FAI 'No' to Barca
THE FAI have blocked Limerick FC from hosting a high-profile friendly with Barcelona which guaranteed the visit of Lionel Messi and a host of world-class stars to Thomond Park.
After protracted discussions through a UK-based agent, the Shannonside club reached an agreement with the Spanish giants for a Saturday, July 31, meeting at the home of Munster rugby, but the FAI are refusing to sanction the fixture because of an unspecified "third-party commercial agreement which prevents us from granting the game on that date".
Angry Limerick chairman Pat O'Sullivan has accused the association of denying the Mid-West economy a €10m windfall.
The FAI have to sanction any fixture which takes place in their jurisdiction, and it's understood that Limerick were initially informed by Abbotstown that the reason for the refusal was a clash with League of Ireland fixtures that weekend.
However, an FAI spokesperson last night confirmed that it wasn't the main factor, without clarifying the nature of the "third-party agreement".
FAI CEO John Delaney faces a grilling on the topic today, with the saga overshadowing the official opening of the new Aviva Stadium. It has also emerged that the FAI have been in ongoing negotiations with Barcelona about a friendly game since April, although they deny it is a factor in the Limerick verdict.
Barca informed Limerick that July 31 is the only suitable date for a match to fit in with their pre-season schedule. That happens to be the same day the first action takes place at the Aviva Stadium, with a combined provinces rugby match between Connacht/ Munster and Ulster/Leinster.
The following Wednesday, Manchester United are set to visit the venue for the first soccer game there, with Messi and Argentina due a week later, August 11, for the maiden international fixture at the renovated Lansdowne Road.
O'Sullivan, who has been working with Thomond Park and local tourism bodies on the project, is fuming at the setback and still hopes there can be a resolution.
Naturally, it would also be a huge money spinner for the struggling First Division club.
Limerick say they have hammered out a contract with Barca which includes a promise that Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Xavi, Bojan and any marquee summer signings will participate in the fixture.
"This is a massive setback for Limerick FC, Limerick City and the Mid-West region," said O'Sullivan. "We have worked tirelessly to bring a team of the stature of FC Barcelona to the region.
"The potential benefit to the local economy of up to €10m and to the profile of soccer in the region is enormous."
An FAI statement last night included the clause that the association "told Limerick FC that it was obliged to retain ownership of the July 31 date because of Airtricity League fixtures".
The only league games pencilled in for that date are the Premier Division clash of Sligo and Dundalk, and the First Division matches involving Salthill Devon/Cork and Athlone/ Waterford. All three are evening kick-offs.
Certainly, the retention of that excuse, albeit subordinate to the "third party agreement" leaves the association open for severe criticism.
The glamour Manchester United arrival at the Aviva Stadium to take on a League of Ireland XI has caused consternation in domestic league circles, with the midweek timing opening up the very real possibility of a clash with a crucial Champions League game for Bohemians.
If they come through the second qualifying round, for which they will be seeded, the Dublin club would be involved in the second leg of a potentially seismic third round qualifier on either August 3 or August 4.