FAI counts cost of failing to reach Russia

Failure to reach next year’s World Cup has denied the FAI a potential €9m in prize money and allowances, thereby undermining their chances of becoming debt-free by 2020.

To year-end 2016, the association owed €40m in loans, primarily towards the mortgage on the Lansdowne Road redevelopment project which was meant to be funded by the sale of premium tickets.

Chief executive John Delaney explained in May that a decision on whether his previous vow to clear the stadium debt by 2020 would be discussed in the first quarter of 2018.

Martin O’Neill’s success or otherwise in guiding the senior team to Russia, Delaney admitted, would be a factor in choosing to eliminate the borrowings within the next 24 months.

Fifa’s council recently confirmed at a meeting in Kolkata, India that qualifiers were guaranteed €7.75m, with another €1.3m payable to cover expenses.

That 2020 debt-free status now seems far-fetched given not only that loss of prize-money but also qualification bonuses built into commercial contracts and, most vitally, tickets sales.

Next year will be the first in modern times that the FAI won’t have a competitive fixture in the calendar. While they and others may try dress up the new Uefa Nations League as having a purpose, to O’Neill or his successor, should he opt to quit, these fixtures will be used to blood new players and test different formations.

The matches — played from September to November— are based on groups of three nations facing each other home and away, with a convoluted avenue into Euro 2020 the incentive. Ireland will discover their opponents at the draw in Lausanne in Switzerland on January 24.

Whether that will be enough for supporters to fork out on tickets of the season, single or premium variety, is questionable, particularly as the collateral damage from Tuesday’s Danish pasting lingers over the long winter.

Also in for a season of discontent are FAI staff, whose wage restoration hopes were based upon the association hitting some of their “key performance indicators”.

Employees who have at least six years of service lost over 15% of their income in wage cuts as the FAI’s debt pile soared. Last year, they clawed 3% back as Delaney and his board trumpeted an upturn in financial fortunes and while another 2.5% has been promised in January, the same increment 12 months afterwards is conditional.

“We thank you for your continued performance, dedication and commitment to the Association and look forward to another positive year ahead,” Delaney told staff in a circular sent on the eve of the World Cup play-off first leg in Copenhagen.

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