John Delaney will do rather nicely out of new Uefa position
Notion that women’s team issue would harm FAI boss always seemed fanciful
John Delaney and Emma English. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
John Delaney’s election to the Executive Committee of Uefa guarantees his place at the international game’s top table for the next four years, but may not win him any new friends back at home.
The commitment involved may well be seen as a distraction from the role he is so well paid for – sorting out the many problems that continue to afflict Irish football.
Asked about his €360,000 per annum FAI salary a couple of years ago, he insisted that he earned every penny of it, remarking: “It is a 24/7 job, weekends as well.”
Perhaps, he will waive some of that money given that the last Irishman to hold the position, Des Casey, reckoned it took him out of the country for between 80 and 100 days a year. He could certainly afford to as the new role comes with a six figure salary of its own, plus the inevitable expenses.
He is certainly entitled to feel some satisfaction with the manner of his election. The Irishman finished second to Karl-Erik Nilsson of Sweden, with nine other candidates having run for the eight ExCo places up for grabs in Helsinki.
Even with the 55 associations all voting and each having a number of ballots to cast, Delaney’s total of 48 votes was high, 20 more than he actually needed, and he finished ahead of several of the European game’s most influential figures including former Manchester United chief executive David Gill and veteran Dutch administrator Michael van Praag, previously a Uefa vice-president who ran for the presidency of Fifa last year. Former Poland star Zbigniew Boniek finished fourth.
It is quite an outcome for the man who, this time last year, seemed destined for the presidency of the Olympic Council of Ireland. His involvement there ended rather suddenly after the Olympics with the 49-year-old revealing he had been in a position to attend only five of the board’s previous 13 meetings.
“My role as CEO of the FAI is my primary role and priority,” he said at the time.
Now, less than six months later, he has decided he has enough time to make rather more of a commitment to the Uefa job. And his peers across Europe, to be fair, have demonstrated that they have plenty of time for him.
Delaney’s ability as a political operator has never been in doubt. Having risen to power in the association here more than a decade ago he has made his position in Abbotstown almost entirely unassailable by seeing off rivals and critics.
One of the more entertaining aspects of the dispute this week between the association and the members of the women’s team was the suggestion in an exchange of correspondence between the two sides that Delaney had brought the issue to the board of the association back in January and had been instructed, he suggested, not to deal directly with the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland.
The association may well have its reasons for not wanting to establish the precedent of negotiating with the players’ union on behalf of members of its other, mainly underage, international squads. But the idea that the board told Delaney to do anything he didn’t want to do already, would be regarded by a considerable amount of scepticism by pretty anyone with more than a passing acquaintance of how the game is governed in this country.
His ability to run the show back home without any sort of real interference, though, will have impressed in Europe where the main priority is to have somebody who can make deals at Uefa level, then ensure their own association delivers its obligations under them.
He has also always appeared to work hard to stay on the right side of the organisation’s leadership; scarcely surprising given the huge level of funding it provides to the association, with the amounts involved far outstripping the grants directly received from government here.
The FAI’s position on issues such as Sepp Blatter’s presidency of Fifa has tended to mirror very closely that of the Uefa president, most obviously Michel Platini in recent years.
The French man, who Delaney once claimed as a “friend”, departed without any memorable show of support from these parts and the Irish, having sensed which way the wind was blowing, were early supporters of his successor, Aleksander Ceferin, from Slovenia; all of which might well simply be regarded as good politics by the representatives of a nation that has traditionally occupied the margins of European football, in more ways than one.
The notion that the threatened strike by the members of the Irish senior women’s team on Tuesday would damage him amongst this particular electorate – essentially his peers from the continent’s 54 other national associations – always seemed a little fanciful, but the fact that none of the many and varied controversies he has been associated with rather more directly over the past decade or more does not seem to have impacted negatively upon him at all in this election, does surely say something about the Uefa and the people who run it.
The stories surrounding his rise to power in Merrion Square might make for some good anecdotes in the hotel bars of Helsinki this week but they are probably regarded as ancient history amongst the new generation of elected and employed officials that appear to be sweeping to power in Uefa.
Somewhat more surprisingly, it seems that none of the headlines that Delaney has made back in this part of the world in more recent years are of much interest either.
Under his watch, the FAI took the incredible step of calling for Fifa to create a space for Ireland at the World Cup in 2010 because of a refereeing error in a play-off game, then benefited when Sepp Blatter sought to make the issue go away by using €5 million of the federation’s money.
The FAI’s system of ticket distribution for away games and Delaney’s role in it has attracted persistent criticism from independent fans’ groups and alienated him from a large number of supporters with whom he was previously popular.
At home, of course, there is rarely much difficulty getting tickets with the spectacular failure of the vastly misjudged, mistimed and over-priced Vantage Club scheme, publicly championed by the chief executive, undermining a situation in which advanced sales had previously accounted for almost the entire capacity of the old Lansdowne Road.
At one point Delaney boasted that the association would be able to pay for its share of the cost of the stadium’s redevelopment by writing a cheque if it so desired, but the Vantage Club debacle and wider downturn in the Irish economy plunged the FAI into a financial crisis instead. And it continues to carry very substantial debts, something that still impacts directly on its staff and operations.
The singing of a ballad about a dead IRA man after a game at the Aviva, in company that included guests and former internationals and the related threat of legal action against media organisations both here and in Britain while the association was denying that it had ever happened, caused considerable embarrassment, making both him and the organisation look a bit of a laughing stock in official circles.
His socialising, especially in Poland, and very public private life since, have not helped on that front either and his partner, Emma English, maintains a far higher profile at many official events away than anyone associated with delegates from other associations, often appearing to be a member of the FAI travelling party and occasionally occupying seats normally reserved for the blazers themselves. At other times, she has astonished members of the foreign media by effectively acting as Delaney’s minder.
An inquiry by The Irish Times as to whether she is actually being paid by the FAI went unanswered late last year.
There should be quite a bit more travel for both of them now and Delaney will have a seat at the table where a lot of broadcast and commercial revenues are carved up, tournament structures decided and appointments ratified.
The FAI, and by extension, Irish football might well do rather nicely out of it. John Delaney, though, is absolutely certain to.