John Delaney: Martin O’Neill is here to stay

FAI chief executive John Delaney is satisfied Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane are committed to seeing Ireland through the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign.

Delaney revealed yesterday that, following the verbal agreement on the eve of Euro 2016 to extend the management team’s contract, he now expects O’Neill will sign on the dotted line before the end of the month.

Asked if there was provision in the contract to cover the possibility of either man leaving should an alternative position in the game arise, the FAI boss said: “I wouldn’t go into specifics of contracts, I never do. All I know is the management team are committed to seeing the World Cup qualifiers through. We saw an example in the past, where Roy was asked to go to Aston Villa — which we agreed to at the time — and he has obviously come back to us without operating at another club.

“As far as I am concerned, the management team are in place for the World Cup qualifiers. Even speaking to Martin the other day, it was about how quick Serbia is coming around, now the Euros are over. It was great but it’s gone and finished with now, and it’s all about Oman at home but, in particular, Serbia away and trying to get out of this group and get to Russia.”

Some time before the Euros, Martin O’Neill had strongly hinted he would prefer to see how his team fared in France before agreeing a new deal, comments which only added to the element of surprise when an agreement was suddenly announced on the very eve of the tournament.

Filling in some of the background yesterday, Delaney revealed: “We had a lot of conversations post- Bosnia. The Association wanted to renew the contracts, we were clear on that. The board of the FAI wanted Martin and Roy and the management team to stay, and Martin and I had various discussions about that. I always felt he was going to stay with the Association but I was happy that, just before we left, we agreed all the terms. There is the principle of agreeing to stay and then there is the detail beneath that: we wanted him to stay and I always felt Martin would stay.

“Maybe, and he said this publicly and privately, he wanted to challenge himself and the team to do well at the tournament. But, for the Association, we had seen the progression of the team: there are younger players coming through, we saw evidence of that at the Euros — also players like Harry Arter who didn’t participate, Eunan O’Kane and Callum O’Dowda, players like that. We saw progression and we saw him delivering in terms of qualifying for the Euros.”

Delaney said he now expects O’Neill will sign on the dotted line before the end of the month at the latest.

“There’s no issues about that,” he said. “I spoke to Martin last week — I had to go to the Euros final and we’d have met Monday morning only for the fact that I was coming back when he was heading back to England. The contracts are there to be signed and it’s only a matter of myself and Martin meeting up to sign. I would expect that to be the next time I meet him, whether that is the back end of next week or it could be at the AGM (on July 30 in Tipperary) when he’s going to be there for a couple of days. But everything is agreed.”

Delaney confirmed, before costs, the Association’s gross income from Euro 2016 was €11m and he went on to reiterate his belief that, if the board so decides at the time, the FAI can be debt-free within four years.

“If you look at the facts, we used to have a debt of €70-odd million, it’s now €35m and it is well within our compass to be debt-free by 2020, if we wish so,” he said. “There are provisions in place to reduce even between now and 2020. We’ve already paid some of the €35m down — it’s €34.75m as we speak.

“2020 is always a good year for the Association. In 2020, there are naming rights, television deals to be done with Uefa; Hat-Trick funding that we get from Uefa, 10-year ticket sales (and) there are sponsorships up for renewal around that time. So, I’ve said this consistently, if the Association decides it wants to be debt-free by 2020, it will be able to do so.”

On the possible retirement of skipper Robbie Keane from international football, Delaney said he expects that, in his own time, the country’s record goalscorer will “make his own thoughts known.” And he added: “When Robbie Keane decides to retire from international football, we will mark it in a special way.”

John Delaney was speaking in the National Sports Campus at the announcement of an investment package of €2.7m from Sport Ireland to support the FAI’s grassroots development of football in Ireland.

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