Trapattoni survives, but will soccer?
At the FAI’s annual general meeting in July, Delaney said only interest was being paid on the loan. That interest amounted to €4.8 million last year, leaving the FAI’s net debt at €64 million in 2011. This is why, when it came to deciding whether to dispose of Trapattoni this week amid increasing dissatisfaction with his performance, cost was paramount. Severing his contract with more than 18 months to run on it would have meant an outlay about €2 million.
In the context of the FAI’s financial crisis, the association has been accused of turning down an opportunity to sell tickets in bulk at a discount at the start of the project, opting to chase higher profits instead. However, the FAI has denied “categorically” a widely reported claim that it rejected an offer from ISG, the company initially charged with marketing and selling the Vantage Club packages, to buy all 10,000 premium seats for €75 million.
The FAI also stands accused of allowing the cuts to fall disproportionately on coaching and club development. Although Delaney says he cut his salary by 10 per cent last year to show leadership, FAI accounts show grant aid to soccer clubs and leagues around the State was slashed by 29 per cent, or €377,000, in 2011.
For domestic clubs the problem is not just lack of funding but also debt. “We owe the FAI money; there’s no question every club does,” says one senior official at an Airtricity League side, who will speaks only anonymously. (“Personally I don’t mind being out there, but there’d be repercussions for the club.”) He says: “In other countries the association will pay you to stay in the league, but before we kick a ball we have to pay the FAI €19,000 in affiliation fees.
“We have to pay €13,000 to the referees, €20,000 for insurance, and we don’t get a penny for TV appearances. The latest thing is the quantity surveyor: the FAI says we have to get one in at the start of every year. It used to pay for them, but last year we got an invoice of €2,000 plus VAT.”
Meanwhile, clubs have lost the €15,000 annual grant for development officers, and if any complain publicly about the FAI they face the prospect of being fined under a licensing agreement. “When we signed the club licensing we sold our soul,” the club official says.
There have been small signs of rebellion, with anti-Delaney banners surfacing at league matches. However, “at the last two AGMs of the FAI there was not one question from the floor – that’s even after all of Delaney’s antics in Poland. What does that tell you?”
The FAI’s heavy-handedness was on view two years ago when Delaney blocked a plan by Limerick FC to invite Barcelona for a preseason friendly. After a court action, the dispute ended up in mediation, and Delaney sought to further defuse the row by allowing Manchester City to come to Thomond Park last August. His political skills have never been in doubt. A former treasurer of the association, he has come out on top in a series of internal power struggles over the past decade, playing a key role in the departure of the previous occupants of the top job. He travels frequently to clubs around the country, and is always keen to present any cheques that are going in person.
“Yeah, John Delaney came to open our clubhouse,” says Henry Keely at Finglas Celtic FC. “We invited him and he came [but] the FAI never gave us a penny.” Instead, the club raised €600,000 for the facility, along with its all-weather pitch, through sports capital grants, the local council and private fundraising.
With just eight teams, the club is a quarter of the size of Templeogue and has a tougher sell locally, with parents increasingly unable to pay the yearly subscription. “We are asking for €5 a week instead. Some parents don’t have it, but you can’t tell a kid they can’t play.”