FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill has criticised the association's previous handling of the ongoing Robbie Keane situation. Keane remains on the FAI payroll, earning an annual salary of €250,000, despite holding no official position, after the Republic of Ireland's record goal-scorer received a four-year contract in 2018 to work as an assistant coach to previous manager Mick McCarthy.
When Stephen Kenny took over in April last year the Dubliner appointed Keith Andrews and Damien Duff as assistants, leaving no room for Keane in his backroom.
Hill and Keane held discussions about a future role as recently as last Wednesday, when the latter received his Uefa Pro Licence alongside Duff.
“We also had a good long chat in London around the Euros where we saw Robbie interacting well with some key Uefa people and representing Ireland very well actually,” said Hill after the FAI annual general meeting confirmed borrowings of €62.4 million in 2020.
“I think it is fair to say the situation around Robbie initially was not of his making,” Hill continued. “I personally don’t believe the association handled that situation particularly well. For that I was happy to apologise to Robbie in our conversations.”
Hill and FAI chairman Roy Barrett also confirmed that the FAI board would discuss Kenny's contract, which runs to July 2022, when the current World Cup qualifying campaign ends in November.
On plans to join forces with the United Kingdom in a bid for the 2030 World Cup, Barrett said the FAI will “consider and reflect on” the violence at Wembley Stadium during England’s semi-final and final games at the Euros.
The AGM itself was notable for the release of a highly ambitious "strategic vision" that has Ireland competing at "every other" major soccer tournament. This applies to both male and female teams, even though Vera Pauw's senior women have never qualified for a World Cup or European Championships. The Republic of Ireland men have reached three Euros – 1988, 2012 and 2016 – and featured at three World Cups in 1990, 1994 and 2002.
“You want to get the balance right between realism and ambition,” said Hill. “We would expect all our international teams to be qualifying for every other event.”
Hill, in a speech that leaned heavily on the FAI addressing the gender imbalance in Irish football, revealed that negotiations are happening to bridge the pay gap between male and female international players.
Currently, the senior men’s match fee is €2,500 with the women receiving €500.
“I think the approach that is used for men and women should be the same, yes. In other words, we should have the same approach to tournament bonus and tournament qualification.
"The quantum that that approach might refer to is dependent on obviously the decisions of both Uefa and Fifa as to how much they are going to pay for those bonuses but, yes, we should strive to have equality in that approach."
Considering Fifa prize money for the 2018 men’s World Cup was €340 million while the prize money for the 2019 women’s world cup was €25.5 million, Hill was asked what is stopping the FAI from following the lead of the English FA, as well as the Norwegian and Brazilian football federations, who all pay their male and female players the same match fee.
“I don’t think there is a specific barrier to that,” he responded.
Alex O’Connell, the association’s finance director, stated at the virtual gathering that the practice of the FAI using future grant money from Uefa and Fifa to cover current debt is to end.
“In the past,” said O’Connell, “the association has drawn future income streams into present periods in order to assist with the payment of liabilities as they fell due. It is our intention to cease this practice and ensure our income streams are only drawn in the periods of which they relate.”
However, O’Connell was unable to confirm that the FAI would own half the Aviva Stadium when the €28 million debt was paid off in 2040. Last March, the Sunday Times revealed, via a freedom of information request, that the IRFU had the option of buying the FAI’s shares in the stadium for 50 per cent of their value if the Aviva’s “useful life” had expired by then.