Sport Soccer

Friday 23 March 2018

Is Irish soccer facing a yellow pack future?

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

WHERE now for Irish football? After a bruising day of job losses in Abbotstown on Wednesday, and the acknowledgement that difficult days lie ahead, it promises to be a testing decade.

The FAI's desperately slow reaction to the recession has placed them in a tight spot. A microcosm of the bigger picture in this country, you could say.

Their substantial borrowings towards the construction of the Aviva Stadium were supposed to be offset by the sale of 10-year premium level tickets. Alas, the FAI got the prices all wrong, and rejected calls to reduce them before it was too late.

With conservative estimates placing total bank loans in the region of €60m, with interest payments on top of that, John Delaney's assertion that everything will be repaid by 2020 is a bold prediction.

All strands of the game can expect to feel the pinch in the interim.

International Team

The easiest saving available to the FAI is the appointment of a cheaper manager when Giovanni Trapattoni's contract ends in tandem with Irish interest in Euro 2012. Currently, the Italian is on €1.8m a year, with half of that funded by Denis O'Brien. Throw in the salaries of Marco Tardelli, Fausto Rossi and Alan Kelly and the association are therefore shelling out approximately €1.5m a year to their international management team.

Speculating to accumulate is naturally on the agenda when it comes to picking a new boss. After all, qualification for a major tournament can generate massive revenues for the association. But in the likely event that Trap bids farewell after this campaign, the FAI will have to lower their sights. In reality, it means searching for a younger, hungrier boss, and the associated gamble; it would help if they had a bit of managing experience this time, though.

Quality of staff

The FAI's executive staff is gradually dwindling. It was a considerable surprise to ISG, the premium ticket sellers, that the commercial department in the FAI was so small.

Effectively, it revolved around commercial director Rory Smyth and his departure from Abbotstown is imminent. There are no immediate plans to replace him.

Director of finance Mark O'Leary left in September, shortly after delivering the association's business plan to contented delegates at the FAI AGM in Wexford. His temporary stand-in is Padraig Smith, the internal compliance officer, who is well regarded in League of Ireland circles.

The FAI indicate that he will try and balance both roles in the coming year. Considering their debt problems, it is hardly ideal for the FAI that their top financial employee will spend a period of the new year immersed in assessing the budgets of the league clubs.

Packie Bonner's departure from the technical director post will mean an expansion of high-performance director Wim Koevermans' responsibilities. Who is on the radar next?

Youth Development

The FAI spend a lot of money in sending their respective underage teams off to participate in various competitions. Investment in the Women's U-17 side reaped rewards in 2010 with their outstanding performances.

However, with all budgets being revised, the international department will have to assess their priorities.

New U-21 and U-19 managers Noel King and Paul Doolin were made aware that they would be limited in terms of what back-room staff they could bring in after their appointments, and the fear is that the cost-cutting will result in threadbare support structures for underage representative sides.

The Emerging Talent Programme is the cornerstone of the FAI's youth development, but the input of regional development officers is vital. With the number of RDOs cut, there is a danger that the project will lose impetus.

League of Ireland

Since the FAI took over the running of the league, prize money has increased but that graph is already heading in the opposite direction. There's still no confirmation on what next year's Premier Division winners will earn for their achievements.

But the bigger picture at the moment is what happens the league after 2011, when the initial five-year merger with the FAI, which saw Abbotstown take control of the running of the league officially, comes to an end. The clubs have voted to retain the merger.

Now, the FAI's stakeholders must decide if they wish to remain in control. Last week, Delaney hinted that it wasn't a foregone conclusion as the junior game could oppose it, presumably on the basis the money directed towards the administration of the league would be better served elsewhere. That would leave the League of Ireland clubs in limbo; a scary prospect considering the dearth of sponsors that are out there.

Given that the Delaney era has largely focused on centralising Irish football, it would be surprising if that course of action was followed. What the threat does do, however, is reduce the bargaining power of the clubs. In other words, they can take what they're given.

Spreading the message

Unquestionably, one of the key successes of the FAI in recent years was the spread of the game around the country. The appointment of regional development officers was a key aspect, meaning that the sport could compete with rugby and GAA in areas where they previously lacked real representation. Therefore, the culling of some regional development officers on Wednesday is a real concern.

In addition to the Regional Development Officers, the FAI also employ a number of community development officers in tandem with the respective County Councils. These individuals are included in the FAI staff list, but half of their salaries are paid by the council in question.

All local authorities will have to revise their spending in light of the wider economic situation. If the Community Development Officers are targeted, the FAI would be facing more difficult decisions. A lot of good work will be undone.

Irish Independent

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