As a footballer, Roy Barrett was a contradiction. Tall and slim, he had the close control that would be expected of a much more compact player, according to someone who played with him.
“Loads of skill, and big f**king legs to take the ball off you.” The contradictions don’t end there; he is a stockbroker who eschews the caricature, focused on family rather than excess; a smoker who has kept up a physical fitness regime well into his 50s; and a Blackrock boy who loves football, not rugby.
However, his decision to take up the role of independent chairman of the FAI may be the greatest contradiction to date. Why would a financially secure, publicity-shy business executive with a demanding job agree to step into the financial and corporate imbroglio at Abbotstown?
Barrett (“Rashers”, to some friends) has been at Goodbody for 25 years, and has been managing director for 24 of those. For the last few months, he has been working on the €150 million sale of that firm to Bank of China. Prior to this he worked in various financial services jobs in Dublin and London. He is married with four children.*
Leading a firm like Goodbody for more than two decades means he dines at the top table of Irish corporate life. "He would have relationships with all the big public companies in Ireland, and some in the UK – corporates [the FAI] could call on for advertising and corporate deals," says one Irish investor.
Those who know him say he is a meticulous planner, rather than a charging stockbroker. “He’s a man who chooses his words very carefully, not a slick salesman or a backslapping, hail-fellow-well-met type figure,” says a former colleague.
Friends concede he can seem aloof and distant to some. “[He is] very witty, and a great sense of humour . . . and yet, he’s a hard guy to get to know, and doesn’t like the limelight.”
Love of soccer
His professional life, meanwhile, will remain as demanding as ever. Under the terms of the Bank of China deal, he is tied to Goodbody for at least another three years, while the finances of the FAI will need immediate triage followed by close attention for many months to come.
He wrote to Goodbody staff on Wednesday night, briefly assuring them that his new role would not affect his job with the broker.
Given his aversion to publicity, his demanding job, and his personal wealth – he purchased his family home, on Ailesbury Road, for €2.5 million, in 2012 – his willingness to accept the role has puzzled many.
Friends say he is likely motivated to a large extent by his love of soccer. Like many men of his vintage (he will be 57 next birthday), he is a Leeds United fan, who fell in love with the team led by John Giles and Billy Bremner, whose titanic clashes with manager Brian Clough have inspired novels and movies.
“He’s really passionate, he loves football,” says a friend. He was a soccer player in school, despite attending rugby stalwart Blackrock College, and led that school’s senior team to an All Ireland soccer title.
This love of football led to Goodbody's sponsorship of a golfing get-together for the players of the Jack Charleton era, held in the K Club in September 2018. At that meeting he and former Ireland striker Niall Quinn first discussed the failings of the FAI in detail. The pair knew each other already – they were introduced by Liam Reddy, the manager of Barrett's local, Mary Mac's in Ballsbridge.
Yin and yang
However, the relationship grew over those days in the K Club, and Barrett got in touch after Quinn went on the Marian Finucane show in December 2018 to bemoan the governance of the association.
After that, Barrett became part of a self-appointed “visionary group” which coalesced around Quinn who were calling for reform of the FAI.
The group produced reform proposals but it has been largely peripheral to events as the FAI disintegrated last year, ultimately becoming a ward of its bankers, Uefa and the State. That may change now, with Barrett's appointment. Ever the meticulous planner, it is thought he met at least once with Minister for Sport Shane Ross before taking up the role, and wants Quinn to step up as chief executive, a role the former footballer says he doesn't want. Observers say, however, there is a natural balance to the pair.
“He is not a figure . . . who you walk into the room and you feel the crackle of his charisma, that is not him,” one well placed source says. “That’s where the Niall Quinn stuff comes in; that’s where you get the yin and yang, if you get the two together.”
The chief executive of one quoted Irish company, who knows him well, says he shouldn’t be underestimated. “He won’t be banging the table but he’ll get the job done. . . don’t confuse his niceness with softness.”
* This article was edited on January 13th, 2020