Thursday 22 March 2018

Last resort has come too late for many in Irish football

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Having shook hands on a salary worth €2,000 a week, a player couldn't quite understand why he was asked to clarify the details of the agreement when it came to signing the contract.

The club official present wondered whether the figure mentioned was with reference to net or gross weekly earnings. Seizing the opportunity, he said 'net' without blinking. Quick calculations were made and his wage immediately jumped to well over €3,000 a week, ensuring 2k landed in his bank account after tax each Friday. The term of the deal was for three years. At the height of professionalism in this country, that's how one deal was done in the League of Ireland.

Things have not been that way for some time, certainly not in terms of the figures quoted. Cutbacks and redundancies announced last week by the FAI reflect the scale of adjustment needed for football in this country to continue to develop. Regional development officers and other members of the technical staff have been let go, staff earning over 40k will take a pay cut, and even John Delaney is willing to reduce his earnings to somewhere below 8k a week. And in a move which will surely infuriate those most affected, Giovanni Trapattoni's €1.8m salary is to remain untouched, as are the earnings of his assistant Marco Tardelli.

Some will see it as a step backwards while others will be critical of the FAI for failing to do this before now. From my experience at St Pat's, though, I can only assume this move was a last resort. Sitting someone down to reduce their wage or let them go is not the most pleasant of tasks to carry out.

The figures spoke for themselves and the decisions were 'no-brainers', but the process of implementing such a policy shift was a lot less straightforward. There were pleas for second chances, threats of legal action, angry outbursts and personal abuse directed at me. Our entire budget was modified in accordance with what was going on in the real world. The good times were coming to an end, but few were willing to accept it.

At the time, other clubs continued to offer deals which left us vulnerable to accusations of thriftiness. Some players were advised to ignore calls for wage reductions, preferring instead to call our bluff and see where that would take them. Others offered to help with ensuring the squad took sufficient cuts, but in return wanted improved terms for themselves. It got very messy indeed. That was two years ago.

I assume the FAI delayed as long as it could before acting the way it did on Wednesday. The nature of football, at every level really, is to look to results on the field to make everything affordable and possible. Had we qualified for the World Cup, it is hard to imagine the cuts would have been made last week, but we didn't. And maybe had Bohemians not lost 4-0 to a team of part-time players from Wales in the Champions League, they wouldn't be in the position they are now. But they did.

Had the decision-makers at Bohs made similar moves even a year ago, it is unlikely the future of the club would appear as bleak as it currently does. But it's not just the Bohs players who are having to re-adjust. PFAI chief Steven McGuinness said last week he doesn't expect his most talented members to receive offers of much more then €700 a week over a 40-week term

from clubs in this country. Now lads are being advised to seek contracts abroad in light of the financial state of the Airtricity League, leaving fans wondering what level of quality will remain.

It took a few years of almost unprecedented spending and the inevitable pain which followed to get us to this point, but it seems realism has finally set in among those making the decisions that matter.

The cost of the Aviva Stadium is central to all of this of course, yet there is little hope of seeing it filled for any of the forthcoming internationals. The public are losing interest, and unless there is a significant shift in ticket pricing, that's not going to change any time soon.

Clearly something had to give. The difficult decisions made in Abbotstown last week are understandable in that context, but that's no consolation for those now out of work. It will surely affect the FAI's work in most areas of the game, but as many others are experiencing all over the country, the sums no longer add up.

When it comes to the League of Ireland anyway, I'm fairly convinced they never did.

Sunday Independent

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