Thursday 21 September 2017

Ireland's summer of discontent

FAI boss John Delaney
FAI boss John Delaney

IT was supposed to be a glorious month for Irish football, a chance to really put the game back on the map. Instead, Ireland's Euro 2012 experience has merely succeeded in laying bare the problems that are faced by the sport in this country.

The lengthy post-mortem continued over the weekend, as the fallout from the Poland adventure throws up more questions than answers.

In an ideal world, the summer ahead would feature proud reflection on the events of June. It's a different story now and, from the key figures in the dressing room and the boardroom, the response will be revealing.

A variety of problems have either resurfaced or come to light.

PLAYER UNREST

The grumbles of the fringe players who were aghast at their treatment in Poland are beginning to surface in the public domain.

It has emerged that James McClean described Ireland's Euro 2012 as "a shambles" as he departed the ground after Monday's concluding defeat to Italy. Furthermore, it is believed that Darron Gibson is considering his international future after being an unused substitute in all three Ireland games.

It's understood that Gibson contemplated walking out after the 4-0 defeat to Spain, an encounter where Giovanni Trapattoni sprung Paul Green from the bench in the dying stages. Green wasn't even a part of the original squad. Yesterday, FAI CEO John Delaney said that Trapattoni accepts "he made mistakes", without providing any further detail on what they actually were.

The intensive period of preparation is likely to be discussed in the fallout, with one player equating the build-up with a typical pre-season.

Throw in Glenn Whelan's open expression of frustration with the tactics, and the prospect of several senior players retiring, and there is plenty for Trapattoni to worry about. Particularly when he has alienated some important members of the next generation.

UNDERAGE STRUCTURE

The departure of high performance director Wim Koevermans slipped under the radar during the finals. When the Dutchman was appointed, the FAI said he was the man who would oversee the progression of the next generation.

But it didn't quite work out that way. Koevermans found that limitations existed and, while he left the job to take the post as India manager, his contract was up for renewal in September and there was a strong feeling within the game that he was leaving anyway.

The FAI have yet to reveal the identity of his replacement, but one scenario is that the role of current U-21 boss Noel King is expanded.

While the FAI continue to advertise the strength of their Emerging Talent programme, it is operating without a sponsor after a fallout with Damien O'Brien of Iconic Worldwide, who has severed his ties with Abbotstown after they blocked the pre-season tournament he was planning for Thomond Park.

"The idea was to put €100,000 in every year," said O'Brien in a Sunday newspaper interview. "I was willing to honour that but while the FAI is in its current state, I will not put any money into it. The kids at the 12 training centres around the country are now meeting once a month.

"They have to bring their own kit because there are no kit suppliers giving them anything. It's a shambles."

He paints a grim picture. O'Brien also says he had lined up a money-spinning friendly between Ireland and England in August, although the FAI deny that is the case.

LEAGUE OF IRELAND

Monaghan United's exit from the Premier Division on the morning of the Italy game came as a huge surprise. The FAI certainly didn't see it coming, and the loss of a senior club from the top flight mid-season is hugely embarrassing, if slightly familiar at this stage.

While the hierarchy point out that the overall level of debt across the league has been reduced, it doesn't matter very much if clubs are falling by the wayside on an annual basis.

The problems in the domestic game run deep and many clubs have been their own worst enemy. But there is deep unhappiness over the mid-season break which deprived them of income while they continued to pay wages.

There is a pressing need to draw up a new structure for the league, possibly in one division, and it must be urgently addressed. Other clubs are on the brink, and feel they are competing with the FAI rather than being an important part of it.

Recently, one First Division club had made significant progress with a prospective sponsor, only to lose out to the FAI. With prize money for fourth place worth less than the entry fee, the benefits of centralised income are dubious.

THE CEO

John Delaney was often in the spotlight in Poland and this was a central theme to a two-page interview in yesterday's Sunday Independent.

It has been impossible to avoid the Waterford man over the past week. Every day, a new video or picture seems to emerge of his socialising with the supporters in Poland.

This came as no surprise to those who travelled with Ireland to the qualifiers; Delaney's nocturnal appearances and post-match tie-removing antics were either a highlight or a lowlight of those trips, depending on your perspective.

"I think that's something I'm entitled to do on the odd occasion when I'm there," said Delaney, when defending his right to one or two nights off duty.

He went on to describe being carried home aloft by 200 supporters, who removed his shoes and socks as part of the revelry. However, Delaney maintains that he has brought "professional status" to the association.

His €400,000 salary remains a huge bone of contention, particularly with the loss of so many key staff below him in the past 18 months due to financial restructuring.

The departures have effectively strengthened Delaney's position as he is one of the few remaining senior executives.

Who is he answerable to? Supposedly, the association's 10-man board, but Delaney appears to be their only spokesperson.

THE FINANCES

All roads lead to this heading. If the disastrous handling of the 10-year ticketing scheme didn't prompt change at the top, then it's hard to know what will.

Considering the FAI have borrowed extensively to fund their commitment to the Aviva Stadium, another major creditor is the last thing they need. An FAI spokesman has stated they owe €900,000 to Ticketus, but there is speculation that the actual figure is far greater.

The FAI's finances rely on the health of the senior international team, and a return of no points in Poland didn't help.

Delaney insists the association will be debt free by 2020, but it is difficult to see how the Abbotstown number crunchers can achieve that aim without substantial cutbacks across all areas.

Which brings us back to square one. Right now, that's where Irish football is headed.

Irish Independent

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