Saturday 1 October 2016

Ministers turn on FAI boss John Delaney over €5m FAI shame

Football chief on last chance as Martin O'Neill refuses to back him over secret pay-off from disgraced Fifa boss

Daniel McConnell and Jerome Reilly

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

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

Beleaguered FAI Chief Executive John Delaney is fighting to save his €360,000- a-year job at the top of Irish soccer, amid enormous pressure from the Government and within the game.

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Senior government figures ramped up the pressure on Mr Delaney over the controversial €5m Fifa payment, telling the Sunday Independent he is "one slip away" from losing their support.

The clear warning came after the manager of the Republic of Ireland, Martin O'Neill, declined to explicitly back Mr Delaney yesterday at a press conference ahead of today's clash against England at the Aviva Stadium.

Controversy erupted around the world after Mr Delaney casually confirmed for the first time that the FAI had received the secret payment in the wake of Thierry Henry's hand ball, which robbed the Republic of a possible World Cup place in 2010.

While Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Transport and Sport Minister Paschal Donohoe expressed support for Mr Delaney on Friday, there remains deep and continuing concerns within government circles as the "embarrassing" saga refuses to die.

Read more:  Delaney should have told Blatter where to shove his hush money

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Mr Delaney, government figures fear, has become a "lightning rod for controversy" around his huge salary and flamboyant persona.

"One more thing comes out and he would have to go, that is the political reality of it," said a minister. "He has real ability but there is concern about the constant stories around his salary and the lifestyle," said the minister.

Yesterday, in another extraordinary revelation, Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland manager at the time of the Thierry Henry scandal, claimed in Italian media that Mr Blatter spoke to him directly in the aftermath of the match in Paris and offered him "a way to forget" what had happened.

Mr Trapattoni told La Stampa: "Blatter said 'meet me, we can find together a way out, a way to forget'.

"I do not know what he wanted. I just know that when he gave me his hand, I did not give mine because I do not have two faces," Mr Trapattoni recalled.

Mr Delaney faces further questions as the Oireachtas Sport Committee looks set to call him and his fellow FAI officials and grill them on the controversial deal.

At very senior levels within Government, the manner in which the payment was revealed by Mr Delaney on RTE Radio is also a matter of concern.

As a major beneficiary of taxpayers' money, the revelation of the pay-out from former Fifa chief Blatter, has caused severe reputational damage to Irish soccer, given it has been the subject of international media attention.

The FAI has maintained the €5m payment from Fifa was properly accounted, maintaining it could not disclose it because of a confidentiality clause that, if breached, would have left them open to a $250,000 fine.

Chairman of the Oireachtas Transport and Sport Committee, Fine Gael TD John O'Mahony, said members will decide whether to bring Mr Delaney and the FAI in before it to be grilled on the controversy when they meet on Wednesday.

He said: "When we meet on Wednesday, I expect this to be discussed and decided whether we call them in. We will be discussing it in private whether to bring them in, to call them in or not.

"But it is important from a Government point of view that there is good governance at all stages. There is a need for that," he added.

Mr O'Neill's failure to express confidence or state whether he supports Mr Delaney yesterday was seen as highly significant.

Asked whether he fully supports John Delaney, O'Neill said: "John Delaney brought me in. He wanted me to manage the side and that is what I'm looking at and that's what I want to do.

"I haven't had any discussions on the political side with John. I don't think it's in my domain just at this moment. I'm the manager of the team."

Attempts to contact Mr Delaney this weekend were unsuccessful.

The FAI says €5m was lodged into the FAI's National Irish Bank deposit account on January 20, and first accounted for in the FAI's 2010 audited financial statements, under bank and other loans.

The FAI says the €5m was used to make payments to New Stadium Ltd - the trading name for Aviva Stadium management company - on February 25 and March 26 of 2010.

And according to the FAI documents, an additional $400,000 was also given by Fifa for 'FAI Regional Football Centres'.

The FAI says the loan was written down to zero in 2013 following Ireland's failure to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

Speaking yesterday, team captain John O'Shea said that the Irish team would have had no interest in the money - but would have held out for a replay against the French instead.

Assistant manager Roy Keane was asked on Friday if Mr Delaney's revelation was a distraction? Keane laughed: "Isn't he always?" he said.

Sunday Independent

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