Troubled FAI still sitting on the fence

 

If all the talk about a new beginning turns out to be even close to justified, then the events of last week may turn out to have been worth the trouble for the FAI.National League, writes Emmet Malone.

A new, professional leadership for the organisation, one able to make the hard decisions required without weighing up the political implications of going against the wishes of one faction or other, would certainly be a welcome development around Merrion Square.

The widespread scepticism that it will be achieved over the coming months is hardly surprising, though, given that we have become used to people who, having clambered up Irish football's greasy pole, show little inclination to simply slide back down of their own accord.

Even now, when there is little option but to publicly support the talk of reform, there have been those who have made it clear they see the association's current policy-making committees, though slimmed down in terms of numbers, retaining much of their influence over the way things are done by the new professional management.

In essence, it seems, there is still a view that the entire upshot of the Genesis report might amount to no more than a new layer of highly-paid suits floating around Merrion Square, keen to do the bidding of the management committee and FAI council.

That certainly seems to be the way the league is heading, for, having talked endlessly about the wondrous new world that awaited them when they got a commissioner in to run the show - and then thought little of the results when they put just a few of the required structural or rule changes in place - the league's 22 clubs have lost their nerve about replacing Roy Dooney and opted instead to invest a good portion of their miniscule budget in taking on a senior administrator to start reorganising their office and "getting their structures right".

Tommy Allen, who was due to start work yesterday, may turn out to be the greatest administrator in the game's history, and certainly most of those from the league who have met him appear to have been impressed.

The fact that his job was not advertised and he was the only man interviewed suggests, however, that the league - which both advertised and interviewed widely when Dooney was appointed - is not all that anxious to abandon its one step forward, two steps back approach to life.

Even that, however, is not as bemusing as the fact that Michael Hyland, a man who has, down the years, been the target of more covert operations than Fidel Castro, was simply entrusted with the task of finding a new man to take over the day-to-day running of things and came up with, wait for it . . . a veteran Dublin Corporation employee whose background within football, though highly respectable, is in the non-league game. Hyland clearly sees this as the ideal CV for a man intent on influencing the future development of our senior game.

One senior club representative described Allen's arrival as the league "dipping its toe back in the water again" after clearly feeling that it got its collective tootsies scalded when it hired Dooney.

He also expressed the belief that, if things go well over the coming months, then the new man's role may develop into something far broader and influential.

The most disappointing thing is that there has not been more of a clamour to continue down the road towards a centralised, professional management, one that represents the only way that a league comprised of notoriously factionalised and self-interested clubs can start to make any substantial progress.

In the absence of such leadership, the influence of the retired Hyland has appeared to grow due to his ability to put a great deal of time into running the league's affairs, and while it's hard to doubt the veteran administrator's commitment, it's harder again to doubt that talk of him departing at the end of this season represents an opportunity, much like the one facing the FAI, for the league to make a clear start.

There have been rumours that his willingness to go is linked to the league's willingness to allow him to retain some involvement at UEFA level. Such a move would be as out of step with the talk of a fresh start as the decision by the FAI last week to allow Brendan Menton to resign, ditch most of his responsibilities but somehow keep his pay and perks as the association's first special projects manager.

The sense of urgency within the league should, of course, be increased by developments within the parent organisation, and the clubs would do well, if the FAI really does hand its new chief executive real power, to have a strong figure able to fight their corner against a person who, if he or she does have any real experience of the business world, is going to be at least a little perplexed by the way the league conducts its affairs.

The introduction of the licensing system should, as it happens, improve the way many clubs operate by providing a much more structured set of minimum standards, although it says a good deal about the state of some of the clubs that the system's provisions - proper accounts, a full-time administrative staff, youth structures and the like - are viewed as such a major hurdle in the first place.

The reality is that few within the league could be in any doubt what would happen if they splashed out another €30,000 to have the boys from Genesis take a look at their operation, but in the absence of a damning independent report or overwhelming public pressure for change it seems that the league's clubs prefer, for the moment at least, to put the office in order when it is the house that needs the attention.

emalone@irish-times.ie