Martin O’Neill’s dismissal a financial decision by the FAI
Fear of failing to qualify for Euro 2020 prompted the association to make a change
Financial decisions from the FAI ultimately saw the end of Martin O’Neill’s time as Ireland manager. Photo: Andrew Paton/Getty Images
Martin O’Neill is said to have enjoyed a reasonable enough working relationship with John Delaney but, in the wake of yet another poor display by the Irish team on Monday night in Aarhus, the scale of the substantial new contract the northerner extracted from the association’s chief executive back in January ended up being about the best reason for still thinking he might be given the first few games of the European Championship qualifying campaign to get things back on track.
In the end the wider economics of the situation decided things.
The reason Delaney and the association’s board took the plunge is that after a truly dismal run of performances and results, they no longer had confidence in O’Neill’s ability to get Ireland to the next Europeans and there is too much riding on that not to be seen to do something.
Delaney always claims that the association does not budget for making it to these tournaments but the expansion of the Euros to 24 teams has made failure to qualify for it almost unthinkable. By making it to the second round in France thanks to a win and a draw in the group stage, the FAI grossed €11 million in participation fees and prize money alone. The same performance in 2020 would bring in €14 million.
Two years ago, bonuses and other costs ate up a huge proportion of that money and the association declared a net profit on its participation of just €4.5 million. O’Neill and co certainly weren’t the only ones to profit but with the manager having doubled his base salary since, it might be expected that the performance related element of O’Neill’s contract might have been reduced and the money coming back to Abbotstown would increase accordingly.
But if Ireland didn’t qualify all of it would be lost and, after the year that’s been in it, neither the team or its manager looked a sound bet.
O’Neill and the rest of his coaching staff were on roughly €3 million a year between them with two thirds of that going to the 66-year-old and some €800,000 to Roy Keane. Industry sources suggest that reaching a “mutual agreement,” with them to go will have saved the FAI perhaps half of that sum on the outstanding portion of their deal which was to run until the end of Ireland’s involvement in the Euros.
The fact that Dublin will host four games in the tournament was also a factor but the money is what mattered most at the end of the day. Delaney, it seems, may actually have taken the decision before Monday’s game in Aarhus with the performance against Northern Ireland providing damning evidence of just how far the team had fallen, but in the end allowing O’Neill the opportunity to back up the claim that he would get the team to the tournament simply became too risky.
The size of the crowd at last week’s game against Michael O’Neill’s side has also been cited as one of things that prompted Delaney to act but that has been a longstanding problem, one that dates back to the opening of the Aviva stadium and the dismal failure of the association’s Vantage Club ticket scheme. Previously, at the old Lansdowne Road, fans had been under pressure to buy tickets for every game in order to retain their seats for the biggest ones but the availability of unsold premium seats allowed people to pick and choose and the spectacle produced under Giovanni Trapattoni meant many chose to stay away.
Bright new dawn
When the Italian departed, few expected O’Neill’s arrival to herald a bright new dawn of beautiful football but the appointment was viewed as a success as long as the team was going well.
But attendances remained a huge issue and, while the number of cut price season tickets steadily grew (to 17,000 it is claimed) the association has routinely given away thousands more. Recently, indeed, some schoolboy clubs are said to have actually struggled to get rid of the amount they were given.
Delaney’s grip on an association he has a long time to shape in accordance with his wishes remains firm but as O’Neill departs there has been no shortage of people expressing the belief that he should be next to go.
A few thousand disgruntled supporters signing an online petition calling for his removal and various pundits, including former Ireland manager, Brian Kerr, have laid a good deal of the blame for the current situation squarely at the chief executive’s door.
The criticism seems certain to have hurt him; Delaney gives every impression of caring deeply about his popularity and image both within football circles and amongst the wider public, something evidenced by the efforts made the other night to ensure that a banner intended to embarrass him was not displayed at the game in Aarhus.
He knows well, however, just how great a distraction tournament football is and having played his hand poorly in those contract negotiations, it seems, he has now spent heavily again in the hope that a new man can provide a fresh start.