Lisa Fallon: If we want elite players in Ireland then we need a serious soccer industry

Time has come for Government to see the benefits of sport and to step up and fund

There has been a constant debate in recent weeks about the star player's impact on a team. Take Ronaldo at Manchester United. One of the all-time greats, his on-pitch role in the current set-up at Old Trafford is being questioned repeatedly.

Does he do enough in possession to justify the work he does not do out of possession?

It’s an interesting one. If you have too many players only playing their game, then the team cannot function properly and ultimately poor results will follow.

Over the course of the season, will there be enough ‘Ronaldo moments’ to deliver the silverware that proves this version of United is capable of sustainable success?


Considering the 36-year-old has bagged 10 goals in 14 appearances, not to mention his killer headers to sink Ireland in September, you can imagine what CR7 thinks of all this talk.

But football can’t be played like a game of Jenga where pieces are pulled from here, there and everywhere and placed on top to give the impression that things are building. As always happens in Jenga, eventually one piece will be pulled that brings the tower crashing down.

Any successful team needs solid structures that are built upon to create strong pillars on which a new legacy can stand.

The recent Social Investment Report on Football, presented by the FAI and Uefa to the Irish government, is an authentic lens through which funding for sports in this country can be viewed.

This is the foundation upon which a football industry can grow in Ireland.

There is undeniable evidence to back up how important sport is when it comes to the physical, social and mental health of our population.

It also has a different function in terms of producing athletes who can compete against the best in the world.

Perhaps the time has come for the Irish Government, and all the governments that follow them, to view sport for what it really is and fund it appropriately.

To adopt a modern day call of protest: if not now, when?

Separate entities

This requires joined up thinking. For example, could there be a case for League of Ireland academies to be funded as separate entities to the professional side of the club?

Should it be that state body funding is funnelled into the development part of the club, to resource proper training facilities while also creating an environment where club staff and volunteers can be based?

As a society, we would benefit hugely from moving beyond a siloed approach to more collaborative thinking and action that ensures the legacy of Irish football looks fundamentally different from its current vista 10 or 20 years from now.

This demands an act of precedent. Irish underage football could gain so much by collaborating and working together off the pitch and competing on it. A strength in numbers approach might just change the course of Irish football.

After the international teams, League of Ireland clubs must become the pinnacle point for a new industry.

At first team level, the clubs must strive to be fully professional, with proper stadia, full-time players and staff.

And FAI club licensing requirements could help support the achievement of goals along the way. For example, if clubs were given four years to either own or have a long-term lease secured for a home venue that meets certain criteria, then local task forces could set about the strategic work needed to deliver it.

Success would mean that every League of Ireland club had a home venue that met good standards within four years. Then a focus could be placed on further developing the facilities and the whole fan experience.

If a model could be achieved whereby the professional side of the club was driven by the commercial and corporate revenues then there could be no conflict of interest with state body funding going into the development of the underage facilities, where full-time qualified coaches could also be employed to work with the players.

If this sounds a lot like how the GAA does business at a local level, well, that’s because it is a similar approach to funding.

It would not only create social and career pathways for our players, but also for our coaches.

Player development

To have truly professional players, you need professional staff around them and by having full-time coaches for our academies, you give the opportunity for a focus on player development that we have never had before in this country.

For so many years, and across other sports too, we rely far too heavily on part-time and voluntary coaches who juggle work and family life yet still manage to produce high-performing athletes.

If we are really serious about having an elite player pathway, we need to have an elite coaching pathway too. We need both in order to develop a serious football industry.

With the club academy (girls and boys) and professional first team squads (men and women) running on separate financial models, clubs could adopt a viable dichotomous approach to player/coach development with a third administrative pillar tasked with the strategic and infrastructure objectives of the club.

If the FAI and the Government could become the foundation, the League of Ireland and grassroots clubs can be the pillars, then the future legacy of Irish football would really stand up.

And that means we would not need to unearth our very own Cristiano. Or better still, when a superstar eventually arrives he or she bagging a spectacular 97th minute header will be a welcome bonus rather than our saviour.