Dysfunctional FAI will struggle to escape from many mistakes of the past

Dysfunctional FAI will struggle to escape from many mistakes of the past
John Delaney speaking at the launch of the failed FAI Vantage Club Initiatives in 2009.

The reported payoff might stick in the craw, but in terms of the price Irish football has paid for John Delaney’s tenure, it is just the tip of the iceberg, writes Joe Leogue

It is an outcome familiar to those who follow Irish football — a pragmatic result.

It ain’t pretty, it leaves a lot to be desired, but it gets the job done.

Speculation over the amount spent paying off John Delaney will undoubtedly bring with it complaints that the former FAI chief executive is getting anything at all, given the perilous state in which the association finds itself following his controversial tenure.

Unfortunately, however, it points to the wider problem that has festered in Irish football throughout Delaney’s 14-year tenure as chief executive — he wasn’t acting alone.

Yes, Delaney was the very public face of the FAI, and benefited from the kind of media exposure not afforded to the heads of other sporting associations.

He was the man who gained favour with grassroots clubs by working the football network and dispensing largesse. However, Delaney was enabled and supported all along by a compliant board that did nothing to hold him to account throughout his term.

It was this same dysfunctional ‘football family’ — to use Delaney’s own term — that approved the significant salaries, expenses, and bonuses he enjoyed, the kind of financial remuneration that made eyes water both inside and outside the Irish football scene.

And so in the middle of a huge period of change and, hopefully, reform, a mostly new FAI board found itself stuck with the most prominent relic of a past from which it wanted to escape.

Given the deal awarded to Delaney, and the €2m ‘loyalty bonus’ he would have earned had he stayed with the FAI until 2021, the speculated six-figure payoff he is reported to have received represents a practical and realistic way for the association to cut the lingering ties.

Any attempt to dismiss Delaney without some form of pay-off could have led to a lengthy and expensive legal battle during which he would have undoubtedly claimed — arguably with some merit — that the very reasons he was being jettisoned were all down to actions that were endorsed and supported by the FAI board.

The cost of fighting such a case alone would potentially dwarf the rumoured settlement — let alone the expense of losing such a legal battle.

Media revelations and Oireachtas committee hearings have confirmed what many believed to be true; when it came to the running of the FAI, no one cried stop. The corporate governance at the FAI failed, and allowed Delaney to run the association in a manner tha t is now, once revealed and subject to scrutiny, the cause of understandable controversy.

An amenable board signed off on the former CEO’s running of the FAI and, despite new faces voted in at July’s AGM, the fact remains that the association that wants rid of Delaney has to carry the responsibility for failing to hold him to account.

However, even if it was the best- case-scenario, the FAI’s handling of Delaney’s exit leaves a lot to be desired and suggests that the association has still to learn about how it handles its public relations.

Despite assurances that negotiations went late into Saturday night, there is more than a sneaking suspicion among sceptics that the timing of the announcement was made late to avoid scrutiny in the Sunday newspapers, and conveniently fell on a day when Irish sporting interests were distracted with the rugby team’s humiliation in Japan.

That timing has caught those in the political sphere off-guard, and has done little to endear the FAI to the likes of Sports Minister Shane Ross or members of the Oireachtas Sport Committee.

None of the various politicians’ media appearances to date have suggested that the likes of Mr Ross were kept in the loop on this significant development, at a time when the FAI is supposed to be making amends and winning back political favour — and badly needed public funding.

John Delaney: FAI rumoured to have given him between €350,000 and €500,000 to terminate their 18-year relationship.
John Delaney: FAI rumoured to have given him between €350,000 and €500,000 to terminate their 18-year relationship.

If it was an attempt to bury bad news, the FAI may have scored an own goal and put a further strain on a relationship it needs to save.

The association may be playing the long game, however, with a view to mitigating more bad news on the horizon.

A report by governance consultancy firm Kosi, at the behest of Sport Ireland, is expected to lay bare the FAI’s finances on a forensic level when it is released next week.

If the outcome of this probe makes for grim reading as expected, it may be a case that the FAI is positioning itself as a new organisation with a clean slate when it comes to face another grilling over the future of Irish football.

It will look to Delaney’s departure as a watershed moment, the dawn of a new era in Irish football following a dark and uncertain night.

As for Delaney’s legacy?

The words ‘Vantage Club’ will feature in every profile written about him forever more. The absurdly priced ticket scheme, launched in the midst of a global economic meltdown, was a spectacularly miscalculated folly that ensured Delaney’s assurances that the FAI would be debt-free by 2020 had all the credibility of a pathetic punchline.

Despite the Genesis Report and other promises of developing the game to compete on the global stage, Ireland never qualified for a World Cup in Delaney’s time in the top job. While there are high hopes for the emerging crop in the under-19s men’s team, our last appearance at the world’s biggest sporting event came in 2002, when these promising young stars were barely born.

While Delaney was enjoying a salary that was a multiple of that earned by most FAI staff, the women’s national team were changing into shared tracksuits in airport toilets.

Domestically, our top-flight clubs — the ‘difficult child’ according to Delaney — are looking outside the FAI for entrepreneurs to come in with new plans to rejuvenate a league that is poorly marketed and scantly funded by the association.

The payoff might stick in the craw, but in terms of the price Irish football has paid for John Delaney’s tenure, it is just the tip of the iceberg.

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