examines the highs and lows of John Delaney's tenure as FAI CEO.
Where should it sit on the trial balance? Debit or credit side? On RTÉ Radio 1 today, Marian Finucane felt the idea that Ireland be included as a 33rd team at the 2010 World Cup was a vastly underrated proposal that she couldn’t see anything wrong with.
In the aftermath of that Thierry Henry handball you might have heard something about, the FAI’s focus was on securing a replay of that playoff with France.
Much later, we learned, via an ebullient Delaney interview with Ray D’Arcy, that the FAI had secured €5million from Fifa to make the vague threat of legal action go away.
Money for nothing? Yes. But it also linked Ireland and Delaney with the murky shenanigans of Blatter and cronies.
Several times, Delaney has insisted to Irish supporters groups that he had nothing to do with the confiscation of flags and other signage finding fault with his position. But it’s fair to say Ireland internationals aren’t noted safe spaces for freedom of speech and peaceful protest.
A trigger finger when on the back foot was evident in recent weeks with the failed injunction to spike the Sunday Times’ €100,000 loan revelation, which only served to heighten interest in the eventual story.
This echoed the hugely entertaining fiasco of 2014 when footage of Delaney singing about IRA hunger striker Joe McDonnell was accompanied by legal correspondence insisting their “client’s position is simply that it is not him singing in the video”.
That was put down to “confusion with a third party”, a not unknown state of affairs at FAI HQ.
If credit is afforded for the reigns of Trapattoni and O’Neill, Delaney must take the appointment of Steve ‘the boss, the gaffer’ Staunton on the chin — though, in his defence, he couldn’t have foreseen the sad illness of Stan’s ‘consultant’ Bobby Robson.
The Staunton era also brought a swift end to Brian Kerr’s tenure. And despite Delaney’s famed political nous, he has been unable to soften the bitterness that fracture left behind. And there is nobody in Irish football ready to testify that the best place for Kerr is outside the tent.
At times he was an unlucky general. When the FAI’s sales agents ISG were devising ‘Vantage Club’ packages to the tune of 32 grand a pop for the privilege of scoffing prawn sandwiches on the Aviva halfway line, somebody at Lehman Brothers was beginning to worry about the prospects of a few of their loan customers.
By the end of Martin O’Neill’s reign, the tales of schoolboy clubs being given bundles of free tickets were legion. And from this vantage point, last year, Delaney admitted for the first time the FAI had priced the tickets too high. It is probably not the only thing they overvalued during his reign.
Much of the fault laid at Delaney’s door comes down to optics. While relatively victimless, the tie-throwing and shoelessness fed into long-established narratives which insist Irish football, no matter how things are going on the field, must, at some fundamental level, be a shambles. That he should have continued to earn around twice what the CEO of the Spanish football federation was reportedly paid, while the FAI were laying off staff on the ground, impressed few.
And while rugby has beguiled a generation and courted a bottomless trough of sponsorship dough and hashtags, through slick packaging, Delaney has seen Irish footballers disappear from the upper ranks of European football, the domestic league remain “a difficult child”, and the national team’s style of play remain a source of grim amusement to opponents who encounter it.
There is a curious logic at the heart of some John Delaney disparagement. There is scorn that he draws power from the foot soldiers keeping the game alive down the lanes of the land, on the rocky fields a farmer didn’t want. As though the men and women giving their time to the next generation are the last people who should have a say in Irish football’s governance.
You don’t hear much criticism of John Delaney among the people trying to scrape together a few bob to build a dressing room or lay a patch of astro for their under-10s, without pestering everyone in the parish one more time.
Soccer players don’t tog out of their car boots at the side of the road any more. Why this improvement in facilities isn’t producing the footballers of old is another question.
John Giles tends to take these things on their merits. When Liam Brady argued, last year, that the only thing that has progressed during Delaney’s tenure was his own career, Gilesy offered a corrective. “There have been a lot of good things happen on John Delaney's watch. We wouldn't have the Aviva without John Delaney, and we wouldn't have games coming up in the Euros without John Delaney.”
Delaney’s good standing with Uefa hasn’t been to the detriment of that career. But it has undoubtedly played its part in showcasing our fine stadium in the 2011 Europa League final and will again next year in four games at Euro 2020.
Two finals tournaments on his watch — we’ve only ever reached six — is a fair return; even if the swelling of the Euros has served our purposes. Nor were Ireland asked to train on a car park without isotonic drinks in Poland or France. The bagging of Giovanni Trapattoni, and the box office O’Neill-Keane ticket — while spending Denis O’Brien’s money — must go down as a coup. And Robbie Brady’s winner against Italy in Lille lifted the nation’s spirits in the way no rugby success can ever emulate. But did he know when to let go? The decisions to allow Trap and O’Neill outstay their effectiveness proved costly for the FAI.
It has long been taken for granted that the two most important units in Irish football — the schoolboy clubs and League of Ireland clubs — will always work at odds with one another. That the schoolboy clubs will always be working to hasten players away from these shores for a payday. While the league clubs must make do with mending broken castoffs later.
And while there is no sign yet of a great harmony emerging, in Delaney’s term an alternative has been born with the national underage leagues, now starting at 13.
Are they being funded properly? Hardly. But there are signs, in the efforts of the Ireland U19 and U17 teams, that some kind of smoother pathway is gradually being cleared.
Sensibly, for a man who can only be judged in the future, FAI performance director Ruud Dokter warned in 2013 that it may take up to 15 years for the structures of the game in Ireland to be overhauled. So perhaps we can only fairly assess Delaney in 10 years’ time.
Say what you like about the wedge he is trousering but a lot of wealthy people haven’t grasped one simple enough concept: Drinks don’t buy themselves.