have done what Andrew Jennings did and Andrew Jennings couldn't have done John Delaney's job.

By the end of the week, Delaney would be gracing the world stage again, pictured in the international media alongside other characters in this improbable tale like Chuck Blazer, Jack Warner and Blatter himself. These men had done terrible things to reach this position of infamy but Delaney hadn't, he was different. Delaney had been propelled there by the unstoppable momentum of his own eejitry.

Delaney had a decent run at it. He was the agent of change for nearly ten days, ruling himself out of succeeding Blatter as president at its highest point, before he got a bit giddy in the studio with Ray D'Arcy and threw it all away. Who could blame him? One minute he was telling D'Arcy about the time he stood up to Sepp and walked away with a cheque for five big ones, the next he had to invite Tony O'Donoghue round to study the pertinent documents.

This is a story of unintended consequences. When The Sun found a source last year who was aware of this confidential business (and how Delaney must wish he could have trusted everyone with this information) they did not know that their exclusive would eventually capture the imagination of a world tired of FIFA's dirty rotten scoundrels.

It was good news back then, something Delaney tried to emphasise again on Friday night when he talked about how it was a fine deal for the FAI and for Irish football which somehow distinguished them from other federations which might have received money from FIFA on spurious grounds.

What John Delaney did left us lost in awe and admiration while we are also lost in whatever the opposite of awe and admiration is.

The legal case, of course, would be explained in detail even though it was obvious there wasn't one. Delaney first explained to Ray D'Arcy how he had outwitted Sepp and it was clear that John Delaney was either the smartest guy in the room or the king of the eejits. Or both.

He had taken his legal action, in part, because Sepp Blatter was having "a snigger at us, having a laugh at us", and many felt a pang of anxiety because if sniggering at the FAI resulted in compensation for the Association, their financial problems would have been solved a long, long time ago.

"Fair play to ye," he said to D'Arcy when the €5m was mentioned, rolling out this phrase as a successor to 'going forward', suggesting, as it does, the corporate man at ease in any company.

D'Arcy had mentioned €5m. Delaney wasn't in a position to confirm it but happy to bask in what he assumed was the reflected glory of this masterful stroke. He was campaigning on a platform of cute hoorism at home while pushing himself forward as Eliot Ness to an international audience.

Delaney couldn't reveal the figure, bound as he was at that stage by a confidentiality clause, something which somebody should attempt to enforce in other areas of his life. In this instance, the confidentiality clause was the death rattle for the corporate John Delaney. The master of the universe who speaks of confidentiality clauses and corporate governance was being ushered out the door, replaced by a new creation, a sort of hubristic Rashers Tierney.

Unfortunately Delaney could also sound like one of those bores who believes that every problem in life can be remedied in the Small Claims Court. Or even the Big Claims Court.

They were hearing him outside Ireland now, actually listening to his words, not just absent-mindedly nodding at the noises he had been making on the rolling news channels before that, noises that sounded like 'change', 'culture', 'ego' and, our old friend, 'transparency'. They could hear him now and they weren't hearing what we'd been hearing.

He had been talking about Sepp Blatter and now he was talking about Sepp Blatter and John Delaney too, the no-nonsense straight-talker who hustled €5m out of FIFA and saw nothing wrong with it because the FAI had strong legal advice and they got a good deal.

To others, it didn't sound so good. There was this talk of an incentive not to qualify for the 2014 World Cup as the FAI would have to repay the loan if Ireland reached Brazil. Historically, the country has found so many ways of not qualifying for tournaments, it seemed wrong that not qualifying was now being incentivised as well. Delaney was not quite sure how he had become part of the problem so soon after he had been the solution along with his good friend Michel Platini.

By Friday, the FAI was making a full disclosure and Delaney was sitting at a table with the relevant documents in front of him, looking like Homer Simpson when he puts on his half-moon spectacles to deal with serious matters.

There was fine legal language all over the place and we are a people often in awe of a good legal document. The legalese was supposed to persuade us that this was an impressive piece of business, a watertight case even if it sounded more like Myles na gCopaleen and the man arrested "in illegal possession of an armchair".

Sepp did a 'skit', Delaney told O'Donoghue and this had caused 'reputational damage' to the FAI, although if reputational damage to the FAI is actionable, they could find a nice sideline in suing themselves.

The files were all attached, the party of the first part and the party of the second part who handled the ball in Paris during 'the Match'.

Delaney was on top of the case, being open and transparent. He was explaining on RTé that the handball was not really the issue, the seeding for the play-offs gave them strong legal grounds. It didn't really matter that there was no mention of this in the documents which talked a lot about handball and which were supposed to explain everything. This was a story of vaulting ambition, not of consistency.

There was a paper trail leading somewhere which explained why the FAI got €5m for nothing and where it went. Delaney explained it all to us slowly. He loved his country, he loved Irish football and he would never do wrong by them.

Fair play to him.

dfanning@independent.ie

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