FAI might learn from Iceland’s generosity to domestic game

International team has reaped benefit from strong financial support given to clubs

The Iceland players celebrate after they defeated England 2-1 in the Euro 2016 last 16 match in Nice. Photograph: Tibor Illyes/EPA

The Iceland players celebrate after they defeated England 2-1 in the Euro 2016 last 16 match in Nice. Photograph: Tibor Illyes/EPA

 

Geir Thorsteinsson, the president of the Icelandic football association (KSI), has said this week’s decision to share out around €3.5 million amongst the country’s clubs is in line with long-term policy and has, he believes, contributed hugely to the country’s recent success internationally.

The decision to share out a quarter of the association’s income from Euro 2016 was initially taken last February at a meeting of the KSI’s affiliates. However, according to Thorsteinsson, the decision to give a quarter of the additional €6 million prizemoney earned after the national team reached the quarter-finals of the tournament, was taken by the organisation itself. That decision means an extra€1.5 million for the clubs.

“Yes, it was the association’s decision, it came from us,” said Thorsteinsson.

“They developed the players so they deserve a share of the money. We have had a very good strategy in giving grants and other types of support to our clubs. That has always been our philosophy.

“In this case, some will go to facilities, some to paying for extra coaches; the club’s have different needs and they are in the best position to judge these, so it is best that they decide how to spend the money.”

  The news of the grant allocations was much remarked upon here this week with many supporters and, privately, club officials, struck by the contrast with the FAI’s recent offer of a total of €100,000 to be distributed amongst Ireland’s senior clubs.

Cost of paying referees

The differences don’t stop there, however. Thorsteinsson, who did not address these differences as he spoke to The Irish Times, revealed that the association had, in recent years, waived affiliation fees for clubs in the country’s senior leagues and covered the cost of paying referees and other match officials in order to ease the burden on clubs.

Both of these are expenses that have long prompted complaints from clubs here.

“Mostly our clubs include men’s, women’s and youth sections; all of our bigger clubs are like this,” he said.

“We focus on these clubs and, in particular, on the ones with the youths. But the emphasis in on equality.

“We have given the same amounts to our lower league clubs [there are five men’s divisions and two women’s divisions] as long as they have a youth section.

“There are 47 clubs with youth development structures and 18 where there are just adults, mostly guys just playing for themselves really, so it is right that they don’t get so much money. None of these receive any serious money.”

All Uefa money received goes to improving infrastructure, an approach that has laid the groundwork for the transformation of the country’s facilities and coaching regime – something that was widely documented after the senior international side qualified for France.

The amount of money distributed this week as a result of their success is not huge but they would look pretty attractive to administrators with Airtricity League sides.

Five Icelandic clubs received just short of €138,000 and 13 got more than the €100,000 Dundalk received for winning the title here last season.

Like Dundalk, Icelandic clubs see success in Europe as a major target and the association is trying to help them achieve it. However, Thorsteinsson, a former youth player, coach and club secretary at KR Reykjavik who also refereed before joining the KSI, acknowledged the scale of the challenge they face.

Disadvantages

An obvious factor is that the country’s leading players play abroad which, he said, had both advantages and disadvantages for the domestic game.

“It’s difficult to keep them. We do very well at the moment with the players up until the age of 16 but at 17, 18 or 19 it is natural that the best talents go away. Agents from all over the world come and see them and our best clubs will never be able to compete with Dutch clubs or Denmark or England or the other leagues where they go to.

“Going is good for them because they improve and we have quite a few players from overseas in our league too; they help to bring up the standard of the players who stay at home. It’s the history of football. It is the way the game has developed. You cannot stop that.

Overnight

“What happened at the Euros did not come overnight,” he said. “It was the result of a lot of hard work over many years. It is not just our senior men ... our under-21s still have a chance to go to Poland next summer and our women’s team are well placed to qualify for another European Championships.

“But we hope the Euro will change the perception of Iceland and its football. When it comes to young players, we have been a cheap market for foreign clubs but I hope what the team has achieved this summer helps to change that and the prices go up.”

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