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Sunday 17 November 2019

House of cards

FAI power brokers have questions to answer over Delaney even before Oireachtas hearing

ON THE MOVE: John Delaney, pictured at Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Gibraltar last Saturday where he was shortly after removed from his position as FAI CEO to take up a new Executive Vice-President role. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
ON THE MOVE: John Delaney, pictured at Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Gibraltar last Saturday where he was shortly after removed from his position as FAI CEO to take up a new Executive Vice-President role. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Even by the standards of the FAI, it was a breathtaking weekend.

But even today there is barely time to pause for breath, the business of FAI-watching rarely as fascinating and make no mistake, this road will take some stunning twists and turns in the days and weeks ahead.

As of this morning, here is the lie of the land. In football terms, it's looking rosy: a win and a clean sheet (albeit a narrow win in a horrible game) from the first game of the Euro 2020 qualifiers, the Ireland U19s being the first side to qualify for the European Championship finals.

But behind closed doors in FAI HQ, just yards away from where Mick McCarthy's senior team will train this morning, we've had the biggest upheaval in a generation.

John Delaney is no longer CEO or a member of the board. But he retains serious power (for now) in a newly-created role of Executive Vice-President. Rea Walshe has been shunted into the CEO role on an interim basis and the association will today begin the process of finding and appointing a new CEO.

Over the weekend we had a flurry of activity, most of it more entertaining that the dismal 90 minutes in Gibraltar's Victoria Stadium on Saturday night.

A banner, and a sustained bout of singing, from a large group of Ireland supporters in Gibraltar, making clear their views on the CEO. Delaney, who regularly courted the attention and company of fans (claiming at one stage that he was indeed a man of the people as his counterpart in the Danish FA would never be seen socialising with regular fans), was clearly pained by the chanting which came his way.

During Saturday's game, Delaney was seen to regularly leave his seat and disappear into corners of the sports hall on the premises, discussing with staff and advisers the 'exit' would soon become clear, an FAI statement on his departure from the CEO role arriving at 7.35pm (Irish time) on Saturday evening. Distraction does not even begin to describe it.

Within hours on Saturday, while the travelling support in Gibraltar were enjoying their post-match pints, details of the Sunday Times story on Delaney's finances, and the revelation that the FAI had, for a long period, being paying the €3,000-a-month rent on his accommodation.

Allegations

Delaney and the FAI have yet to comment on those allegations but the newspaper which reported them offered him, and the FAI, the right to deny the charges, an option Delaney did not take up.

And yesterday afternoon came another FAI statement. Friday was the first time in seven days that the FAI's media department did not issue a statement on issues not directly related to football.

This missive informed the sporting world that Delaney, despite no longer holding the CEO role, would indeed appear on behalf of the association at an Oireachtas committee next month, with politicians keen for answers on various aspects of the FAI's finances, indeed the very manner of how they run football here.

"The FAI can confirm that the salary is substantially less than the salary he previously received as CEO," the statement added, with no further detail.

And again, it came back to money. And despite the flurry of press releases, more questions remain...

  • What exactly were the circumstances of the FAI's cash flow problem in 2017 which led to the CEO giving his employers a loan of €100,000? We have yet to be told.
  • f the FAI's finances were so strained, how can they now afford to replace Delaney as CEO and hire a new CEO but also give Delaney some sort of wage as "Executive Vice President"?
  • If the reports about the FAI funding Delaney's rent for a long spell are true (and again, neither Delaney nor the FAI have denied those reports despite being offered the opportunity to do so), was that arrangement agreed by the board of the FAI?
  • What other financial arrangements related to his own living arrangements were included in his CEO role? Can the new CEO expect to have his/her rent paid by the employers?
  • Is it a unanimous decision by the FAI board that "John will continue to represent us at UEFA level"?
  • What if the new CEO objects to that, or is accepting that situation a condition of taking the CEO role?
  • The FAI statement also said that Delaney keeping his status as a representative with UEFA "will allow John to utilise his vast experience and connections in the world of football and will best serve the FAI as we look to the future." How can the new CEO be expected to build relationships and establish authority if Delaney is doing the job?
  • How can the FAI statement boast of how "we appointed a governance committee in 2017" and yet not find it odd that this is all confirmed in a statement issued less than an hour after the final whistle of the biggest game to date in 2019?
  • Why was the statement so rushed that Delaney was not in his seat in the stand at the Victoria Stadium on Saturday night at the moment when Jeff Hendrick scored his goal, as he was in discussions with advisers?
  • Do the FAI board agree with the claim by Delaney in the FAI statement that "I have always given my best for Irish football", given that he was in receipt of a €3,000-a-month agreement on his rent, on top of his €360,000-a -year salary?
  • Does Delaney still retain the full support of the FAI board?
  • Why has no member of the FAI board made any comment in the last month?

Most of those questions can be aimed at the 10-person board of directors with the FAI, but the wider football family also has a lot to think about and a lot to answer for.

  • Was everyone with a position of power in the Irish game asleep while the issues which have cropped up in the last month were ongoing?
  • Did none of the delegates at the love-in that is the FAI AGM every year find it irregular, or unacceptable, that for the last five years, not one question has been asked from the floor at the AGM?
  • Do the representatives of leagues and clubs from across the game here feel they did their duty to Irish football over the last few years by not asking questions?
  • And now that we know of the €100,000 loan and the rent agreement for Delaney, so those delegates still support his continued association with the FAI?
  • If the FAI had such a worrying cashflow problem in April 2017 that they needed a six-figure personal loan from their CEO, how come none of those who attended regular meetings were aware?
  • And questions too for Rea Walshe as she steps into Delaney's shoes? Does she find it acceptable that the organisation paid the rent for an employee? How many members of staff in the FAI was this arrangement offered to? Was there a cap on rent paid?

Listing those questions is exhausting, answering them doubly so. Irish football needs answers to those questions but we will see over the coming days how many of those foot soldiers of Irish football find a voice or remain depressingly silent.

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