Delu­sional De­laney hits level of tox­i­c­ity last re­served for Ber­tie

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - TOMMY CONLON

Nei­ther wanted the pub­lic­ity nor needed the ego trip

IT’S a fa­mil­iar enough sce­nario in Ir­ish pub­lic life, that chasm between the man who’s con­vinced he’s do­ing a great job, and the peo­ple look­ing at him con­vinced that he’s an ee­jit. In pol­i­tics, it is a daily oc­cur­rence. In the case of the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion of Ire­land, there are an aw­ful lot of peo­ple who think he’s an ee­jit. Ob­vi­ously he doesn’t agree. John De­laney is ap­par­ently con­vinced that he’s do­ing a won­der­ful job. Oth­er­wise he wouldn’t be pay­ing him­self €360,000 a year, which makes him one of the high­est paid CEOs of any foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tion in Europe.

Un­de­terred by this fi­nan­cial en­dorse­ment of his prow­ess, one on­line pe­ti­tion call­ing for his res­ig­na­tion was this week­end head­ing for 15,000 sig­na­to­ries. Many more thou­sands across so­cial me­dia were also vent­ing their scorn at him — again. And of course in every pub and of­fice and fac­tory floor where Martin O’Neill’s ab­di­ca­tion last week was be­ing dis­cussed, we would ven­ture that no con­ver­sa­tion ended without De­laney get­ting a few fur­ther blasts of in­vec­tive.

Add it all to­gether and he is reach­ing lev­els of tox­i­c­ity last re­served for the likes of Ber­tie Ah­ern, Brian Cowen and var­i­ous bankers such as Seán Fitz­patrick, Michael Fin­gle­ton and David Drumm.

In De­laney’s case it is partly to do with the scale of his pro­file and the longevity of his ca­reer as CEO. He has been in the job for 13 and a half years. This has given peo­ple a lot of time to get a good look at him. And for a lot of that time, they have seen far too much of him.

Se­ri­ous ad­min­is­tra­tors in sport gen­er­ally keep their heads down. An AGM and a cou­ple of press con­fer­ences per year are usu­ally about the height of it. Philip Browne of the IRFU lives by this rule; Páraic Duffy, ten years di­rec­tor gen­eral of the GAA un­til he re­tired in March, did like­wise.

Nei­ther of them wanted the pub­lic­ity nor needed the ego trip.

In 2006, GAA turnover at cen­tral level was about €30 mil­lion; by 2017 it had jumped to €65.6m. In 2007 IRFU turnover was €48m; by 2017 it was €85m. In 2007 FAI turnover was €45m; by 2017 it was €49m. In other words, the IRFU and GAA have raced ahead of the FAI in terms of fi­nan­cial per­for­mance over the last decade. And yet the CEO of the worst-per­form­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion is pay­ing him­self by far the most money.

And this is be­fore his cat­a­strophic han­dling of the Aviva Sta­dium fi­nanc­ing project is con­sid­ered. In any large busi­ness with a ro­bust cul­ture of ac­count­abil­ity, an act of mis­man­age­ment on this scale would have been a sack­able of­fence.

It is es­ti­mated that a project, which

ini­tially was sup­posed to cost around €80 mil­lion, will cost €150m by the time all debts and charges and in­ter­est are paid off. The FAI’s share of the Aviva debt was sup­posed to be self-fi­nanc­ing, mainly through the sale of 10,000 tenyear tick­ets — the fa­mous Van­tage Club scheme launched with much fan­fare by the CEO in Septem­ber 2008. With prices for th­ese tick­ets rang­ing from €12,000 to €32,000, and the econ­omy by now in melt­down, it was a delu­sion­ally in­flated of­fer­ing. The take-up was de­risory.

Last year De­laney fi­nally ad­mit­ted some cul­pa­bil­ity: “I think the pric­ing was cer­tainly too high on the big­ger ten-year tick­ets.”

In terms of project man­age­ment on this scale, De­laney was proven con­clu­sively to be out of his depth. Nat­u­rally enough, ev­ery­one else was made pay the price. The up­shot is that the game in this coun­try at every level has been starved of cash in terms of fa­cil­i­ties, coach­ing and per­son­nel be­cause of the crip­pling sta­dium debt, which will hang over the or­gan­i­sa­tion for years to come too.

Last Jan­uary it emerged that O’Neill had been ap­proached to take over as man­ager at Stoke City. He had yet to sign his new con­tract with the FAI. A few weeks later he did sign up, but now his salary had been dou­bled to around €2m. It was an Eng­lish jour­nal­ist, known to have close con­tacts with O’Neill, who broke the Stoke City story.

One won­ders if De­laney had been played by O’Neill, out­ma­noeu­vred in a trumped-up auc­tion for his sig­na­ture. Why did the Ire­land man­ager’s salary dou­ble, at a time when the FAI didn’t have the prover­bial pot to piss in? Was De­laney bounced into of­fer­ing this lu­di­crous sum by a wily old fox who wasn’t shy about ad­ver­tis­ing that he was in de­mand else­where?

Ten months later, af­ter a piti­ful year of per­for­mances, and with plum­met­ing pub­lic in­ter­est, an ap­par­ently panic-stricken CEO had to reach for his cheque book again, this time to pay off O’Neill and his crew to the tune of an­other €1.5m at least.

Again, there seems to be a delu­sional qual­ity to this kind of deal­ing — the last of the big spenders, flash­ing the cash when the bank ac­count is bare.

And all along over the last 13 years, De­laney has never given any­thing but the im­pres­sion that he is de­lighted with him­self, and the job he is do­ing. Sure wasn’t he car­ried shoul­der-high by the fans in Poland at Euro 2012, at the cost of his shoes, and pos­si­bly his socks too? And doesn’t his girl­friend Emma love him, and doesn’t he love Emma too, and so what if they wanted to tell the world about it?

Oh, and not for­get­ting the night in that Dublin pub in 2014 when he was filmed singing a provo song to an ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence. And then hired a Lon­don law firm to say it was not him in the video, and would take le­gal ac­tion if any­one said it was him; and then changed his mind and said that it was, in fact, him.

As that nippy in­side for­ward Bono is wont to ask, how long, how long must we sing this song?

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