Friday 6 December 2019

Nothing changes at the FAI

Things are going well on the pitch but, off it, players can’t have showers at the Aviva and FAI still sending three men to World Cup draw in Rio

FAI boss john Delaney at the Aviva Stadium
FAI boss john Delaney at the Aviva Stadium
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IT really is a thing of wonder that the FAI are so conscious of the importance of image to the point where it is almost an obsession, yet remain so utterly appalling at mastering the art.

What another fine week it has been for John Delaney and his band of merry men.

The raw materials are there to project a picture of health.

An Irish U-19 side enters a European semi-final this evening, led by a homegrown manager who has defied the odds to steer his group into a meeting with the current powerhouse of world football.

Meanwhile, the League of Ireland champions, Shamrock Rovers, are in with a shout of toppling FC Copenhagen, an achievement which would command respect around Europe.

In short, the footballers are doing their bit for the brand.

Back at home, however, another group of League of Ireland players are initially offered a nett figure in the region of €300 per head and are told there will be no showers for them in the Aviva Stadium after they play in the Dublin Super Cup -- a competition which Delaney said would "give an excellent platform to showcase the Airtricity League".

This tournament is the alternative to enterprising clubs bringing a big European power here on their own steam. A rights agreement which the FAI has signed with organisers Endemol Sport prevents them from doing so; it is worth €1m per year to the Abbotstown coffers for "the benefit of Irish football at all levels".

All of which might sound reasonable enough until the national association is exposed for trying to secure the participation of a home team on the cheap. Urgent talks are required to resolve the dispute, with FAI forced to pay close to €10,000 to avoid risking an embarrassing protest or even mutiny.

And where are the association's top brass when all this is going on? The brains trust who are going to see Irish football out of its mounting debt by 2020, and warned of the need for austerity at the recent AGM. The key figures of an association whose board were apparently reluctant to reduce their chief executive's salary from a staggering €450,000 a year to a still staggering €400,000.

Why, they're on a trip to Rio, of course. A four-day jamboree surrounding tomorrow's World Cup draw. Delaney is there, accompanied by president Paddy McCaul and honorary secretary Michael Cody.

The generosity of FIFA to its delegates will ease the bill yet, in this day and age, the perfect PR exercise for the FAI -- one a public would be sympathetic towards -- would be to make a statement by reducing the party to Brazil. To say that, in light of the prevailing climate, the FAI were going to do things differently than before.

While they would need a presence there for the networking and bartering that accompanies such get-togethers, leaving a man or two behind would strike the right chord.

They could even be diverted to Bucharest, a shorter hop, to offer support to a determined group of lads who are defying the odds in a time when budgets for underage teams have been slashed. After all, the FAI press release hailing the U-19s' achievement in making the final four included quotes from Delaney and McCaul -- not from manager Paul Doolin.

Instead, vice president Tony Fitzgerald is on his way out to Romania.

Heck, checking out of Rio might have gone towards providing the additional €8,000-€10,000 that the Airtricity XI squad were collectively expecting when they reported for duty. If they had been satisfied, then the shower issue may not have leaked into public domain.

Alas, a different path was chosen and, once again, the perception that a disconnect exists between the blazers and reality is strengthened.

Of course, if you travelled to the association's AGM every year, you might leave with a completely different impression.

One of the brightest moves in recent times has been to develop the annual meeting into a week-long affair in a particular county. Clare was the lucky venue this year, and the FAI travelled in numbers to press the flesh, and cut the red tape.

The delegates who arrive for just the meeting itself are treated to a montage of highlights, mostly of Delaney sharing a joke with whoever comes into shot.

One of these days, an AGM audience will be treated to a video of an FAI official turning water into wine. It's certainly more likely than anyone from the floor asking a tough question anyway.

Locally, the exercise works a treat. But the organisers confuse the short-term goodwill for national credibility. In a country on its knees, where initiatives like the €100 universal household charge are being rolled out, it is the confirmation of Delaney's €400,000 wedge that leaves the general public shaking their heads.

That kind of salary belongs in a different era, just like the tradition of a three-man delegation heading for Rio to hob-nob with their counterparts.

Instead, the suffering is being felt by the staff who lost their jobs, and the stinginess is directed towards a team which is supposed to be showcasing the senior game in this country.

After a giddy period of earning, League of Ireland players are adapting back to reality and, for some members of the squad, meeting up this week requires taking days off other work, a decision which can't be taken lightly.

They are fully entitled to seek adequate compensation for their efforts. No expense is being spared for the other competing teams by Endemol; looking after the Airtricity XI was the FAI's responsibility.

The shabby, patronising treatment of Damien Richardson's team reflects poorly. Debating whether they will walk or get a bus to a post-match shower is demeaning; the players are fine with it because they are accustomed to mucking around in poor facilities but, as a PR exercise, it's a shambles.

Marketing people like to talk about optics, a buzz word for those who crave a positive image.

Look at the optics here. Those who play the game feel they are being ripped off but persevere in difficult circumstances; those who preside over it are thousands of miles away sitting down to supper.

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