Since May 26, off-field stories have dominated the headlines as the Irish international football team prepared for their Euro 2016 qualifier with Scotland.
On May 26, three days before the Fifa election in which Sepp Blatter was to win another term as FIFA President, John Delaney took to the moral high ground and announced that he, and the FAI, would not be supporting the incumbent’s nomination. Delaney’s position won him plaudits across the globe as he took on the role as a champion of reform, standing against corruption. Since then numerous off-field stories have dominated the headlines at the expense of the international team.
Things quickly soured for Delaney, after he was interviewed on the Ray D’Arcy show on June 4. During the course of the interview, John Delaney revealed that in 2009 he told Blatter he was an ’embarrassment to FIFA and to himself’.
When the FIFA President retorted saying ‘no-one speaks to me like that’, Delaney claimed, he replied ‘well I do’. In the same interview, Delaney alleged that Blatter stared at his partner, Emma English, for seven or eight seconds and declared ‘I approve of your new girlfriend’.
To which Delaney said ‘move on’. While this story would have only raised a cheap headline, D’Arcy raised a far more sensitive issue relating to the to the €5 million compensation payment the FAI received following the Thierry Henry handball incident. While Delaney attempted to brush it off, the story would gain traction and overshadow the lead up to Ireland’s qualifier with Scotland.
The day after the Ray D’Arcy interview, it was revealed that the €5 million payment was intended as a loan, to be paid back if Ireland qualified for 2014 World Cup. It was also agreed that in the event of Ireland not qualifying, the loan would be written off. It was also reported that the loan, oddly, never appeared in the FAI’s accounts.
As fresh revelations unfolded, Martin O’Neill – a point of contact between the press and the FAI, given his media obligations in the lead up to Ireland’s historic clash with England, found himself at the end of the press’ demand for answers.
Following the drab goalless draw, O’Neill would have been hoping for a scandal-free build-up to Ireland’s crunch qualifier with Scotland on June 13.
However, any such plans were immediately scuppered when on June 8, it was announced that John Delaney could face an Oireachtas Committee in relation to the controversial payments. As the point of contact, O’Neill was once more asked for his opinion after training, but refused to be drawn.
On June 9, the story refused to die, when Independent TD, John Fleming, demanded that Delaney’s salary be cut to bring it into line with that of the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. The following day the Oireachtas sub-committee on Transport and Sport announced that they would not be calling on Delaney to appear, as the matter did not fall under its remit.
However, later that day, it was reported that Delaney may have made contact with members of the committee, asking not to be called to give evidence, as it might overshadow the Ireland’s preparation for the coming fixture. Later that same day there were further off-field headlines, when the car in which the Irish management was travelling in was involved in a minor traffic collision.
It was not until June 11, two days before the Scotland game, that there appeared to be a crisis-free day in the world of Irish football. Indeed the media frenzy seemed to be dwindling somewhat as on-field matters began to finally dominate the agenda.
However, only hours before kick-off, it emerged that the FAI had spent ten thousand euro replacing match programmes intended for the fixture. Ironically, the original programmes contained a comment from Delaney concerning alleged corruption within FIFA.
Although the off-field drama that emerged in the lead up to the Scotland game should have had minimal impact on the Irish squad, it would not have gone unnoticed. Martin O’Neill’s frustration at being asked questions was visible as he conducted interviews.
The unfortunate tragedy that befell Robbie Keane and his family in the lead up to the game, would have also proved as another distraction. The overzealous supporters who planned, but eventually were unable to fly a plane carrying a “Delaney out” message, further contributed the malaise that surrounded the build-up to the all-important clash.
The entire period from May 26 can be characterised as one of unprofessionalism from those running the game in Ireland. While the Irish team is in need of a rebuilding, more importantly, the organisation managing football in Ireland is in need of reform.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena