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'Ireland’s leading goalscorer and all-time caps holder had been spectacularly snubbed'

Read an extract from the acclaimed ‘Champagne Football’.

Robbie Keane (file pic).
Robbie Keane (file pic).
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan.

In late March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic caused the shutdown of football, FAI Interim CEO Gary Owens announced pay deferrals for FAI staff.

Staff earning over €25,000 had wages deferred on a sliding scale of up to 50% for the highest earners until ‘the national economic situation improves’.

When Uefa announced that each of its 55 associations would receive an advance of €4.3 million in grants to help ride out the lockdown, it became apparent that this was of no benefit to the FAI, as it had already drawn down that money.

The postponement of the Euro 2020 tournament for a year led to questions over the future of Mick McCarthy, who was to step down after the tournament, and of Stephen Kenny, who was to replace him.

Would the FAI have to allow McCarthy to stay on for another year until the tournament was played? When it became clear that Ireland’s playoff qualifier would be delayed past 1 August, the start date of Kenny’s contract, Owens and the FAI moved decisively.

In early April 2020 Kenny was installed as Ireland manager and McCarthy was removed earlier than envisioned. It was another Delaney legacy that came with a hefty cost in the form of McCarthy’s contractual exit payment of €1.13 million, but at least it was one headache the FAI was able to resolve reasonably quickly.

Robbie Keane’s contract proved more troublesome. His conversation with McCarthy at Niall Quinn’s K-Club soirée had borne fruit.

With McCarthy happy to have him on board, Keane was given a four-year contract, rising to €250,000 a year, as an Ireland assistant coach, even though McCarthy would be in the job less than two years.

It was another crazy Delaney deal that would have its day of reckoning, and that day duly arrived when Kenny took over from McCarthy and announced that his assistant coaches would be Keith Andrews and Damien Duff. Kenny didn’t want Keane, and his contract clearly stated that he could choose his own backroom staff.

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Ireland’s leading goal-scorer and all-time caps holder had been spectacularly snubbed, and he couldn’t turn to Delaney. Nor was he going to just walk away.

Instead Keane verbally lashed his old friend and teammate Quinn over the telephone and put the matter in the hands of his agent, Ciarán Medlar. Settling the standoff, which was still ongoing at the time of writing, is likely to prove costly for the FAI.

On 12 June 2020, 447 days after Delaney stepped aside from the position in Gibraltar, the FAI finally advertised for his replacement as permanent Chief Executive.

The job advert, which was placed by the executive recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson, stated that the FAI was seeking someone who was ‘analytical, numerate, a disciplined thinker, a steadfast and resilient individual with a high level of personal integrity’.

The ad appeared at a time when there were grumblings from some within the football community about the leadership of the K-Club trio as they tried to plot the game’s return from its Covid-enforced hiatus. Owens, for his part, had expressed interest in the position.

Whoever is hired as Delaney’s permanent replacement will have to grapple with all the internal politics that come with the job, even while trying to steer Irish football off the rocks.

Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan is published by Sandycove and is available nationwide.

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