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'Politics' of FAI CEO role turns Niall Quinn off top job


Former Irish international Niall Quinn

Former Irish international Niall Quinn

?INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Former Irish international Niall Quinn

As Niall Quinn warmed to the subject matter of Irish football's problems, and outlined his belief that a change of approach is required, an obvious question hung in the air.

It's one that he's heard before. Would Quinn, at some stage in his future, consider the role as CEO of the FAI as an attractive proposition?

"I wouldn't because what I can't do is the politics side of being a CEO of a sports organisation," replied the 48-year-old, who underwent the transition from footballer to administrator with Sunderland. "It's political. I think it's horses for courses."

Five minutes later, with the theme continuing to exercise his brain, his stance was less trenchant and Quinn was admitting that he would be 'very interested' in working in Irish football if an alternative vision existed.

"Listen, I'll get shot here. Mention Sky somewhere in all of this!" he laughed, conscious that his musings on local matters were more likely to shape the coverage of his visit to his TV employers' Dublin office than his thoughts on the Premier League.


But, two and a half weeks on from an FAI AGM where John Delaney insisted that everything was okay, Quinn's views are extremely relevant.

The 92-times capped striker is concerned that the increasing reliance on senior team results is painting an unhealthy bigger picture. With no Irish players involved with a title-chasing club and a dearth of youngsters knocking on the door with any English top-flight operation, Quinn believes that the long-term priorities have to shift.

"I'm not on a mission here," he stressed. "I'm not in a position to be on a mission. I fully understand the difficulties of being in an organisation like the FAI and trying to keep the whole thing in place.

"But I do feel I am right to say there has to be a different focus on what our league is and on what our young players are aspiring to as, sadly, all our aspiring young players are trying to get away even more now than they did in the past. And what are they getting away to?

"In my day, we got away to clubs and it was great because you had a chance of going up the ladder. Now you're taking on Europeans, Africans, Americans, Asians and it's just so difficult.

"If we had a system here where we didn't have to take that gamble (of making it in England), which is now 100/1 but was 10/1 in my day. . . If the FAI stood for that and that alone, or if the League of Ireland stood for that as part of its objectives, then I would be very interested (in being involved)."

His implication that the main roles in the FAI are inherently political was queried.

"Politics are in it no matter what happens," he countered. "I did some time in the Irish Sports Council and it was very informative.

"One of the things that just beat me up was that rugby had around 57,000 participants and GAA had its hundreds of thousands but football had as well, yet those guys were getting far more money from the Irish taxpayer then.

"I didn't do much in the Sports Council but John Delaney would agree that various meetings I had with him to bring a different view of football in this country - and what it's for and what it's about - would help and that stayed with me.

"What I mean by that, is that I couldn't do it (FAI job) as long as you're depending on your first team to win matches to make sure your development pathways work.

"It should be sacrosanct - there should be a line drawn between senior football and what it means and the development of these players."

Quinn recalled bringing a young Dubliner, Niall McArdle, to Sunderland. He was bright academically but, football-wise, it didn't work out.

"Looking back, I often think that I was somebody that disrupted him," he sighed. "If a system was put in place, call them academies, nurseries, if we give our footballers a new structure that becomes the important thing and not 'oh my God, Trap gave a terrible interview and oh my God, the sponsors are not going to be happy' - this should be totally removed.

"We have a wonderful opportunity. The first nurseries or academies that really produced these world-class players was Holland. It didn't matter how their first team did; it (cash) was just pumped into them. The organisation existed for that. It didn't exist to go on the trips in blazers.

"I love football in this country and I take a deep interest in it. The FAI gave me a testimonial and I must always remember that. I had all of my best times in my life in a green shirt and the nights after too! I'm not leading a crusade.

"I see there's a new U17 league and it's a step in the right direction. But does it stop a 16-year-old if the scout knocks on the door? That's the acid test and when that day comes we'll have a proper association and league."

The catalyst which brought discussion into FAI territory was the general area of TV deals and his intriguing belief that a future stream of income for the League of Ireland should involve a rebranding and selling the package abroad. He stands over his theory.

Late on Monday night, he stumbled across a match in Argentina and felt that it backed up his argument.

"There was very few people at the match but somewhere along the way there's external money coming to those clubs," he declared.

"You need a belief that you can package the League of Ireland for the outside world. By the outside world, I don't mean the UK. I spent a bit of time in Africa a few years ago and football is just off the wall, it's incredible.

"And I know that there would be a company there that would hold rights in every country that they could go and do a deal with and say 'here's where Roy Keane played' or 'here's Damien Duff playing in it.'

His observations are topical seeing as an independent review commissioned by the FAI is exploring the impact that showing games in Ireland is having on the finances. Clubs feel it is costing them money, as they receive no cash for the live domestic broadcasts.

"You're nothing without TV rights if you want to have a successful league," asserted Quinn. "Whatever comes about from this task force, you have to start and say 'can we envisage seeing Shamrock Rovers playing Bohemians if you're in a bar in Kenya?"

After a playing career sniffing goals, the Dubliner is now thinking outside the box. There should be room for his voice in a broader debate.

Irish Independent