Thursday 19 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Time for the FAI's decision-makers to pay the penalty too'

Real targets of fans’ disquiet are Delaney and board

FAI chief executive John Delaney with Martin O’Neill as he was revealed as the new manager in 2013. Picture: David Conachy
FAI chief executive John Delaney with Martin O’Neill as he was revealed as the new manager in 2013. Picture: David Conachy
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The final game of Martin O’Neill’s era was notable for the dissent in the away section in Aarhus. Crucially, Ireland fans’ ire was not aimed in the direction of the manager.

It was John Delaney and the FAI who were the targets of chants from frustrated supporters.

And the depth of those feelings is unlikely to be diminished by the news that a meeting called by Delaney has brought down the curtain on the O’Neill and Roy Keane years.

It’s understood O’Neill knew the writing was on the wall after a recent discussion with Delaney that referenced the falling attendances at the Aviva Stadium and the challenges presented to the FAI hierarchy by the apathetic mood around the team.

These are the factors that tend to bring about change, whatever the cost might be.

Throw back to the end of 2007 and the dying stages of Steve Staunton’s failing regime. The debate had gone beyond the manager and was more so focusing on the people who had appointed him. 

Delaney had famously hailed the arrival of a “world-class” management team of Staunton and Bobby Robson.

Staunton was shown the door and the FAI went to the market to hire Giovanni Trapattoni – with the support of Denis O’Brien – and make the Irish job one of the most lucrative gigs in international football.

Martin O’Neill’s salary at the time of his exit had risen to circa €2m, a wage comparable with England boss Gareth Southgate. In the European sphere, only the managers of Germany, Portugal and France are paid more. The FAI was paying the entirety of O’Neill’s salary over the past year after O’Brien’s contribution ended.

It’s a fairly remarkable statistic, given the paucity of football resources in Ireland, the absence of a fully professional league and established structures to actually produce players of sufficient quality now that the English market has become increasingly crowded and difficult to penetrate.

The FAI has belatedly sought to address some of these issues, but the exclusion of figures with a track record in youth football – specifically Brian Kerr – has proved

divisive. Kerr’s brief stint as senior manager was ended to allow Staunton take over and he would naturally have an axe to grind with the people who made that decision.

“I think the focus now should be on the board who allow John Delaney to run the association in the way he runs it,” said Kerr last night, strongly criticising the current hierarchy.

But the use of the word ‘current’ is somewhat misleading because there is a feeling of permanence about their stewardship. Kerr was dismissed in 2005 – seven months into Delaney’s reign as CEO. A 10-man board made that call.

Thirteen years on, six of those officials – Delaney, Michael Cody, Eddie Murray, Jim McConnell, Paraic Treanor and Donal Conway – are still at the top table.

Another long-serving board member, Eamon Naughton, was voted on shortly after.

The other significant changes at boardroom level have been brought about by term limits for the positions of president and vice-president and the need to replace members who had died.

Questions about Delaney’s board go beyond the inflation of the manager’s salary, and the retention of Trapattoni and O’Neill beyond their shelf life.

Their biggest responsibility was the financing of the Aviva Stadium with a flawed pricing strategy for premium-level tickets, which pitched the tickets at prices ranging from €1,200 to €3,200 per year, plunging the association into debt.

The main financial story of the past decade has been the attempt to be debt-free by 2020. Cutbacks were required at the outset, with League of Ireland prize money slashed, but the FAI insists it is on the right track.

But the cost of that process has been damaging, especially when the impact has not been felt by the principal decision-makers.

Age limits were tweaked to allow senior board members stay on beyond the age of 75.

Delaney’s €360,000 wage is contentious and it has been topped up by promotion to the Uefa’s executive committee.

Liam Brady, who served as an assistant to Trapattoni, last week said: “We’ve had 15 years of John and I think the only progress is that John’s career is gone up and up.”

The bump from the introduction of a new manager tends to shift the focus. But Ireland’s problems run deep and that’s why the spotlight is now on the influential few who never seem to pay the penalty for their mistakes.

Irish Independent

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