Monday 15 July 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Fall of Platini and ongoing FAI chaos underlines how face of game is changing'


Michel Platini pictured in Dublin in 2011. Photo: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE
Michel Platini pictured in Dublin in 2011. Photo: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

They were the words that the fans who attended Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifier with Scotland didn't get to read.

"Off the pitch there has been seismic change on the global football front with Sepp Blatter's announcement of his resignation as Fifa President," said John Delaney, in his programme notes ahead of the June 2015 encounter at Aviva Stadium. "That decision was a major step and allows the football world to address the need to change the culture of Fifa.

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"It was all too obvious that the culture was one of corruption and bribery. Those who love the game have been crying out for change and now the opportunity is there. I have stated many times that the global body needs to adapt the attitude of accountability and transparency which has been cultivated in Uefa under the leadership of Michel Platini and I hope that Fifa can take similar steps in the right direction."

Timing was everything. In the week before the programme was due to go to print, it was confirmed that the FAI had received €5m from FIFA in a 'loan' deal that was thrashed out between Delaney and Blatter in the aftermath of Thierry Henry's handball in 2009.

The FAI insisted at the time that Delaney, then CEO, had no knowledge of the plan to destroy 18,000 programmes. Instead, the call was laid at the door of the communications department. It was a curious episode and the words haven't aged well. Platini's reputation has taken a severe kicking since and yesterday he was detained for questioning by police, arising from the probe into Qatar's World Cup bid.

That case has a road to travel, but the Frenchman has already lost his status within football. A "disloyal payment" from Blatter led to his suspension and then resignation from UEFA. It meant he was unable to play host at Euro 2016 in his homeland. He will have no role in Euro 2020 even though the idea to spread it around the continent is a part of his legacy along with the expansion of the tournament to 24 teams.

Of course, Platini was a friend to the FAI during the Delaney years.

The FAI's top man often told the story of how a trip to Croke Park for the 2006 All-Ireland hurling final left an imprint as the umpires behind the goal were cited as inspiration for bringing extra officials into European football.

But as Platini's stock fell within UEFA, Irish loyalties switched. Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin emerged as the new figure preaching reform.

After his election as president, one of his first tasks was to assert that Platini would not receive a pay-off.

UEFA people would say that the new regime was conscious of the dangers of links with the recent past. As it happened, Delaney became an ally of Ceferin, with the FAI giving him their votes. In April 2017, Ireland's top football official was voted onto UEFA's Executive Committee.

Only last year, Delaney was speaking of how the new faces around the top table had brought energy to that body. He was earmarked as a big part of UEFA's future. That is all in doubt now, of course, although Delaney remains on that committee until 2021 - he was absent from their most recent meetings.

He is sidelined from FAI duty as the various reviews of the affairs of the Association continue, and it has been reported that a pay-off clause in his contract is a complication.

Regardless of his position, the FAI and UEFA now remain in regular contact with Noel Mooney on a six-month secondment back in Dublin.

Officials from Switzerland were in Dublin this week picking through the rubble of the troubled financial situation. Perhaps the dig-out from UEFA can be chalked down as a payback for the umpires idea.

Mooney once told a story about Platini's presence around UEFA HQ. If employees wanted to pitch an idea to the boss, a good method was to share a lift and make a concise delivery before the bell rang and the doors opened.

We now know that it was actually some of football's most powerful men that were living on borrowed time.

Irish Independent

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