Monday 18 December 2017

Delaney insists ‘football family’ fully behind his stewardship despite mounting problems

FAI chief executive John Delaney answers questions after the association's AGM
FAI chief executive John Delaney answers questions after the association's AGM
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

AFTER a month of widespread discussion on the future direction of Irish football, you would have expected the FAI annual general meeting to continue that debate with informed input from all strands of the game in this country.

That is, of course, if you have never attended an FAI AGM before. This is an annual general meeting with a difference. It is closer to a college lecture or a Sunday morning Mass than a forum for debate. Nobody talks apart from the designated speakers, and there is no 'Any Other Business' section on the agenda for delegates to raise issues.

So, on Saturday afternoon, the final official act was a presentation by Elaine Carey from the association's primary sponsors, '3 Mobile', who kicked off her speech by suggesting there might be a "few sore heads" in the audience.

Conscious that everyone was keen to nip off for a spot of lunch, Carey said that a prize would be offered at the end of her spiel to the first person to answer a question correctly. In other words, a reward for paying attention.

Later, in a media briefing that featured a number of queries, chief executive John Delaney referred to the peaceful nature of the meeting as evidence that the "football family" are very happy with how things are going.

Delaney stressed they had the option to lodge questions in advance.

"We invited questions," he said. "Our members are very pleased with the way the association is being run. You saw that today again."

The volume of newspaper articles, TV discussions, radio debates and Twitter comments in the aftermath of Ireland's disastrous Euro 2012 showing would indicate that the general public believe there is plenty to discuss.

Some of those headings were touched on by Delaney in his press conference that followed.

DELANEY'S SALARY

As expected, the chief executive announced a further cut in his pay -- a reduction from €400,000 a year to €360,000.

That is still a wage that even some of Delaney's advocates find to be ridiculously high. Yet, he continues to defend the size of his salary at a time when the association is cutting staff numbers and merging other positions.

"I was offered a contract and I signed it," he said. "And on three occasions now I've reduced my wages. To show leadership. I don't know what my counterparts earn. I know what I was offered. I know what I signed.

"It's never easy to make anybody redundant. When I took over the association, I think we had over 50-odd people. I think we've created a lot of jobs."

When asked if he would be willing to take another voluntary cut, Delaney replied: "Never say never."

The fact that he was front and centre during the party in Poland has placed the Waterford man in the spotlight like never before.

If he continues to earn more than the Taoiseach and the leaders of other more successful football associations in larger countries, this topic simply will not go away.

THE LEAGUE OF IRELAND

With Monaghan United disappearing from the top flight mid-season, and Delaney earning more than three times as much as the prize for winning the Premier Division (€100,000), fans of the domestic game are bemused.

A tweet from the players' union, the PFAI, said that his wage remains over twice the annual budget for office staff, players, and management at Bohemians.

"I think it's easy for people to say 'There's the prize money'," replied Delaney in response to comparisons drawn between his wage and the rewards in the league.

"The FAI does a lot more work for the League of Ireland at a significant cost, in terms of how it resources the League of Ireland in all aspects of the association."

Delaney has been involved in the process of trying to resolve the crisis in Dundalk where there is growing confidence the club can escape a tricky situation with an eventual change of ownership.

A meeting has been called by league chairman Eamon Naughton to discuss the current state of affairs, although the initial desire for a summit came from a group of clubs who are alarmed by ongoing developments.

Delaney points out that the overall level of debt across the league has been reduced, and attributes this year's problems to long-standing creditors rather than 2012 budgets.

DEBT

Bank borrowings remain at €50m. Capital repayments on the association's substantial commitment to the Aviva Stadium did not occur in 2011. At this point, the FAI are making interest payments.

Delaney refused to detail monies owed to other creditors, and there was a tetchy exchange with regard to the FAI's involvement with Ticketus, a hedge fund company, which deals in forward financing on the basis of anticipated income from ticket sales.

"We have an arrangement with Ticketus and they're happy with the arrangement. There have been rumours that we're behind in payments on something. That's just not true," he said.

Reports on the amount borrowed from Ticketus have ranged from a confirmed €900,000 to multiples of that figure. Delaney says that speculation it was €19m arose from a piece of paper that was only a draft document.

"It was not executed," he said. "That figure is nowhere near. I'm not going to give you a figure, but it is absolutely nowhere near."

Delaney returned to a familiar bottom line.

"Our borrowings on the stadium are €50m. I'm not going to give you a list of the debtors and creditors today, of who we owe and what. But our borrowings on the stadium are €50m and will be completed and nil in 2020."

The confidence largely stems from a lucrative centralised UEFA TV deal and the fact that the Ireland senior team has two chances to qualify for an enlarged European Championship between now and that cut-off point.

FRIENDLIES

Revenues from glamour friendlies can also help.

The saga of a possible meeting with England continues, with Delaney hinting that a game in each country could be part of a proposed arrangement.

However, the timescale is vague and, after three years of speculation, it's fair to say that nobody should hold their breath until it is absolutely confirmed.

Poland are pencilled in for a visit to Dublin next February, with a return trip to the friendly Euro 2012 co-host tied in with that game. "A lot of countries are looking at dual agreements," he said.

There will be no matches in Dublin in September after the trip to Kazakhstan. A match in London is an option, for which the FAI would receive a flat fee.

UNDERAGE STRUCTURE

The departure of Wim Koevermans leaves a vacancy as high-performance director, and the FAI are in the process of drawing up a plan for what they want from his successor.

"I think the new role will be based on coach education and also very much based on the emerging talent programme," said Delaney.

An internal appointment is still possible, with U-21 manager Noel King a mooted candidate.

The future of U-19 boss Paul Doolin is unclear. His contract is up for renewal.

"There'll be an announcement on that," said Delaney.

Restructuring born from cost-cutting has been a feature of FAI policy in other departments and sources believe that the underage structure could follow that pattern.

The bigger-picture reaction to Ireland's abject Euro 2012 display touched on the lack of a coherent nationwide structure to produce talent.

"Well, you'll never have enough money," said Delaney. "Everyone wants to have more money to develop their sport."

The silence from the floor in Letterkenny presents a picture of a rank and file who are supportive of that stance even if, privately, some have noted that a lower-paid international manager and chief executive could allow additional expenditure in other departments.

Nothing will change, however, until they find their voice.

Irish Independent

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