Monday 5 December 2016

Euro failure will leave FAI facing tough decisions

John Fallon

Published 30/06/2015 | 02:30

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill

After paying out the highest amount of interest within a single year on their stadium debt, the Football Association of Ireland claims it has emerged from a challenging three-year period.

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In 2014 alone, according to the latest set of published accounts circulated to members yesterday, the association spent the same amount for interest and charges per week, €100,000, that the League of Ireland champions receive per year.

Given the virtue that was made out of extracting €5m from FIFA in the aftermath of the World Cup play-off in 2009, it is given context by the whopping €5.4m which swept out the Abbotstown door to service the mortgage on the rebuilt Aviva Stadium.

Whilst progress was made during the 12 months to escape their interest-only arrangement with new financiers, US firm Corporate Capital Trust (CCT), the €1m paid off the principle represents crumbs when the eye-watering remainder of €43.75m is outlined in an explanatory note accompanying the accounts.

When another €5m owing to UEFA is thrown into the mix, Irish football folk fatigued by the austerity of recent years must be wondering when they'll be given some respite.

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Up until last year, FAI chief executive John Delaney had batted away queries on their financial position by insisting the stadium debt would be cleared by 2020.

That position softened following the write-down deal, with the suggestion being floated that the €11.7m 'saved' from the switch to CCT would go some way towards pushing out the self-imposed deadline.

Even though the latest accounts ring-fence €26.5m of the debt as repayable after five years, the FAI were last night adamant 2020 could remain on course.

"As indicated last year, the association retains the ability to clear its debt in 2020 with the extension of the UEFA centralised TV rights agreement from 2018 to 2022, resale of stadium naming rights and resale of premium seats," a statement read.

"As already reported to members, this will be a choice for the FAI Board of Management to take depending on what it deems best for the development of the sport."

Considering how little impact the much-championed television deal has had on overall turnover, the continued struggle to fill the stadium for home fixtures and, most tellingly, the high proportion of income being swallowed by interest payments, it is difficult to visualise such a scenario unfolding.

The FAI have never been afraid of highlighting the importance of the senior team's results to their revenue streams and so the onus falls on Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane to redeem a Euro 2016 qualifying campaign that is threatening to hit the buffers sooner rather than later.

How the governing body could do with the €8m qualification bonus they received for reaching the 2012 showpiece.

Although they emphasise that reaching major tournaments isn't factored into financial projections, failure to reach France will trigger ramifications on and off the pitch.

Next month sees O'Neill trek to Russia to witness the draw for the next World Cup. Whether he's in charge for that campaign will depend on his next four qualifiers.

It would take a brave man to predict Ireland catching Germany and Poland for the automatic berths to the Euro finals in France from Group D on the run-in and the odds of Scotland being usurped for third place and the play-off are not much longer.

Watching the Euros from a distance is certain to diminish the pulling power of the Irish team during the year-long gap before the World Cup tilt commences.

The FAI pinpointed the existence of just one competitive home match in 2014 - the stroll over Gilbraltar - as detrimental to their tickets income so the absence of any fixtures of substance during the lull won't help either.

"In overall terms, the association is now emerging from a challenging three-year period, during which time we have continued to generate operating surpluses, invest money into the game and reduce our debts, thanks to strong financial management and generation of additional revenue sources," continued the FAI statement.

Still, the debt burden is the elephant in the room. Increasing staff costs during the year, albeit due to accounting treatment in 2013 for wages, is also an element that could be reviewed.

Their highest-paid employee, Delaney, still earns €360,000 per year.

"The association continues to review the debt refinancing market to ensure that it achieves the best value for its members," added the statement.

"Over the past four years, the Board of the Association has secured €12.5m gross through a debt restructuring agreement in 2013, a reduction of the €5m FIFA loan to nil, and a UEFA Hat-trick grant for the stadium of €3m, representing a total of €20.5m income generated.

"The association has not borrowed any additional funding from UEFA this year."

Irish Independent

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