Wednesday 26 October 2016

Delaney should have told Blatter where to shove his hush money

The FAI chief may believe he struck a good deal for Irish football, but he’s in a minority

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

PAY-OFF: John Delaney
PAY-OFF: John Delaney
PAY-OFF: Sepp Blatter
Thierry Henry’s handball that caused the controversy

If only Martin Hansson had been paying closer attention on November 18, 2009 in Paris, an awful lot of trouble could have been avoided.

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Instead, the 38-year-old firefighter from the Swedish village of Holmsjo didn’t manage to see Thierry Henry controlling the ball with his hand before knocking it into the path of William Gallas who scored the goal which ensured that the Republic of Ireland would not quality for the 2010 World Cup finals.

The goal sparked off the biggest national sporting furore since Roy Keane’s departure from Saipan seven years earlier.

Several hundred fans marched on the French embassy and there was general agreement that we had been robbed of a place in the finals by Gallic perfidy.

People seemed to conveniently forget that the aggregate score had been 1-1 when Gallas struck and the match would probably have gone to a penalty shoot-out had the goal been disallowed.

Meanwhile, FIFA president Sepp Blatter let it slip that FAI president John Delaney had asked that Ireland be allowed into the finals as a 33rd team.

Blatter seemed somewhat tickled by this suggestion — not surprisingly, given that the competition was divided into eight groups of four and that there seemed to be no logical way to fit in this extra team.

However, this suggestion, and Blatter’s revelation that Delaney had come up with it, are at the centre of the current controversy over money which FIFA handed over to the FAI, apparently to stop them taking legal action against the organisation.

On Friday, FAI chief executive John Delaney said that the €5m ‘loan’ which they secretly received from FIFA in January 2010 was paid because: “Sepp Blatter made a joke of the association’s request to be the 33rd team at the World Cup.

This was in direct breach of agreed confidentiality and subsequently brought reputational damage to the FAI,” and also because the FAI thought they had a case concerning the seeding system for the play-offs.

But on Thursday he had said that the payoff was related to the Henry handball. And the documents released so far by the FAI refer to the handball incident, not to Blatter’s joke.

The ‘loan’ was eventually reduced to €4m and entirely written off when Ireland didn’t qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

The money was apparently paid by the FAI to the management company of the Aviva Stadium.

When the payment came to light last week, Delaney seemed to think he’d done a very good bit of business for the FAI, telling Ray D’Arcy that he’d basically told Blatter where to get off and ended up with “a very good, very legitimate deal for the FAI.”

However, this seems to be a minority opinion at the moment both at home and abroad.

Keith Andrews, who played on that fateful night in Paris, has described the FIFA payment as “hush money,” and said: “The fans, the country as a whole, we have been able to hold our heads up high.

That was the one comfort we all had from that night in Paris and now I think that has been taken away from us.

“I find it all very, very sad. There has been a lot going on with UEFA and FIFA and now, unfortunately, we are going to be tarred with the same brush.”

And Liam Brady, who was assistant manager to Giovanni Trapattoni on the night, has described the decision to accept the payment as “mind-boggling” and says neither the management or the players were ever informed about it.

International reaction has also been harsh. Former FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce said he was “astounded. I have never heard anything as ridiculous in my life.”

Raymond Domenech, who managed the French team in the play-off, has described the payoff as “disgraceful and unacceptable”, while president of the German Football Federation Wolfgang Niersbach described it as “a joke.”

Domenech expressed his disbelief that “they might have sacrificed the possibility of a solution to go and play a World Cup for €5m.

I hope now that the Irish players, when they learn this, that they demand some of the money because it was their qualification which was at stake.

On a sporting level, it’s disgraceful, unacceptable that you might make that sacrifice for money.”

It is a fair bet that many of the players who distinguished themselves that night in Paris will be feeling very sore at the moment — and wondering why they, at least, might not have been consulted before the FAI took the decision to take Blatter’s money.

The irony is that in the aftermath of the multiple arrests at FIFA headquarters, Delaney had been to the fore in insisting that Blatter quit as leader of the organisation and criticising the Swiss national for the culture of corruption which apparently existed.

However, the fact that the FAI received a pay-off from Blatter, as, Delaney admits, “an agreement not to pursue a legal case,” and then kept silent about it now leaves them open to charges of hypocrisy in relation to the matter.

No one is suggesting that the payment was corrupt but it certainly seems ethically dubious. Among other things, it actually gave the FAI a financial inducement not to qualify for the 2014 World Cup finals.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that he feels Delaney’s position is still tenable and you could argue that the Waterford man did achieve something of a stroke by getting the money when, as sports law experts have said this week, Ireland didn’t have much of a leg to stand on.

However, the deal does smack of the kind of cute hoorism which is becoming less and less acceptable in the public eye.

Eamon Dunphy’s comment that the pay-off was “like something out of The Sopranos” is not a bad summation of how it looks at the moment. This isn’t the first time the FAI’s chief executive has been involved in public controversy.

There were calls for his resignation when he was seen singing a republican song in a bar, but he has considerable support within the organisation.

However, Roy Keane’s comment last week when asked if Delaney had been a distraction to the team — “Isn’t he always?” — is a pretty neat summation of the CEO’s knack for finding himself in trouble.

The FAI insisted yesterday that they had “acted at all times in the best interests of Irish football,” but perhaps it’s more correct to say that they acted in what they thought the best interests of Irish football might be.

Whether supporters and players agree with this is questionable. An Irish Independent readers poll saw just 28pc of respondents believe that the payment should have been accepted.

Delaney has also given a couple of hostages to fortune with his comments at the time.

The day after the game, he said: “It’s not about money. This is about sporting integrity.” And his complaint about Blatter “on stage having a snigger and having a laugh at us,” rings pretty hollow now as pointed out by international striker Cillian Sheridan, who reproduced that quote on Twitter, but adding: “I think a LOT more are doing that now.”

The funny thing is that this story actually broke over a year ago but was pretty much ignored, suggesting that the Irish media didn’t find it all that remarkable until the goings on at FIFA showed the need for football to adopt zero tolerance towards anything which even has the potential to appear underhand.

That’s why Delaney’s initial insistence that the payment should remain secret sounded such a bum note at the same time as he was putting the boot into Blatter.

Last week, as Blatter resigned, the FAI’s head man rejoiced. “The culture at FIFA was one of corruption, one of bribery.

It had nothing to do with the beautiful game and as I described it last week, was more out of a mafia movie than football... we have this great opportunity to get world football on the front pages for the right reasons.”

Well, this weekend, Irish football is on the front pages for the wrong reason. And perhaps the €5m question John Delaney should ask himself is why FIFA wanted to keep the pay-out secret?

Wasn’t it perhaps because it was the latest in a long line of shabby acts perpetrated by the association? At the very least he should surely have refused to take the money on behalf of the FAI if he wasn’t allowed to tell the team and supporters about it.

And the best thing of all would have been to tell Blatter to take his hush money and shove it. He didn’t and now, like Glenn Close rising out of the bath in Fatal Attraction, this misjudgment has come back to haunt not just John Delaney but Irish football in general.

What Thierry Henry did was lousy — but what happened afterwards wasn’t much better.

Sunday Independent

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