Saturday 27 May 2017

'It's not nice' - Kevin Kilbane refutes claims Irish players were paid $10k not to hit Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi, Argentina, in action against Kevin Kilbane, Republic of Ireland in 2010
Lionel Messi, Argentina, in action against Kevin Kilbane, Republic of Ireland in 2010
Cormac Byrne

Cormac Byrne

The FAI have strenuously denied allegations in the Argentinean media that Ireland's friendly in 2010 was somehow linked to the €5m payment received from FIFA following the Thierry Henry handball.

Argentina's leading newspaper La Nacion alleged that the friendly was agreed as part of the deal to calm Ireland following the Thierry Henry hand ball which robbed Ireland of a place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

La Nacion also reported that the now-deceased head of the Argentinean FA, Julio Grondona, suggested that each of the Ireland players would be paid $10,000 so as not to cause an injury to Lionel Messi because Argentinean FA could not afford the $5million insurance for Messi and that Grondona’s solution was to pay off Giovanni Trapattoni’s men to ensure that Messi would get through the game unscathed.

Messi flew to Dublin from Barcelona’s tour in Asia to take part in the friendly, the first soccer game at the Aviva.

The Barcelona star was substituted 58 minutes into the 1-0 victory over Ireland.

The paper did not provide any proof of the alleged payments.

Former Republic of Ireland international Kevin Kilbane played on the night in question and completely refutes the allegations.

Kilbane told TV3: "I am totally unaware of it. There was no suggestion around the game that we were to stay clear of Lionel Messi, and of course none of the players received any money as payment regarding this.

"It's total news to me and I'm sure it will be news to a lot of the other lads as well.

"It's quite poor. There have been a lot of allegations over the last month or so aimed at us. Mud sticks, I suppose, and it's not nice when these sort of allegations are being thrown against the players.

"It's basically questioning us as professionals, it's questioning us as people as well. But again, none of the players - I certainly didn't take any money regarding this, and there's nothing else really that I can add to it."

Indeed, Kilbane admitted the claims had taken some of the gloss off what was a big occasion for Irish football.

He added: "To us, it was a big occasion because it was the opening of the Aviva. We lost the game - I think it was Di Maria who scored the goal, as it turned out - and it was a great occasion to be part of, the first ever game at the Aviva.

"It was in many respects going back to Lansdowne Road - it's where we felt as though our football home was - so for these sort of allegations to come out around it, it certainly makes me feel a little bit uneasy.

"It does seem to me like someone has come up with a story or a theory. Two and two make 10, I suppose. That's the only thing I can think of regarding it.

"It seems to me they have looked at what's happened over the last month, they have looked at the allegations that have been made against us and they have come up with a theory. Again, I totally refute it, totally deny it."

Darren O’Dea, who was on the bench for the game told the Irish Times: “It’s absolute nonsense. I don’t have any idea where it’s come from but the players certainly didn’t get anything.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this. I’ve heard of some pretty weird things but nothing like this. There’s definitely nothing to it.”

The FAI have released a statement to say that the game with the South Americans was agreed prior to the two-legged playoffs against the French in November 2009 and are considering taking legal action against the publication.

The statement reads: "The Football Association of Ireland completely refutes the allegations made about the Republic of Ireland v Argentina friendly match in La Nacion as baseless.

"The match in question was organised by Kentaro and announced by press release prior to the World Cup play offs in 2009. We are consulting our legal advisers in relation to the article, and will be taking further steps."

Grondona, who died last year, had been blamed by FIFA for signing off on a $10m payment from the South Africa FA to an account controlled by disgraced former official Jack Warner.

The FAI found itself thrust into the limelight earlier this month after chief executive John Delaney confirmed it had received a loan, later written off, of five million euros from FIFA in the wake of the Republic's play-off heartbreak at the Stade de France.

Delaney claimed the payment, which was used to offset the cost of redeveloping the old Lansdowne Road stadium, had been made after he and Blatter had entered into a deal under which the Irish governing body would not take legal action over the goal which handed France their ticket to South Africa after referee Martin Hansson and his assistants failed to spot Thierry Henry's handball in the build-up.

The confidentiality agreement between the two parties, which was released by the FAI in a bid to clarify the situation, described the payment as an "inducement" not to enter into litigation.

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