Monday 20 January 2020

Same old raw deal for the clubs as FAI look after No 1

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IT'S all about the money. Always was. Now we have the official confirmation. John Delaney conceding that, ultimately, monetary factors are the reason why the FAI will not allow Limerick FC host Barcelona in Thomond Park.

Never mind the guff about a clash with Airtricity League fixtures, an excuse which League of Ireland Director Fran Gavin initially sent to the First Division club. And don't be distracted by Delaney's hint that the Shannonsiders' decision to go public removed the prospect of mediation, as though it could have been resolved with a bit more subtlety.

This is about cash, an agreement struck by the FAI with a third party which has denied the south-west region the presence of arguably the world's most attractive club.

Last night, an FAI spokesman was providing a bit more detail, stating that the clause related to friendly matches with an attendance in excess of 20,000 -- the visit of Sunderland to Thomond in July is apparently excused because it's for charity.

Amid claim and counter-claim, Delaney appeared on RTE Radio yesterday where he was asked by Marian Finucane if the decision was simply about money.

"It ultimately comes down to that, Marian," he replied, before moving on to speak about lesser factors. So, there you have it. Right from the horse's mouth.

Of course, anyone immersed in or around Irish football is aware that in the FAI's current predicament, everything is about money.

The desperation in the wake of the World Cup exit in Paris was borne from more than the understandable feeling of injustice. It was about money. Bringing Manchester United to open the renovated Lansdowne Road is not about giving football fans 'an eventful and exciting autumn at Aviva Stadium'. No, it's about money.

The fact that this year's summer training camp is taking place in Malahide? Money. The decision to only give Vantage Club holders an option to buy tickets for the Man U game rather than adding to the package, when sales pitches mentioned the possibility that extra games could arise? You guessed it. Money.

Borrowing substantially to finance their commitment to the Aviva, a course of action that was supposed to be recouped by the disastrous sale of the 10-year premium seats, has driven the association into a tricky position. Everything else is a sub-plot.

Now, in the current climate, there's no great scoop in pointing out that any particular organisation is constrained by financial considerations. Bringing Barcelona to Limerick is all about the cash as well, all about profit. Real Madrid's visit to Dublin last year, with another on the agenda later this summer, was influenced by the same motives. All the spin-offs, like the positive publicity for the domestic game in a crowded sporting market, are very welcome, yet subordinate to the bigger picture.

But there is a distinct difference here, a very important difference. The FAI is supposed to be a national association, the guardians of the game in this country. They speak of a football family. On their website, they assert their mission to 'foster, develop, and promote football' ... to work with the 'many stakeholders who enjoy and support our sport'.

It looks pretty deplorable, then, when the chief executive of the association admits they have an arrangement with a third-party company -- understood to be their long-standing partners Kentaro, although Delaney refuses to name them -- which, effectively, limits the ability of their senior clubs to aim for the stars and secure themselves a lucrative package from their own endeavour. In other words, they can aim small, but nothing too ambitious thanks very much.

Additionally, Delaney queries the extent to which Limerick have arranged a deal with Barcelona, an assertion which is sure to be noted with the war of words continuing further into legal territory. With the FAI chief accusing Limerick officials of being naïve and also bringing the game into disrepute, they were consulting with their lawyers last night before responding.

Furthermore, he queried if they are actually aware of the scale of the operation, speculating that it might be difficult for them to come out on the right side financially.

"Another fear I'd have for this game is to get Barcelona costs a €1m, to host the game including the security, the rent to Thomond Park, flying the clubs in, could be €2m. So, for the club to make money on it, I can't see how it would work," he said.

To be fair, Delaney would have an idea of the logistics. A couple of weeks ago, Pádraig Smith, the FAI's Compliance Officer and Noel Mooney, a Limerick man who is the Head of League Marketing and Promotion, were in Barcelona to discuss the possibility of an FAI-sanctioned visit by the Catalan giants.

There is a terrible irony in Mooney, who holds a role intended to develop the game around the country, being sent to Limerick to inform owner Pat O'Sullivan of the bad news. You couldn't make it up.

Anyway, the matter of number crunching and making the Barca game work should be a problem for Limerick and the agent organising the game. Let's not be distracted from the overall state of play here.

What Delaney is saying is that if another League of Ireland club goes out tomorrow, and has the initiative to agree a deal with Barcelona or Real Madrid or Manchester United for a game at a decent-sized venue, they are wasting their time.

Indeed, despite Delaney's denials, it was reported over the weekend that Bohs were told as much when they made a tentative enquiry to Abbotstown regarding the possibility of a game with Barca.

The levels of frustration within football circles are growing. There's nothing new about League of Ireland anger, but add it to the bemusement of the confused wider public, especially in the Limerick region, and the damage to the FAI from this debacle has been multiplied ten-fold.

Bohemians manager Pat Fenlon articulated the general sentiment in the wake of his side's Setanta Cup joy on Saturday evening. If his club make it through the second round of the Champions League -- where they will be seeded -- then it's plausible that one of the biggest games in their history, the third-round decider that would have serious ramifications for the domestic scene, would be overshadowed by a clash with the Manchester United visit.

"Getting money into the coffers of the association is more important than getting the money into the coffers at the clubs at the moment," said Fenlon. "So be it. There's nothing we can do about that. We all know what its about. Write the story. It's not about anything to do with football or fixtures. It's about time people stood up and wrote the story in relation to that."

Thing is, it has been written many times already. The FAI are in such a pickle that the main consideration is looking after number one. Delaney's admission couldn't have made it any clearer.

Irish Independent

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