Somewhere in the constant current of news about John Delaney, Chief Executive of the FAI, there’s a pattern lurking. It’s a pattern about money and secrets and controlling dissent. It’s also a pattern about a football organisation swimming in bizarre stories of money, John Delaney Rio, John Delaney OCI tickets, debt and funding. There are 6 real points to the FAI pattern though and they read like this:
- FAI Debt
- Payments to grow League of Ireland clubs
- FIFA hush money
When you read through this pattern, you start to realise that perhaps, for the money, we might be doing a little better with our national football organisation and the Emma English John Delaney stories in the tabloids asking has John Delaney ever been married are largely just distraction.
John Delaney Salary and Career
The FAI career of John Delaney accountant by trade, began with his father Joe, unsurprisingly enough perhaps in a country where election seats are routinely seen as hereditary. Joe Delaney was treasurer for the FAI and, in 2001, John followed in his father’s footsteps to become treasurer too. At 34, he was the youngest treasurer ever to be appointed to the role.
He first made his name in the public eye with the Saipan saga in 2002. As Roy Keane flew home, enraged at the standards inflicted upon the players, Delaney became the public representation of the FAI, appearing to quell panic, answer questions and assure everyone that everything was fine. When previous Chief executive Fran Rooney was removed from his post in 2004, Delaney stepped in to fill the position and took up the role full time in 2005. His career since then has proved a bizarre collection of embarrassments, secrets and monetary figures that leave a large question about him being good for the Irish game.
One of the monetary figures is €360,000. It’s what John Delaney earns in a year. It’s said to be more than twice the combined salaries of Michele Uva, the CEO of the Italian football federation and Angel Maria Villar, the CEO of the Spanish football federation, combined. It is also many times what Dundalk won as prize money for taking the League of Ireland title.
It seems unlikely that Irish football is twice as profitable as Italian and Spanish football combined. How then does the FAI claim to be able to afford such a salary? Very simply, it doesn’t because it can’t.
John Delaney and FAI debt.
The FAI is in debt to the banks. Even with the generous write down it’s received in the past few months, bringing it down to €40million. This is because it can’t sell enough tickets to cover the cost of the FAI’s contribution toward the construction of the Aviva stadium. It had to borrow to fund its €74 million contribution with the idea that 10-year, premium tickets would cover the majority of the debt. But it hasn’t. While the IRFU sold all its tickets for a flat rate of €15,000, the FAI employed ISG, who’d successfully filled seats at Wembley, to push packages between €12,000 and €32,000.
The announcement they were doing this arrived the same week in 2008 that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. At the time, Delaney believed there were 33,000 millionaires in Ireland. And he only had to sell to 3000 of them as the average buy for tickets was 3 to 4 seats. By 2012, ISG had sold only 4000 of the 10,000 seats, including cancelled orders. But is it unfair to blame this on Delaney? No one foresaw the global economic collapse. Banks didn’t see it coming. Even the reputed chartered account that he is (never to be mistaken for john delaney motor factors in Dundalk, he does own a struggling furniture business), Delaney never saw it either.
What he did see coming was 2016. Early on, he held 2016 up as the year their Vantage Club idea would finally kick into life and dividends would be seen from the groundwork they laid. The plan is to be debt free by 2020 and Delaney’s talk is still bullish around that idea. They’ve secured a centralised TV deal with UEFA and Euro 2020 is just around the corner, bringing major international championship games to these shore for the first time ever. Is it impossible the long term thinking was just right?
John Delaney and League of Ireland funding.
Of all the issues which hasn’t gone over well, support and funding for the league of Ireland has been called paltry and borderline neglectful.
League of Ireland clubs have for years pleaded with the National Association to cease being a drain on finances through affiliation fees and bloated fines. They looked for something back from the money the FAI received. The FAI were agreed to apportion a fee which would help clubs with promotion both locally and nationally. It would take care of their marketing, their image and place the game in an attractive light to entice fans away from foreign leagues. And the fee they decided to hand out came to €100,000 across the entire league. It would equate to €20 per week across the 20 clubs for the 5 year designated period.
Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that this figure would be seen as derisory to the clubs, with Derry City even refusing to accept it, calling it ‘disgraceful’ and ‘disrespectful’. Brian Kerr’s rant on the matter on RTE went viral nationally, expressing in one tirade emotions clearly bottled up for years both on his part and on those of the clubs and fans. There isn’t much interest in funding a league that is showing some return for the senior men’s international side. It shows a lack of interest for a league Delaney once called his ‘Problem Child’. A league where teams struggle to pay ESB bills, never mind player’s fees or FAI fines.
The suggestion was that the €100,000 would have better been spent hiring an individual to develop marketing on the whole, working with the clubs on a needs basis. A lack of foresight could be pointed out here in not realising the potential return this could bring.
John Delaney and the FIFA hush money.
Sadly, we all remember this one. Following Ireland’s elimination at the hands of France, and more specifically hand of Thierry Henry, Ireland publicly refused a FIFA Fair Play award for taking the injustice on the chin and not causing a fuss.
Years later the truth was revealed. The FAI had, in fact accepted a sum of €5 million from FIFA for agreeing not to pursue the injustice in the courts. The donation was officially labelled as a help with building the Aviva stadium, but it was seen as blood money. Perhaps, Delaney can’t be blamed for accepting a large sum of money like that, rather than fighting a highly unlikely court case which could drag out interminably. What aggravated fans, however, was the two faced attitude of refusing the award and accepting the money. In truth, accepting the award would have arguably looked even worse. In truth, Delaney navigated a mine field and, although he would have looked a heroic figure fighting Sepp Blatter in a courtroom, taking the payout was the better move for the FAI. There would never have been a case where Ireland was reinstated to play in the championships ahead of France.
So, is John Delaney poison for Irish football?
He is grossly, unforgivably overpaid and his treatment of the League of Ireland shows little forethought or even care. But, he is facing a large funding problem which the FAI look to be exiting gradually. Perhaps when that happens, the league issues can properly be addressed. The FIFA hush money was poorly handled and Delaney could present himself in a much more professional light to fans and other organisations alike. There remain further questions about the John Delaney partner in crime, Pat Hickey. But has he really done that bad a job, navigating an economic period of turmoil, a lack of top level players only now beginning to improve and the construction of a much needed stadium?
What do you think?
Feature image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer