FAI reject plans for national residential academy

Association aims for ‘broader, more regionally balanced approach’, says Jonathan Hill

The Football Association of Ireland has rejected plans for a “national residential academy” in their strategic plan (2022-25) that is due to be published on Monday, February 7th.

Instead of elite teenage talent being housed and educated at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown, the association is aiming for a “broader, more regionally balanced approach” to player development.

Jonathan Hill, the FAI’s UK-based chief executive, began to explain this vision in a “strategy consultation process report” seen by The Irish Times, that has created disquiet among some stakeholders and FAI staff.

Despite several European countries, including Northern Ireland, creating residential academies with access to education, the FAI excluded the idea from their six strategic pillars but stated it will be “kept under review” by Ruud Dokter’s eventual successor as director of football.

“In the post-Brexit environment it is clear that our best young players will now spend a longer portion of their childhood within both the Irish domestic football and educational systems,” said Hill, in the FAI consultation report. “As a result of this, schools, colleges and universities will play an even greater role than they did before in player development. With this in mind, we need to increase the number of dual career (football and education) opportunities made available to our players.”

League of Ireland

The report also stresses the FAI’s intention to “inspire” a new future for the League of Ireland.

“It is a priority for the association to work with all clubs and stakeholders to develop a sustainable academy structure that supports professional staff, increased contact hours for players, education of players and the growth of the League of Ireland as a whole,” Hill explained before adding that a core measure of success would be to increase the number of full-time staff working in club academies.

"I really don't think the pool of players or the finance exists in Ireland to have 20 club academies," said Daniel Lambert, Bohemian FC's chief operating officer last November. "I think there can be a maximum of five. We could have two, maybe three in Dublin, with two regional academies but if we are going for this UK model of full-time education and professional coaching, you are into hundreds of thousands [of euro] really quickly."

The FAI’s “long-term goal” of creating a full-time football industry with a “specific strategy” based around League of Ireland clubs remains at a developmental stage.

Hill is currently facing questions at board level about running the FAI while living in London since his appointment in November 2020. Independent board member Liz Joyce has been asked to examine Hill's current working and travel arrangements that include regular flights from the UK to Dublin, while staying at Castleknock hotel and the occasional use of an FAI driver, according to the Sunday Times. Hill, a former English FA executive, has not drawn down on a €30,000 relocation fund.